Holiday Chemistry

We’re revisiting one of our most popular Web updates: holiday chemistry. Prepare a chemistry-related ornament for your own tree or for a classroom “chemis-tree”, or try other holiday science fun such as marbling paper for gift wrap, singing a chemistry carol, or deciding if you’d like to eat a “variegated disaccharide ‘J’ tube”.

  • Redox ornament with extensions
    Students cover a square of galvanized iron with masking tape and cut away a design. It is then treated with hydrochloric acid to remove the zinc coating, then copper(II) nitrate to change the color of the design area to reddish-orange. The second link has additional suggestions for galvanized material to use.
  • Silvered test tube ornament
    The Carolina Biological site has a “Carolina Teaching Partner” post on making a test tube ornament by creating a silver mirror on the inside surface of the glass.
  • Borax snowflake ornament
    Borax is deposited as crystals on a base of pipe cleaners shaped as a snowflake.
  • Christmas light chromatography ornaments
    Christmas chromatography

    Filter paper is cut into the shape of Christmas light bulbs, which are then decorated using chromatography with water-soluble markers. The second link suggests other shapes; its procedure produces more of a mottled effect than a separation.

  • Lab equipment Christmas tree
    Ontario High School in Oregon briefly describes its annual chemis-tree project that uses ring stands, clamps, and glassware. A photo of one of the trees is included.
  • Integrating a chemis-tree ornament into the curriculum
    Teacher Sondra Wieland describes how she uses a chemis-tree ornament assignment in her curriculum. Students construct an ornament from at least two different elements and two different compounds and create an accurate label. She also includes a grading rubric.
  • “A Chemical Christmas Tree, 40 Years of Cheery Christmases”
    A 2009 Chemical & Engineering News Newscripts column highlights a research lab’s chemis-tree. Photos are included.
  • Chemistry Christmas tree video
    An 8 minute video from The University of Nottingham Periodic Table of Videos collection shows the creation of a tree decorated with molecular models of people’s favorite compounds.

  • ACS/NSTA "Holiday Chemistry" webinar
    A November 29, 2012, webinar focused on holiday chemistry is scheduled to be archived at this link.
  • Chemistry holiday gift guide
    Make magazine presents a holiday gift guide for chemists, including items such as ACS’s molar beach ball and an atomic emission spectrum scarf.
  • Case #1225: Case of the Christmas Cookie Mystery
    This site offers student and instructor worksheets to download for a mystery powders investigation that has a holiday twist. Baking soda, baking powder, corn starch, flour, powdered sugar, and talcum powder are tested with water, vinegar, and iodine solution.

  • Sing chemistry carols
    Students can sing 15 Christmas carols using chemistry-themed verses.
  • Peanut brittle
    Students can learn about the chemistry of candy making, then prepare a batch of peanut brittle using this ChemMatters article from December 1991.
  • Construction of variegated disaccharide "J" tubes
    This recipe for candy canes is presented in “science speak”, using gram and millimeter measurements, and ingredients such as sucrose, potassium hydrogen tartrate, and Mentha peperita extract.
  • Magic crystal holiday tree
    The classic magic crystal garden procedure with table salt, ammonia, and laundry bluing is used with a sponge cut into the shape of a Christmas tree.
  • Tiny silver-branched Christmas tree
    A Flinn Scientific ChemFax provides directions for creating a tiny Christmas tree on a microscope slide. A small triangle of copper is placed on the slide and a drop of silver nitrate is added, producing a dendritic pattern of silver crystals.
  • Marbled gift wrap
    “Colorful Lather Printing” activity

    Students can make marbled paper to use as gift wrap using shaving cream and food coloring. The Journal of Chemical Education activity “Colorful Lather Printing” in the second link is a related experiment that illustrates the chemistry behind the marbling.

  • Poinsettia pH paper
    Filter paper soaked in a solution made from poinsettia plants is used as pH paper.
  • "A Chemistry Christmas Carol"
    A different take on Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol adjusts the story to incorporate the names of 86 elements for students to find.
  • Holiday chemistry lab video
    An American Chemical Society Bytesize Science video lasting ~7 1/2 minutes has a holiday theme and shows the viewer how to make a superball, snow globe stick, and a marbleized gift card.
  • Crystal frost window paint
    A solution of Epsom salt is wiped on windows to “frost” them.
  • Snow globe lab
    A lab originally based on an article in The Science Teacher presents students with a collection of materials and challenges them to make a snow globe based on their observations of solubility.
  • “What element do you want for Christmas?” video
    The University of Nottingham offers a spin-off of its Periodic Table of Videos collection with a video that features answers to the question “What element do you want for Christmas?”
  • I'm dreaming of a white Christmas
    A Royal Society of Chemistry blog post discusses the chemistry of snowflake formation. The main video does not appear to be available in the U.S., but there are some good photos and links.