back to article UK boffins roll out video periodic table

A group of boffins from Nottingham Uni is about to launch an entertaining short video guide to the periodic table - apparently designed to give them the chance to chuck sodium into water with unrestrained glee: The chap with the exemplary boffin's barnet is professor Martyn Poliakoff, who told El Reg that the site should be …


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  1. Mark

    I see

    They have the obligatory mad shock haired scientist and his trusty sidekicks...

  2. Chris


    I particularly enjoyed the bloke fondling the 8 inch cylinder of caesium, although Braniac did a better job of exploding things.

  3. David Shepherd

    Safety glasses not required

    At least this will remove the need for any school kids to do anything exciting^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^Hdangerous like chucking sodium into water themselves.

    Perhaps the idea is that kids will see that if the study science they'll get to be "on the telly" and thus famous.

    ... wonder if they'll do the "slosh the mercury over the lab table" trick that my prep-school science master did :-)

  4. John Dann

    What about caesium??

    Reminds me of the OU broadcasts on alkali metals. See eg:

    The caesium one is slightly more dramatic than potassium!

  5. Ash

    Takes me back...

    ... to GCSE Science.

    I remember a video of a guy doing the same thing with Caesium. Needless to say, the Pyrex tub used to hold the water didn't stay intact for very long.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    worth while watching even if it's just to see the nutty professor's hair

    The `boron` lady is a bit scary though

  7. Robin Bradshaw


    If I hadn't read the background behind the site on here first I would have assumed it was a clip form a new comedy/science show, "Dom Jolly does chemistry"

    I just wonder how long it will be before all those involved are arrested and detained for 42 days for aiding terrorists by showing how chemicals can go bang.

  8. Steve Evans

    Ah ya poofs...

    Get that 2kg lump and chuck it in some acid! :-)

  9. Anonymous Coward

    bring on the Rb or Cs

    Shame they don't put Rb or Cs in water that would be fun to watch

    (I would settle for K dunked in hydrochlric acid though)

  10. English Bob

    How does one get to be an explosive reactions expert?

    I want that job! Has Pete got a Licence for that?

    I'll get my coat.

  11. Anonymous Coward

    For a really spectacular explosion...

    ...float some filter paper on the surface of the water, and then place the sodium onto that.

  12. Guy

    @AC - ghd

    Damn you ,I'm trying to work, and you made me go watch the Boron video...

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Will they address...

    The concept of the self-lighting fart?

    As demonstrated on "Inside Spontaneous Human Combustion" on Sky One a while back.

    Love the prof's hair - that's real scientists' hair for you!

  14. Paul
    Black Helicopters

    Weapons of Mad (hairdo) Destruction?

    Hope no wannabe jihadists watch that video!!!

  15. Anonymous Coward

    Never mind the sodium

    take a look at the size of that knife!

  16. Planeten Paultje

    Always nice to see Sodium sizzle....

    An urban legend (unverified, '50s, '60s) from Amsterdam goes as follows:

    Over the year the chemistry faculty lab of the University of Amsterdam used to collect the sodium left-overs from practice in a big jar with petroleum. At the end of a fourth semester two students were (as usual) dispatched with the jar and two long tweezers to the moat running along the lab building. Their job was to dump the sodium scraps into the water one at the time, and let nature reclaim the element.

    At first this was fun of course, watching the sodium perform all kinds of different stunts on the water, depending on scrap size. But after some time the students started to realise that they were going to be there for the best part of the day, dumping sodium at the rate they were instructed to maintain. By that time the thrill was gone and they decided to turn over the jar and dump its contents into the moat in one go.

    Allegedly a blast resulted that took out a few parked cars and a lot of chemistry lab windows. The story doesn't recount the students' fate......

    I got this story from my brother-in-law, who studied chemistry at that faculty in the '60s, though it happened before his time.

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Ahh, school days

    There was a science teacher who famously lobbed a chunk of sodium from the 4th floor science lab into the swimming pool below. PT teacher was furious because it took them weeks to get the pool's Ph back to normal.

  18. Mark Browell

    Prof Poliakoff

    Yay, my claim to fame is that Prof Poliakoff used to be my inorganic chemistry tutor (16 years ago - gulp). Mad as a lorry. Absolute legend.

  19. Twm Davies

    Brainiac faked it

    Actually a lot of Brainiac is faked for 'edutainment' sakes...

  20. David Frank

    Prof Poliakoff V Professor Pillinger

    These guys should have their own TV series based on say getting a can of cambells soup on to the moon (my suggestion for episode one) or they could do a TV series, bit like James Burkes connections.

    I'd watch it!

    Eye protection because only sissys wear it!

  21. Anonymous Coward

    Good idea

    Well that site went into the bookmarks - sampled a few of the videos and, okay, the camera work is a bit "OU" naff, but apart from that these are quite interesting. Don't suppose they could get some sponsorship to fill that five minute slot after the Channel 4 news during the week? And I'd give a "well done" to whomever thought the idea of the website up.

    @ghd(AC): nope, don't agree with you about Lady Boron being scary - thought she was kinda cute actually, and it's nice to see such enthusiasm.

    Coat icon, because mine is the spill-stained, acid burned one on the door.... ;)

  22. Mike Richards

    Prior art

    The Open University has put a nice clip of one of their old TV programmes on YouTube, featuring the noble gases, a man on the brink and some provocatively chunky knitwear:

  23. Chris


    The dandelion-haired professor somehow got a doctorate in chemistry yet he only *thinks* hydrogen is a major component of water? It must be, he states, because the formula for water is H2O.

    Uh, I think you have cause and effect reversed, Einstein. The formula is H2O *because* it contains hydrogen.

    No wonder the yoofs in Blighty are falling behind in science education...


  24. Chris Holford


    In his autobiography, "Uncle Tungsten", Oliver Sacks tells how he chucked a pound of sodium into one of the ponds on Hampstead Heath.

  25. Sean Ellis

    I remember that OU program

    Absolutely classic experiments. What happens if you burn sodium in fluorine? Well, we all know it should be spectacular - so let's do it! But the best one was the demonstration that diamonds are not forever, illustrated by heating one up and dropping it in liquid oxygen. Brilliant.

    Oh, and the Braniac thing with the Caesium was faked. Ouch.

  26. Richard


    "The melting point of Sodium is around 96 degrees". And? Kelvin, Celsius, or Fahrenheit? (Yes, I know it's Celsius, but that's not the point.)

    This video reminds me of a story I was told about the sodium store at Nottingham Uni. I was told it in the early 1990s but don't know when the alleged incident happened. The sodium store was underground, and it got flooded. All the doddery old chemistry profs were in a right flap, apparently. I bet it was a sight to see!

  27. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down


    At least when our Chemistry teacher dropped a bit of sodium into water - it cracked the big glass bowl and he swore non-stop for about 30 seconds!

  28. MYOFB

    Periodic Table Memories . . . Ahhhh!!

    I'm going back over 30 years but I recall our Physics teacher standing in for the Chemistry guy, due to the latters illness. Back then, the stand in didn't 'teach' bugger all about the subject, it was just a time filler until the bell sounded.

    Anyway, to pass the time, Physics Teach brought out a jar of Potassium and went on to explain it's volatility, why it was kept in a glass jar full of oil, etc. . . . Us all being wide-eyed and curious, not to mention said Phys bod was fond of telling a tale or two, we talked him round to giving us a demo. Outside into the 'playground' we went.

    To set the scene, it had been raining that morning and there were quite a few large puddles. So Phys opens the jar and cuts a piece of K off the size of a match head and chucks it into the puddle we had all gathered round . . . Phut-phut-fizz-fizz!!

    GREAT-WOW-COR were the general expressions, do a bigger piece Phys!! And so he did.

    The piece he chucked in was 3" long x half inch wide x quarter inch deep.

    What happened?

    Let's just say there was no more puddle as the resultant EXPLOSION blew it all over everyone watching, made us all deaf for the rest of the day and pretty much woke the dead!!

    Ahh, schooldays . . . Don't you miss them??

    PS I learnt the periodic table off by heart and still remember it to this day . . . Here's the first 20 . . .

    H, He, Li, Be, B, C, N, O, F, Ne, Na, Mg, Al, Si, P, S, Cl, Ar, K, Ca and so on!!

    And NO!!! I didn't Google or Wiki it . . . I truly do remember!!

  29. Rich

    Potassium isn't volatile

    If we are talking scientifically, volatile means "easily vapourised". Potassium doesn't boil until 759 degrees (Centigrade, natch).

    The word you want is "reactive".

  30. Tim Bates

    Good to see...

    ... that they did Helium properly.

    By which I mean they included the old suck it in and talk bit.

  31. Anonymous Coward


    @ Chris Hydrogen

    "Uh, I think you have cause and effect reversed, Einstein. The formula is H2O *because* it contains hydrogen".

    No, Wittgenstein, I believe you have cause and effect confused with logical argument.

    Yes, the formula for water is H2O because that is its structure.

    However, if all I know about water is its formula, then I can deduce Hydrogen is a major component.

    the yoofs in Blighty may well be falling behind in science education, but you have not provided a logical argument for this..

    anonymous Chris

    The dandelion-haired professor somehow got a doctorate in chemistry yet he only *thinks* hydrogen is a major component of water? It must be, he states, because the formula for water is H2O.

    Uh, I think you have cause and effect reversed, Einstein. The formula is H2O *because* it contains hydrogen.

    No wonder the yoofs in Blighty are falling behind in science education...


  32. TeeCee Gold badge

    Tales of the unexpected Potassium.

    I remember a mate telling me about an incident at a large and well-known chemical company. A lab tech was tasking with clearing out the old sample jars. One of these was labelled "miscellaneous plastic sample" and had a lump of plasticky looking stuff in some oily stuff in it. He poured the contents down the sink.

    Apparently, the noise made by a sizeable chunk of Potassium hitting the water in the U bend when all the pipework's made of heavy duty Stainless Steel and there's a SS sink on one end as a megaphone gives Krakatoa a run for its money.

    A personal recollection from my school days is of the Chem. master attempting to pare a small amount of Potassium off a stick of same into a water bath behind a screen. The expression on his face as he soiled himself in the split-second between the stick of Potassium slipping from the tongs he was holding it with and him hitting the deck behind the bench has stayed with me to this day.

  33. Richard Thomas

    re: Safety glasses not required

    I'll see your "slosh the mercury over the lab table" and raise you a "chemistry teacher absent-mindedly stirring the phosphorus with her finger". Wasn't just her mind that was absent for the rest of the year...

  34. Graham Marsden

    @Periodic Table Memories . . . Ahhhh!!

    But do you remember the Tom Lehrer version...?!

  35. Gordon Grant

    I remember the Cs Video too

    Yeah I remember seeing that one in physics one day, the nice big pyrex dish kinda just broke in to bits. Never got to play with any mercury although mate did tell me about banging mercury nails into things with a rubber hammer - gotta love liquid nitrogen...

    Diamond (C) + heat + (liquid)O2, I'll bet that was fun... boom + CO2 formed probably.

    Work it right and you could almost make glucose C6H12O6 mind you I don't think you could the mass explosion would be funny though.

    Remember distilling Crude Oil, some liquid spilt wiped it up and well went too close to the bunsen.... yeah I know the fuel / air ratio was right , I just hope no-one put anything remotely smoldering in that bin...

    I'll watch the video later - darn work network..

  36. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Re the hydrogen water thing, isn't that just semantics?

  37. Kevin Flame

    Hehehe, I remember...

    When we found out about this in school... Cue nicking large amounts of sodium over time, making small holes in a model boat, filling said model with said nicked sodium, covering the holes with filter paper, then sailing the model out on to a nearby lake filled with un-knowing folk on pedal boats...

    Oh, how we laughed that day. :)

  38. William Towle

    "the chance to chuck sodium into water...

    ...with unrestrained glee"

    Is there any other way?

  39. Steven Raith

    Just for the record...

    The whole periodic table is now up. Perhaps a bump for El Reg's fine admins is in order?

    Steven R

    [interested in physics/chemistry]

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