Hunter Johnson, Staff Writer
After witnessing it, one would surely hope that Campus Security knew what was going on.
Bright and early one October morning, explosions could be heard coming from the Mall here at the University of Dallas. Upon closer inspection, one would find nearly two-dozen balloons lined up between Haggar and the Science Building. That onlooker would then see a seemingly normal student carrying a fishing pole rigged with a lit candle on the end approaching a balloon. The moment the balloon is touched by the candle – BOOM. Fiery explosion and no more balloon.
These people were not overly-stressed college students letting off some steam (officially, at least). Rather, these were mostly science majors participating in the annual festivities of Mole Day, which was part of National Chemistry Week. “Mole Day celebrates Avogadro’s number (6.02X10^23) so we celebrate it on October 23 (10/23) at 6:02 in the morning,” said Amy Lindberg, president of Student Members of the American Chemical Society (SMACS) on campus. “[National Chemistry Week] is celebrated that week all over the nation, and Mole Day just happens to fall within that week every year.”
Mole Day has been celebrated nationally for over twenty years, according to the National Mole Day Foundation’s website. Dr. Bill Hendrickson, professor and chair of the chemistry department, said UD has celebrated the event for over a decade. While the festivities on Mole Day have varied slightly (for a few years students went to IHOP), Hendrickson said that every year has mostly consisted of exploding gas-filled balloons.
Members of SMACS credit Hendrickson with being an important part of the festivities. Crystal Purcell, the group’s sophomore representative, said Hendrickson is an enormous help. “No one else on the staff helps…he helps fill up the hydrogen balloons, helps light them, opens up the lab to get out all the supplies [and] he’s the first one there setting up.”
Given the fiery nature of the festivities, his expertise was likely welcome.
Students who attended Mole Day this year would first have seen or participated in setting the balloons ablaze. 23 balloons were inflated, some filled with just hydrogen and others filled with a hydrogen/oxygen mix, and then taped to the ground at the Mall. Then a lucky student would approach a balloon with the candle-on-a-fishing-pole device. Balloons filled only with hydrogen popped without much incident. The balloons containing the hydrogen/oxygen mix were the ones that truly made the early morning event explosive.
Afterwards, those in attendance set out on the very scientific task of consuming several types of donuts and juice.
Purcell said she thought Mole Day was a great opportunity for non-science majors to see chemistry on an easier level.
“Well really the main impression [we want] to leave is just ‘wow, chemistry isn’t this lofty, unobtainable thing,’ you know that is purely theoretical,” she said. “It’s actually something that applies to you and it actually is something interesting that you can see the results of, like lighting up hydrogen balloons and seeing great balls of fire.”
Yasmin Fatemi, the group’s vice-president, said that welcoming non-science majors was great so that they can “learn more about science” and see that the science students are not just their own clique.
She said they wanted people to see “that science is cool and that it’s not all just numbers and crazy scientist sorts of things, well I guess [blowing up balloons] was a crazy scientist sort of thing. But we’re not just our own little group…I think that everyone should be able to understand parts of [what we do].”
As interesting as Mole Day may sound, an obvious question arises among those not naturally inclined to science: why on earth get up at 6 in the morning?
“Maybe it’s a little silly that we get up outrageously early on a school morning just to celebrate some number in chemistry,” Lindberg said, “but the important thing is getting as many people as possible there, all of whom are excited to see chemistry in action. You may not be a chemistry or science major, but everyone can appreciate an explosion or two.”