A Cambridge University virologist popped into Curtin University recently to end National Science Week with a bang.
Dr Chris Smith is known throughout Britain as the naked scientist for his knack on the BBC series of a similar name of stripping science down to its bare essentials.
During an hour-long lecture where he barely stood still, Smith bedazzled an all-ages audience with his combustible experiments.
Items from an unsuspecting gherkin to a pair of Ray-ban sunglasses were sacrificed for science.
Curtin Science Outreach Coordinator Emma Donnelly set the scene by pointing out the emergency exits, just in case.
Showman-like Smith warmed up with the old daffodil-in-the-dry-ice experiment before unleashing more complex procedures amid a flurry of one-liners.
By passing a charge through a gherkin impaled on two forks to produce an orange glow, he proved that the pickled vegetable was full of salt. This is a microcosm of how known colour reactions of different chemicals under heat were used to determine the composition of the sun.
At another point Smith converted a webcam into a heat-sensing camera by disabling its infrared sensor and attaching a pair of lenses he’d lifted from a perfectly good pair of Ray-bans. All this to demonstrate that old incandescent light globes frittered most of their energy away in infrared light that humans can’t even see.
The point Smith was trying to prove when he poured liquid nitrogen into a bin of soapy water was lost in a loud explosion, but nobody in the exhilarated crowd seemed to care.