Loud explosions, flashes of fire and beakers of color-changing liquids have a few things in common.
They’re all the result of chemical reactions, and they’re all part of the show for Olathe North High School’s Faraday Society.
The extracurricular group stages educational science demonstrations with the finesse of a magic show, except they reveal how they do their tricks. Twenty juniors and seniors make up the group, and each performance is different.
“The most difficult part is definitely adjusting your explanations for the age range and whoever you’re talking to,” said 17-year-old Aubrey Holland of Olathe. “At the elementary school, we couldn’t go into the chemistry (right away). We had to talk about observation and cause and effect.”
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Sometimes the shows are themed. Before the Harry Potter movies came out, the society did a Potter-themed show.
A recent show at Arbor Creek Elementary wasn’t really themed, but was geared toward the audience’s age.
Most of the demonstrations in a show feature chemistry, but physics comes into play, too.
A Faraday Society performance isn’t like your typical chemistry classroom. Mood music swings from the Peanuts theme to the Austin Powers signature tune, and the performers work the science into a skit.
“We love it when people pick up on the humor,” said Holland . “If you can hear the oohs and ahhs, that’s what keeps the show going and keeps the energy super-duper high.”
One demonstration features a shell game where the performers pour water from one opaque cup to another, and somewhere along the line, the water disappears. Later, they reveal that they used a super-absorbent powder to make the liquid vanish.
In another, they explode balloons, each with a different gas combination inside, to show how the gasses make a difference when it comes to the sound and the amount of flame in the explosion.
Sometimes it doesn’t all go according to plan. Society members have to be ready to sub in for each other or step in to provide a forgotten prop.
“There’s such a family-like collaborative nature (in) this performing group … that’s come together through a collective interest. We’re all intrigued by science,” said 17-year-old Hunter Eisler . “To me there’s a bit of magic in it. The way we do our shows and convey what we love is the most magical sensation I could think of.”
The number of shows varies from year to year and can range from as few as eight to as many as 20. This year,they hope to do shows for all the Olathe middle schools.
The group started in 1995 under the guidance of teacher Rhonda Reist, a science teacher at Olathe North. A group of students came to her, interested in science demos, and she gave them books full of instructions.
“I had somebody in here every night,” she said.
The society’s name is a tribute to 19th century English scientist Michael Faraday, who came from humble origins and learned his science from books. The original Olathe North group identified with these traits, Reist said.
The students did their demos for each other but wanted to do a show for others, too. Reist suggested a Friday night outdoor show for friends and families.
“I thought we’d have 20 or 30 people there, and the entire main courtyard was packed. One-hundred-twenty-some people showed up, and the kids had an absolute blast,” she said.
She’s quick to point out that the students do the work, but her students say she’s there every day if and when they need her.
Fellow Olathe North science teacher and former Faraday Society member Amy Clement also helps and supervises.
Being in the Faraday Society “is the reason I went into education,” Clement said. “You learn how to work with people to get a ... project done in front of other people where it’s got to go off safely.”
If you go
What: Faraday Society demonstration
Where: Union Station, Science City
When: Noon, Saturday