Book review

Chemical Demonstrations: A Handbook for Teachers in Chemistry, Volume 5

By Bassam Z. Shakhashiri, ISBN-13: 9780299226503

This is the fifth installation in the well-known series of chemical demonstrations from Dr. Shakhashiri and his collaborators. In a format similar to volumes 1-4, this volume provides more than fifty classroom demonstrations with the main focus being on the scientific principles behind colour and light. A nice upgrade for this edition over the previous four is that many of the experiments are now written and illustrated in full colour.

The book begins with comprehensive explanations of the science of colour and light, the electromagnetic spectrum, and the physics behind vision and perception, among other related topics. These concepts are carried throughout all of the related demonstrations, and can be used as educational introductory material for any classroom or public demonstration. The demonstrations are divided among five chapters, (1) The Production of Light; (2) Properties of Light; (3) Perception and Vision; (4) Photoemission: Fluorescence and Phosphorescence; and (5) Photochemistry.

Each well-organized demonstration includes

  • introductory explanations of the scientific principles involved
  • a list of required materials
  • detailed procedures with preparation and presentation notes
  • discussion of the potential hazards
  • clean-up, storage and disposal information
  • a discussion of the demonstration principles and phenomena
  • related references

Upon first receiving the book, I had expected that most of the demonstrations would be based upon chemical reactions that produce colour changes and light. After reading through many of the demonstrations, it turns out that this is not actually the case. Nonetheless, the book does not disappoint. While there are a few “chemistry” based demonstrations, many of the activities tend to incorporate the physics behind colour and light instead. One of the advantages of this is that many of the book’s demonstrations do not use any chemical reagents at all, and thus are very portable demonstrations that can be performed with any audience without the need for safety equipment and/or laboratory space with fume hoods. Performing some of these demonstrations for a large audience might get a bit tricky, but they are set up very well for smaller, more intimate activities.

Many of these demonstrations would translate well into high school science classrooms studying optics and/or light. I have successfully adapted demonstrations 12.35 (Photoluminescence) and 12.37 (Differentiation of Fluorescence and Phosphorescence) into hands-on laboratory activities to fit in with the Ontario grade 10 science curriculum in the optics unit, and I look forward to doing so with other demonstrations from the book.

Overall, the book provides excellent demonstrations for the otherwise hard-to-demonstrate scientific principles involving colour and light. Following the same high standards as volumes 1-4, it is a welcome addition to the collection. It is a must-have for anyone who is interested and/or involved in communicating scientific information in a fun and fascinating way.

Black and white photo of Bassam Z. Shakhashiri with Reg Friesen

We found this photo in our Chem 13 News archives: Bassam Z. Shakhashiri and Reg Friesen at ChemEd 89