Flame tubes. Vortex guns. Levitations. Explosions. A showdown.


Chemist Andrea Sella and physics presenter Steve Mould made music together – some of it sweet, some of it bitter, most of it smelly, with a few explosions thrown in for good measure.

Resonance patterns created with metal, sound and sand. Score one for physics.

Highlights: Vid Warren joined us to lend his sonic skills to our dancing flames.

Made for each other: Vid Warren, who beatboxes while playing the flute, and our Reubens’ tube, which reveals the shapes of sound waves.

Sella shot back with the barking dog: a spectacular explosion of blue flame, created through the combustion of nitric oxide with carbon disulfide, which made the most spectacular crescendo of noise as the reacting chemicals slid down the tube.

If only a photo could capture the noise this made.

And the cherry on top: an impromptu cheerleading physics team at the back provided the acoustic accompaniment to the rest of the visual spectacle.

The winner? A tie.

Solution: REMATCH.

One important point to make in closing: though a battle of wits and tricks is entertaining and inspiring, it does unfortunately reinforce the “tribalism”, as Andrea put it, between scientific disciplines.

Academics can be notoriously territorial. In this case, physicists believe they reveal the mechanics of matter itself, while chemists assert that if you want to be able to actually do anything with that matter you must turn to them.

But both factions, really, aim for the same goal: to understand how atoms work. They have more in common than they may wish to admit. And they work best, as Andrea asserts, when they put aside their differences and come together to forge a deep understanding of the fabric of reality (and, ultimately, of ourselves).

Or, as I (granted, having not slept in several days) put it to the audience: we are all one, man.