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Celebrating Halloween, chemistry style

by Taylor C. Hood
October 31, 2016 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 94, Issue 43


Costumes inspired by chemistry

It’s Halloween, and if you haven’t already scared up a costume by now, you’re probably going to have to resort to something homemade. Fortunately the Newscripts gang has some great chemistry-themed ideas—courtesy of our Twitter and Facebook followers—that can be quickly crafted from items found in laboratories, closets, and local stores.

Credit: Courtesy of Debbie Gale Mitchell
Curie-ous: Debbie Gale Mitchell dressed up as Marie Curie to teach nuclear chemistry.
Debbie Gale Mitchell, a teaching professor at the University of Denver, dressed up as Marie Curie.
Credit: Courtesy of Debbie Gale Mitchell
Curie-ous: Debbie Gale Mitchell dressed up as Marie Curie to teach nuclear chemistry.

Debbie Gale Mitchell put her hair in a bun and wore a long black skirt and a black blouse to transform herself into Marie Curie when she taught nuclear chemistry earlier this year.

Sterling Stokes Jr. dressed up as a mad scientist by wearing an old lab coat and some jumper cables. Or raid the lab for goggles, gloves, a respirator, and a yellow hazmat suit, and go as Walter White from “Breaking Bad,” as Christian Guerrero did.

Strapped for time and supplies? Just grab a marker and some inexpensive white T-shirts. Eve Granatosky and her friends went as DNA one year by wearing T-shirts with hand-drawn bases. They stood side by side to show hydrogen bonding. If you’ve got a chef’s hat, suggests Chelsea Catania, all it takes to become an Iron Chef is to draw Fe onto a T-shirt. Ditch the hat, and you can be either Ferrous Bueller or the superhero Iron Man.

If you’ve worn a great ­chemistry costume, the Newscripts gang would love to hear about it. Drop us a line at

Learning science with leftover Halloween candy

Credit: Taylor Hood/C&EN
Sweet science: Use your Halloween candy cache to teach chemistry.
Sour gummy candies in a solution of sodium bicarbonate forming carbon dioxide bubbles.
Credit: Taylor Hood/C&EN
Sweet science: Use your Halloween candy cache to teach chemistry.

So you and your kids have enjoyed a walk around the neighborhood wearing this year’s awesome costume, and you’ve collected a cache of candy. But you don’t want the kids’ teeth to rot from the sweets. Loralee Leavitt, author of “Candy Experiments” and “Candy Experiments 2,” has some suggestions for turning all that sugary goodness into some science lessons.

One of Leavitt’s favorite experiments, she tells Newscripts, is to use sour candies for an acid test. If the candy, such as Warheads, has a supersour exterior coating, you can drop it in hot water. Then sprinkle baking soda into the water, and look for bubbles—an indicator of acidity as acid from the candy reacts with the baking soda to make carbon dioxide. Alternatively, you can drop the candy into a baking soda solution and watch the bubbles nucleate around the sweet. If you’ve got an assortment of sour candy, you can do a comparison test to see which one is the most acidic by how much it bubbles.

Got gummies? Leavitt says kids particularly enjoy watching them grow by letting them soak in water for a day or two as the gelatin absorbs water.

If your child is curious about what makes up their candy, let them dissolve Skittles or taffy in warm water, Leavitt says. After the sweet dissolves, oil will float to the top of the solution and the coloring will separate toward the bottom. This is also a nice way to introduce the concept of density.

The candy fiends in the Newscripts gang decided to try out an experiment for ourselves. To demonstrate how heat can separate chewy candies, such as Starburst or Frooties, we made candy slime. Here’s how you do it: Slowly melt the sticky treats either in an oven on an aluminum-lined cookie sheet, in a double boiler, or in a microwave. Be careful not to heat for too long as the candies can begin to burn. After the candy melts, waxy oil spots will appear on the slimy surface, showing that candy isn’t just made of sugar—there’s oil in there, too.

Leavitt emphasizes that sweets used in experiments shouldn’t be eaten. Also, because melted candy can get very hot, adults should always supervise experiments involving heat. You and your little candy scientist can find more of her experiments at

Taylor C. Hood wrote this week’s column. Please send comments and suggestions to


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