Dribble Cup – a “Fun” Demonstration

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When professional firefighters or law enforcement officers visit public school classrooms, they dress and act according to their professional roles. More often than not the chemist’s visit involves funny t-shirts, cute hats, and silly behavior. Thus many chemical outreach presentations support the very stereotypes that the profession has come to deplore.

In the twenty-plus years of giving our presentation “Is It Chemistry or Magic?”, we have been committed to the idea that outreach is the responsibility of every member of the chemistry profession. However, our philosophy is that chemical outreach programs can convey the profession’s important messages with drama, humor, and dignity without wearing goofy outfits.

That doesn’t mean we are two stodgy professors giving a boring lecture demonstration on chemistry to a group of youngsters. We engage our audience by telling our story of how we became chemists by doing eye-catching and exciting demonstrations. Humor is part of our program.

Our demonstrations serve several purposes. Some, as we noted in other posts, get the attention of the audience through chemical magic. Others are a bit more serious and serve to illustrate what chemists do and how chemistry affects our lives. This transition occurs in about the middle of our presentation. To ease into this transition, we do a demonstration that is pure “fun”. We call this demonstration the dribble cup, and it involves a member of the audience (typically a young member).

The volunteer is given a styrofoam cup containing some water. The demonstrator adds some liquid via a dropper, and the person is asked to observe the reaction. After a few seconds, the bottom of the cup falls out spilling the water onto the floor. The reaction of the volunteer as well as the audience is priceless! Pure Fun!!

The video below shows how the demonstration is set up and performed. The photograph after the video ends shows the result in front of the audience.

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