Michael Faraday has been reborn yet again. His third "incarnation" takes to the lecture stage Tuesday and Wednesday. But don't expect to see him if you don't already have tickets.
The annual Faraday Chemistry Christmas Lecture, free to the public and held at the University of Utah, has been "sold out" for a month, says the great chemist's latest impersonator, Peter B. Armentrout, chemistry department chairman at the U.
The first time the discoverer of electromagnetism laws took to the lecture stage was in 1827, when he launched his Christmas lectures for children at the Royal Institution of Great Britain, London. The lecture series demonstrated chemistry experiments and inspired his young audiences with the joys of science.
In 1980, U. chemists Prof. Ron Ragsdale and Jerry Driscoll began the yearly tradition, re-creating Faraday's lectures. The lectures were hugely popular, with controlled explosions and other spectacular effects. After their 2005 performance as Faraday and his assistant, "Ragsdale and Driscoll 'retired' from the exhausting effort and staging the demonstrations and lectures," says a university press release.
Taking up the challenge this year, presenting for the first time, are Armentrout as Faraday and Chuck Wight, chemistry professor, as his assistant. As Ragsdale and Driscoll did, they will be dressed in 19th century outfits, including top hats.
"They will introduce a dynamic new series of experiments and demonstrations that will educate and entertain audiences of all ages," promises the University.
Interviewed by telephone, Armentrout said he has some trepidation about taking over the lectures, "because we're following a tough act.
"Prof. Ragsdale and Dr. Driscoll have been doing this for a long time" and doing it successfully, he said.
Armentrout thought it was important to continue the Christmas chemistry tradition. "The chemistry and the experiments will be the stars of the show," he said.
The two will do some of the series' old standby lectures, plus some new experiments. There will be a slightly different presentation, he said. "I took what I considered to be some of the best experiments that they were doing and those are still in the show," he added.
Wight plans to recreate Faraday's original lecture on candles.
"We sort of end up with a good number of explosions, which is always popular," he said.
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