Chemistry Magic Show: Puget Sound chemists gear up for a night of enchantment

The Chemistry Magic Show is an annual event put on by the combined efforts of the students and faculty of the chemistry department. This year the show will take place Oct. 25 in Schneebeck at both 4 and 7:30 p.m.
The show began as a demonstration of chemical reactions that Professor Keith Berry would do at local schools and occasionally on campus. When Professor Tim Hoyt took the project over, he also started to do a demonstration for one of the Science Seminars that would happen in October.
However, the event drew so many people that they had to make it a separate event, and over the years it has become more of a magic show.
On average, the show draws anywhere from three to four hundred students, many families and Tacoma community members.
The show usually features a “wizard,” Professor Tom Hoyt, and a chemist, Professor Jo Carlin, who will act as the wizard’s assistant. Hoyt, who is lovingly known as The Wizard by his students, fits this role perfectly, and in the past he has even dyed his beard rainbow colors for the occasion
In following with the Halloween theme, both characters will be dressed in full wizard/chemist regalia. Some of the tricks might also be Halloween themed, involving pumpkins as key ingredients for the tricks.
Some of the tricks will be explained, and some won’t. “I make things bigger and don’t always tell the chemistry,” Hoyt said.
The focus of the event is more on demonstrating what can happen when you mix two solutions together or set one substance on fire than how that reaction happens.
But don’t be expecting any slight of hand tricks – all of the “magic” performed will be chemistry magic. “[You can expect] color changes and surprises and explosions and fire and fun,” Hoyt said. This also means that there is more preparation that goes into the beginning of the show, and that is where the students come in.
“We couldn’t do it without the assistance of all the students,” Professor Eric Scharrer said.
During Fall Break, about 40 student volunteers and faculty commandeer one of the chemistry labs, mixing the solutions and testing them to make sure they are just right.
“Some of [the solutions] are a little touchy, if you have the wrong concentration of something, it’s not going to show the effect that you might want,” said Scharrer, one of the faculty who is involved with putting the show together.
In the past, Scharrer has not only helped with the behind the scenes work, but has also made appearances on stage as the King of Rock.
During intermission he would perform Elvis songs with lyrics that he changed to be about chemistry. “It’s quite the production,” said Scharrer.
After the students and faculty have prepared all the materials for the show, they have to move it all to Schneebeck.
These materials can include volatile solutions and five foot tall glass graduated cylinders.
Between shows, the volunteers might even have to move these materials between the two buildings again to clean and prepare the instruments and solutions for the next show.
Because Hoyt will be retiring this year, it is likely that his will be the last chemistry magic show.
If it is, Hoyt said that it will go out with “an explosion that will shake the whole building”.