12 days of Chemistree

As I write this we are currently preparing for our annual Chemistry Christmas spectacular, which, this year, has the theme of ‘The Magic of Christmas’.  Of course, I have taken this as another way to get the magic of Harry Potter into my year, lessons and life, and we have written the experiments around some of the spells from the films.  We have included Agua Menti, Expecto Patronum and Incendio to name but a few.  I often think back to my own school days and my Latin lessons when I hear the spells and have a wry smile when I can make the links.

I often wonder what other links I can make in lessons and in school to enlighten and enrich the Chemistry that we teach.  I don’t find it easy to write, but I have found lots of links between Chemistry and the 12 Days of Christmas, so I thought I might share a few of them.

On day one the gift was a partridge in a pear tree. In GCSE and A level Chemistry, we make a wonderfully smelly substance called an Ester, and if you ask your parents they might be able to tell you most esters smell like pear drops.  You can see where my tenuous links are going now!

On the second, third and fourth day of Christmas, the gifts were all feathered birds of some sort.  I’d like to draw a parallel here with Chemistry, but the more obvious link is the physics of flight.  Planes aren’t technically designed to fly, but science made that happen.  Aren’t we glad that those wonderful physicists made it happen, or we would never be able to escape around the world.

On the fifth day there was talk of five gold rings. The atomic number of gold is 79, which is only one more than the total number of items in the 12 days of Christmas.  Coincidence or very good planning on the part of the songwriter? I’ll let you decide.

Day 6 we are treated to 6 geese laying eggs.  Eggs are a chemical dream as they are a wonder of biochemistry, and the only question I have ever been asked that totally stumped me in a lesson.  A Year 7 pupil once asked me, “If we heat solids to get liquids, and heat liquids to get a gas, how come when you heat a liquid egg it turns solid?”  What a question!

On day 7 we are back to the feathered variety, and we have 7 swans-a-swimming.  Now interestingly, another chemical allows us to safely swim in pools, but in the wrong hands can be deadly.  Chlorine in the concentrated form can cause issues by forming acids in the body and yet, in the diluted form is safe enough for us to ingest and swim in. Macro versus micro properties is another debate I can write about another time.

On day 8 we meet the maids who milk the cows. I love a cow, they make life look so simple and I do find them quite tasty.  This provides me with my Chemistry link as there is a huge debate currently as to whether the methane that cows produce is wholly, partly or not in the slightest bit responsible for the climate issues we face.  Again I am going to leave you to debate that at home as I have my own opinions, which I will share if you see me in the corridors.

Day 9 and 10 we meet the music-makers and dancers. Music for me is a way to take myself away from stresses and strains of everyday life; I often try to include music in lessons where I can.  Your brain makes connections from a very young age to music and has even been known to be influential in the womb.  Again, a struggle to link to Chemistry, but the chemistry of the forming and developing brain are fascinating topics. I am sure Miss Chapman can have a long conversation about this when she returns to school. I also have a secret wish to learn to dance, a bit like Strictly, but again for another time. 

So nearly there with my links and countdown. Onto the leaping 11 lords. How can I possibly make a link to Chemistry from leaping and lords? Well, here goes: In my assembly for 5 November, I mentioned that fake news stated Guy Fawkes was a Chemistry teacher who tried to blow up the House of Lords. I bet those lords had to leap over the 36 barrels of gunpowder in order to save themselves. Not my finest link to Chemistry, but I like it nonetheless.

My final link is to the 12 drummers drumming,  At the University of Northampton, they still have a lab where they tan their own leather and this is one of my favourite school trips.  The chemistry of leather, and using every part of the animal, has been championed by Inuits for their lifetime.  There is a lot to be said for taking just what you need and using it all with no waste.  Drum skins are made from animal skin such as goats and cows, or a polymer called Mylar invented in 1957. Drummers tend to prefer animal skin as it gives a more authentic tone apparently. I must find a drummer to ask them one day.

Wishing you all a very Merry Christmas.  

Mrs Hodgetts-Tate
Head of Science Faculty and Teacher of Chemistry