Science Borealis

Science Borealis
Science Borealis

Thursday, 27 June 2013


I just received the University of Toronto CHEMISTRY ALUMNI MAGAZINE called DISTILLATIONS.

I was honored to be included in the "Graduate Profiles" for this addition

as well as mentioning the work Pueblo Science does, promoting science literacy

I want to take the opportunity to personally thank Penny and Nina from the Chemistry Department for their constant support, and for the wonderful job they are doing.

Thursday, 20 June 2013

Pool party gone scientifically wrong

Can liquid nitrogen react with the hypochloric acid in the swimming pool (which is the chemical form in which we use chlorine in pool water)?

Some people seems to think so.... and newspapers seem to publish this nonsense:

Lets get the fact right this time:

Nitrogen, in our case is the molecular form of nitrogen N-N or N2 (as opposed to the Nitrogen atom) is found in our atmosphere as gas, and accounts for about 78% (source: Thanks to technological innovations we can now make Liquid Nitrogen (

The boiling temperature of liquid nitrogen is -196 centigrade. When it comes into contact with the water in the pool (roughly room temperature, say 25 degrees) it will boil pretty fast, creating lots of gaseous nitrogen. The nitrogen gas is still very cold and therefore cools the air around it. With all the humidity around (humidity is a measure of how much water molecules are in the air), the water condenses into droplets, just as if we were high up in the sky where its pretty cold. This is why you see all those clouds in the picture.

Here's what I had the pleasure of doing with liquid nitrogen:

So far it seems pretty harmless. HOWEVER... if the amount of nitrogen is so large, than it will displace (push) the air around the pool, which means that the people in the pool will have less oxygen to breathe, and are likely to pass out/go into a comma/die/ get the point. The bottom line is that the danger is asphyxiation and not poisoning (as suggested in the article)

The moral of the story is that never stay in the pool when liquid nitrogen is thrown in. Outside is better, and be sure that this is an open space.

What about the chlorine you're wondering? Its still in the water. Nothing bad happened to it. Thanks for asking.

I would like to see more newspapers talk to actual chemists before printing such comments within their published work in the future. Save us a lot of headache explaining why the journalists got it wrong.

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Science to toy around with

I would like to introduce you to Slater Harrison from Pennsylvania in the US.
He's a science teacher, but even more so, he's a science lover.
How can I tell (since I have never met him in person)?
He has the most amazing website called:

Science Toy Maker


and what is the website all about? well.. its about science, but in a way which I relate on a personal level with my work with Pueblo Science. The website aims to do the following:

"All science toys and projects:
  • *are accessible (so cheap to make that nobody is excluded because of cost, and they don't require special skills, tools, materials, or work facilities beyond a kitchen).
  • *have a "more about" page with explanations, historical context, related activities and high quality links for further research.
  • *have clear step by step video directions or text instructions with lots of pictures."

You see, Slater provides opportunity, not products. He provides knowledge, not withhold it. He provides tools for everyone who wishes to experience, enrich, experiment, and just want to have fun with the world we see around us.

And thanks to his work, I too had the opportunity to try my hands on flying one of his  air surfers (the one called the "Spinny Bug"), together with my 6 years old daughter. Before I start the description, I can tell you that she had lots of fun making it and trying to fly it (although both of us need lots of practice).

SO here's what we did:

1. Start by cutting out the pattern
2. Tape the pattern on the 0.5mm thick foam (which you can get from Slater)
3. Cut along the middle line to get two gliders:
4. Cut along the middle line again to get the two halves of the glider
 5. Cut the extra bits on the ends (which will separate the pattern paper from the foam)
6. Fold each piece into half
7. Tape two folded pieces together, and you've got the glider
8. Let's go fly a glider
9. I got to try that too (I tried posting the video, but it didn't work. I'll try tomorrow)

Now I should point out that there are a lot more details and explanations on Slater's website, which is why I'm not taking the time repeating them here (there's enough redundancy on the internet already). So just go to and check it out, you won't regret it. What I can say is that the written explanations are accompanied by a video, narrated by Slater (with a lovely voice I must say). The video is done so well, that she could follow the instructions after just one viewing.

Thank you Slater for lots of great ideas, and I know I'll be enjoying more of them in the future.

Friday, 7 June 2013

Chemicals Have Feelings Too!

I've recently wrote a blog post for my good friend Dorea, to post on her beautiful website
Chemicals Are Your Friends!

She got Mike Ellis to create amazing pictures to complement the text, and with skill and imagination, Mike has done superbly (I wish I could draw this good).

I won't copy and paste the blog here, cause you can just follow the link: