The Hills are Alive with the Sound of…Science

Children’s angelic voices were accompanied by science experiments on February 28 at the Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center. The Children’s Chorus of Greater Dallas (CCGD) “Earth, Wind & Sky” concert drew inspiration from science themes, including astronomy and biology. CCGD invited SPEaC to perform experiments and answer “Ask a Scientist” questions live onstage during the concert interludes. SPEaC was honored to be in the midst of spectacular artistry, from both the fabulous young singers to the talented CCGD staff that designed, coordinated and conducted the concert.

Under the bright stage lights and before an audience of approximately 1000 people, SPEaC educated the audience and choruses about elemental phase changes, light-producing bacteria and chemical catalysts. First, we made our own music by combining party horns with dry ice sublimation. Sublimation is a phase change in which a solid, e.g. dry ice, transitions directly into a gas. Heating dry ice in bottles using warm water produced carbon dioxide gas through sublimation to “blow” party horns that were inserted into the bottles. Second, we presented the brilliant blue-green light produced by the sea-dwelling bioluminescent bacterium Vibrio harveyi. These bacteria make light using chemicals that they synthesize. Third, for our finale, we made “elephant toothpaste”, which is an impressive result of a chemical reaction using hydrogen peroxide, sodium iodide and dish soap. Sodium iodide (NaI) is a catalyst that speeds up the breakdown of hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) into water (H2O) and oxygen (O). The release of oxygen is nicely visualized by adding soap to the reaction. The soap forms tiny oxygen-filled bubbles that rise out of the container together and look like a column of toothpaste coming out of a large tube, hence the name elephant toothpaste. Want to make your own elephant toothpaste? Check out this kid-friendly protocol. Or you can use our protocol, but make sure you follow proper laboratory safety guidelines by wearing gloves, goggles, and a lab coat (or an old shirt that you don’t mind ruining):

Elephant toothpaste

25 mL 30% hydrogen peroxide

5-10 drops of detergent (dish soap)

8+ drops of food coloring

10 mL 5M sodium iodide (NaI) or potassium iodide (KI)

1 container such as a graduated cylinder (1 L), 2-3 L drink bottle or a large beaker

1 box to contain the overflow of “toothpaste” from the reaction



In addition to the fascinating science and answers to Ask a Scientist questions displayed onstage, SPEaC hosted a “ghost bubble”-making booth in the lobby. Again, we capitalized on the sublimation of dry ice for this demonstration. Hot water was added to dry ice in a container, which produced an opaque fog. Plastic tubing was attached to the container, the container was closed, and fog began streaming out from the tubing. The end of the tubing was dipped in soapy water, and bubbles formed containing the dry ice fog, making them look hazy. Some of the children even got to hold the bubbles! Putting dish soap on their hands neutralized the oils in their skin that would normally pop the bubbles (by altering the bubbles’ surface tension).

In collaboration, SPEaC and CCGD’s experiment reacting songs with science made an excellent product!

SPEaC is grateful to CCGD, notably Executive Director Chris Collins, Artistic Director Cynthia Nott, Marketing and Development Director Mary Duncan and Assistant Production Manager Kevin Morris, for the opportunity to teach so many people about UT Southwestern Medical Center and the power of science. We had a talented team of SPEaC volunteers (graduate students and postdoctoral fellows from UT Southwestern Medical Center) helping backstage, onstage and in the lobby: Dr. Rebecca Burgess, Jonathan Cooper, Dr. Devon Crawford, Dr. Breck Duerkop, Filipa Ferreira, Dr. Irina Filonova, Dr. Sharon Kuss, Bishakha Mona, Dr. Cyndi Morales, Dr. Austin Potts, Dr. Anirudh Sethi, Dr. Glenn Simmons, Chelsea Stamm, Jeremy Stubblefield and Ana Uruena. We also thank Dr. Andrés Lorente-Rodriguez who aided in experimental development for this event. We acknowledge Dr. Bonnie Bassler for providing the Vibrio harveyi strain, and UT Southwestern Medical Center and our donors for funding our materials for this event.

Editor: Jonathan Cooper


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