Guest post by Heather Cassell

As we get deeper into December, it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas, holiday season festivities, and researchers are thinking about having some time away from the lab. But for some December can lead to a blue Christmas; the approach of the holidays can fill certain groups of lab denizens, especially students, with fear. Students have to contend with coursework deadlines approaching rapidly – and there are the January exams to consider – so they’re rarely heard to say ‘thank God it’s Christmas.’ This also means it’s not the most wonderful time of the year for those who have to mark the coursework too.

And so, the start of December ‘tis the season for careful lab work planning; you must make the most of the time you have left in the lab before you leave, otherwise you’ll risk abandoning an experiment or driving home for Christmas with work on your mind. Worse still, poor planning means you may have to come in at awkward times over the holidays, or even miss the opportunity to be rockin’ around the Christmas tree, enjoying the mistletoe and wine at the lab Christmas party!

When it comes to Christmas decorations offices are fairly easy to decorate. There are very few restrictions on what you can put up (it’s more down to taste, or in some cases lack of taste), so you can deck the halls with pretty much whatever you like. But health and safety rules in the lab mean that many decorations are not suitable for use, as they constitute a fire hazard. This means the offices tend to get all of the silver bells, the holly and the ivy, but the labs can seem so very bare in comparison, the non-scientists might ask even each other ‘do they know it’s Christmas?’ (more…)

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The Chemistry World office is bedecked in tinsel, ready to celebrate the festive period. And as a thank you for celebrating with us, we’re going to send a Chemistry World mug to each of our favourite festive chemistrees!

On a recent trip to the chemistry department at the University of York, I spotted a different interpretation of the traditional Christmas decorations…

So we tweeted about it…

(more…)

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What powers Santa’s sleigh?

So, on Saturday evening, Santa will fire up the reindeer and set off around the globe once again. In fact, you can track his flight. But how do those reindeer fly, it could all be to do with Christmas Spirit, but it’s long been suggested there’s a slightly more pharmacological explanation (more…)

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Do your festive dinners need spicing up?

Fancy some science tricks to wow the guests around the Christmas dinner table with? Chemistry World has put together a small collection of videos that should help keep the kiddywinks quiet, wake up the snoozers and amuse even the more cynical table guests. If you like them let us know and if you have other tricks and experiments to share then tweet us or leave us a comment. (more…)

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Somehow Christmas time always feels more magical when there’s snow about. As snowflakes drift down and stack against frozen panes, you sink deeper into the sofa to sleep off the lunchtime overindulgence. And as you sit there the world goes silent as a white blanket settles leaving the landscape an undulating mass of indistinct shapes. But while we’re all familiar with these beautiful six-pointed stars of ice, have you ever stopped to think about how they form? What are the chemical and physical processes that make a snowflake grow into the shape it is?

(more…)

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Christmas is gently creeping up on us and the tills are merrily ringing as we pound the high street in search of suitable offerings to please our kith and kin. But however far you travel and however much you spend in your seasonally-sanctioned extravagance, you’d have to go some way to beat the efforts of the inaugural yuletide gift-givers: Melchior, Casper and Balthazar. These three – the magi of the nativity story – tramped across the Middle East to present Christmas’ namesake with their precious gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.

(more…)

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The Chemistry World team are going to have some fun with a few Christmas related posts this December. First up, Advent Candles, look out for more in the coming weeks…

Advent candle

For me, candles are a huge part of Christmas. As the night draws in, there’s something about a cosy room full of flickering candle light to really make me feel all Christmassy, and I love singing in candlelit carol services (although I always worry a bit about synthetic fabrics and distracted children). This year, though, there’s another reason for me to enjoy Christmas by candlelight from Michael Faraday, the man who instituted the Christmas Lectures at the Royal Institution and general chemistry hero. (more…)

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Snowmen turn to snowballs © Angew. Chem. Int. Ed.

Like me, you’ve no doubt put this year’s hottest nanogadget – the nanocar – at the top of your Christmas list. But have you given any thought to how exactly you expect Santa to wrap it up? I didn’t think so. Luckily, someone else has.

Seung-Man Yang at KAIST in South Korea has been folding up polymer bilayers to make microcapsules that might just do the job (along with various other, much more practical jobs). (more…)

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Mike proves to be a fire starter with indoor fireworks for the Christmas and New Year period…

My idea of the perfect celebration at Christmas or the New year involves chemistry that has been around for centuries. I’m talking about loud bangs, whizzes and amazing colours – in my opinion fireworks are fantastic.

You may be thinking that fireworks would make an odd Christmas present, but I beg to differ. There are fireworks on the market that are designed for indoors, and I for one would love to receive a box in my Christmas stocking. (more…)

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Bibi continues the Christmas chemistry series with ‘magic’ crystal growing…

In my quest for the perfect Christmas gift, I’ve come across some pretty cool (if sometimes geeky) stuff. Periodic table shower curtains and wall clocks where the numbers have been switched for element symbols are two examples; however, we have both in the office (the curtains are in the showers in case you were wondering…) and although they are practical, do the job and are chemistry related I thought I should find something a bit more exotic that involves practical chemistry. So the search continued.

Then I discovered the crystal-growing Christmas trees of the Natural History Museum (NHM). They pretty much do what they say on the box: you build a cardboard tree, put it in contact with a solution at the bottom which quickly moves up via capillary action and… hey presto, crystals grow on the branches creating the illusion of fluffy snow over the Christmas tree. The pictures below illustrate the process. 

 Interestingly, the chemical composition of the solution that forms the crystals is not specified anywhere. No reply was obtained from the manufacturers (see Update below) when I enquired and the box unhelpfully states ‘crystals are all around us and include salt and sugar’ so I decided to search elsewhere. A different website reviewing a similar (more colourful) product explains that the ‘magic solution’ is made up using table salt, water, ammonia and ‘Mrs Stewart’s liquid laundry bluing’. (more…)

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