Ideas for a mad science wedding?
April 8, 2006 6:57 PM   Subscribe

Can anyone suggest interesting science-flavored demonstrations, experiments, or spectacles to be performed at a wedding?

My friends have asked me to be the "official mad scientist/busker" at their upcoming wedding. I've been trying to think of ways to fulfill this somewhat open-ended assignment. I will try to acquire some liquid nitrogen with which to make ice cream and the like (can anyone suggest a good source for the stuff near Denver?) but I want to do something a bit more pyrotechnic to entertain the guests.

Guidelines (feel free to post things that violate these if they are especially cool):

1. It shouldn't be too messy, since everyone will be wearing their Nice Things.
2. I will have about two days to prepare (the wedding is in two months, but I will be out of the country until a few days beforehand.)
3. Crowd-pleasing (either very cool-looking or edible) is more important than educational, although the latter is obviously a bonus.
4. Ideally, the materials should not be too expensive or difficult to obtain. (Alas, I mourn the days when I had access to fully stocked collegiate labs!) Things that are available by mail-order are fine.
posted by fermion to Science & Nature (33 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
This one's messy but a crowd pleaser. Very easy to perform, as well. No sure about its educational value. I'm sure chemistry has something to do with it...!

Here's hoping you put on a good show!
posted by EmuBite at 7:14 PM on April 8, 2006

echoing EmuBite, I bet mentos would work in a bottle of champaign.

Added bonus: make some crack about the groom and the upcomming wedding night.
posted by MonkeySaltedNuts at 7:24 PM on April 8, 2006


Very few things I come across on the web make me burst out laughing. Your comment did.

posted by EmuBite at 7:30 PM on April 8, 2006

The problem with the mentos/diet coke fountain is that it probably looks too scatological for most weddings. The congratulory fountain of poo would probably disturb at least the more staid family members.

But by similar principles, could the old baking soda/vinegar/balloon on the bottle trick be used to inflate balloons with cheerful messages on them?

There should be lots of online refs for using a camp stove or something similar to launch a little hot air balloon over the crowd -- again with a message or drawing on it; could be a bit spectacular.
posted by argybarg at 7:34 PM on April 8, 2006

FYI, looks like champagne will work as well.
posted by EmuBite at 7:35 PM on April 8, 2006

You won't be able to make ice cream using liquid nitrogen because ice cream needs to freeze slowly. Something akin to a popsicle, made by freezing fruit juice, would work far better.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 7:39 PM on April 8, 2006

Best answer: How to set yourself on fire.
posted by onalark at 7:42 PM on April 8, 2006

Liquid nitrogen ice cream is a long standing right of passage for those who work in labs with access to said material, well that along with freezing anything they can get their hands on just to see what happens when they hit it with a hammer.

As for science demos sadly there aren't too many that are wedding friendly/not messy. Science is messy, thats part of the fun.
posted by Captain_Science at 7:46 PM on April 8, 2006

argybarg made me think of this: how about some kind of fire balloon? It could be very pretty on a summer evening. You probably ought to tether them, though, so you can keep it safe and clean up afterwards.

I once chilled white wine by pouring liquid nitrogen into it. It doesn't work very well, but it looks dramatic.
posted by Songdog at 7:46 PM on April 8, 2006

I should probably clarify my comment: I chilled white wine by pouring liquid nitrogen into a wine glass that was half full of the wine. The nitrogen evaporated too quickly to suck much heat out of the wine, but the steaming glass looked pretty cool. I'm sure there are nice efficient ways of chilling bottles of white wine with liquid nitrogen, but I have no idea whether it would be safe to do it. You might break some bottles.
posted by Songdog at 7:50 PM on April 8, 2006

I went to a restaurant once that brought out tall frosted shot glasses with a chunk of dry ice in the bottom. The waiter poured in a mixture of champagne and cream/milk (?) about halfway. Then it began to foam and bubbles poured out all over the plate, releasing that smoky mist when they popped. It churned for about 20 minutes. Pretty amusing effect.
posted by idiotfactory at 7:57 PM on April 8, 2006

Perhaps what I should have said was, "You won't be able to make good ice cream..." If you freeze ice cream too rapidly, it will not have a nice mouth-feel.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 8:19 PM on April 8, 2006

I would suggest raiding SciToys for explosions, etc. Perhaps a gauss rifle kicks off a Rube Goldberg-type display?
posted by argybarg at 8:23 PM on April 8, 2006

fermion - given your username, I'm imagining that you're an academic in a scientific field.

When you say that your friends asked you to be the "official mad scientist/busker"...

Who asked you? The groom? The bride? With the blessings/permission of the bride? Are the groom (AND) bride scientfimificately inclined?

Being a cynic, without knowing the scope and permission status of the people who will actually be The Most Important Focus Of The Ceremony (basically, the bride), it's hard to condone you do anything much less come up with suggestions. (The "busker" bit also twings my cynic meter.)

That said...

Can you borrow a PCR and a pretty big gel box? Amplify a gene that is +/+. +/-. -/- in all of the guests (I can dig out some good candidates if you want) - all it takes it a saline swash, centriguation, and really simple PCR technqies. Joke about people who souldn't be inbreeding with each other (it's a gag - not really). You shouldn't have people look at a UV box without eye protection, but I've taken good pictures with a digital camera of gels - display them on a laptop screen, pass around the laptop.

Demonstration of a laser microphone (ie., don't cheat, if you do you can be found out)?

"If everyone here (guests+party) were the last people on earth; what would it take to create the most genetically diverse population?" (aka - if everyone else on earth died, how do we best fuck each other such that humanity will be the most successful) - detail relationships of all the guests to each other and work out the matrix that results in the most genetic diversity. Bonus points, it this is tolerated (which I doubt would be), work out subsequent generations.

fermion - I'm not sure you've been dealt something that's... enviable.

"Cool" looking demonstrations don't have a lot to do with weddings. Pyrotechnics, sure. "Science?" ...

(looking foreward to hearing funner science people than me answer this question)
posted by PurplePorpoise at 9:24 PM on April 8, 2006

Response by poster: PurplePorpoise: The bride asked me--she's a biologist. She'd probably appreciate the PCR idea; I quite like it myself, but I doubt I'd be able to get the equipment. The groom is also fairly geeky.

That said, anything I come up with is going to be thoroughly vetted by the principles, who will help me figure out how it fits into the planned ceremony/reception/etc.
posted by fermion at 9:49 PM on April 8, 2006

Response by poster: Onalark, that's exactly the sort of thing I'm looking for--that looks quite awesome.

Emubite et al, I'm afraid I was specifically thinking of the Mentos+Cola trick when I said "not messy." Although I suppose that one might be acceptably non-messy if done with plain seltzer water, since that would eliminate the sticky factor.

Steven C., in my experience liquid nitrogen ice cream is pretty excellent stuff. I believe the trick is that stirring the LN2 into the mixture aerates and freezes at the same time. Although the "neato!" factor probably contributes to the perception of tastiness.

Thanks to everyone for the various excellent ideas and leads--please do continue!
posted by fermion at 9:52 PM on April 8, 2006

OK, then. I've already demonstrated how limited my knowledge is, so I'll dip into another area where my knowledge is limited:

Liquid Nitrogen is dangerous stuff. You can really hurt yourself or someone else badly with it if you don't know what you're doing.

Don't pour it on your skin or touch it in any way. Use protective gloves. (Ordinary winter mittens are not good enough.) Be very careful about what kind of container you carry it in, and pour into it slowly so that you don't shatter that container.

And use it in a well-ventilated area. Nitrogen isn't poisonous, but if enough liquid nitrogen evaporates in a badly ventilated area it can reduce the oxygen level enough to make you suffocate.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 10:12 PM on April 8, 2006

This account of throwing sodium into water and watching it blow up sounded pretty cool, albeit not entirely risk-free, to me. With smaller amounts and test-runs beforehand it might be worth looking into.
posted by IshmaelGraves at 11:06 PM on April 8, 2006

Any of the alkali metals will do fun stuff in water. If there's a lake nearby, you could rig up some basic explosives (keep the metals in oil immersion, have some trigger to expose it to the water to blow it up). Burning copper & watching the color can be fun under the right conditions. 'Gold'-plate pennies for people?
posted by devilsbrigade at 2:07 AM on April 9, 2006

Best answer: Will it be hot? Get a large dinner plate and put a circle of chocolates around the edge. Then put a large bowl of water in the centre of the plate and drop in a big hunk of dry ice (simple to make and buy). The dry ice will sublimate and a fog of carbon dioxide will pour over the edge of the bowl and across the plate, keeping your chocolates from melting.

Will it be dark? Make up a solution of water and luminol (the sodium salt, not the pure stuff) in one beaker and hydrogen peroxide (<10%?) in another. When the luminol and hydrogen peroxide are mixed, light is released. Go around tables and create glow sticks out of any container that you can find: pour some luminol in the bride's mother's wine glass, then add hydrogen peroxide. Imagine how cool it would look if everyone's table had a glowing central feature made of glass or plastic instead of candles. Has the bonus of being essentially non-toxic.

Lots of space? Get a child's paddling pool and fill with cornstarch flour and water. Hey presto, you can walk on it! But don't stop moving or you'll start to sink!

Have fun with it, I'd love to get this job!
posted by alby at 4:22 AM on April 9, 2006 [1 favorite]

Oooh! Forgot one: make up some iodine triiodide.
posted by alby at 4:23 AM on April 9, 2006

Turning water into wine is a classic wedding party trick.
posted by zanni at 4:26 AM on April 9, 2006

You could introduce various agents into the food chain to provide entertaining payoff later...


Bioluminescent water would probably be as entertaining and less worrisome.
posted by plinth at 4:39 AM on April 9, 2006

There is a famous restaurant somewhere in Melbourne which combines gourmet cuisine with science - one cool thing I remember about it (saw a travel show that featured it) was these eggs that were dipped in liquid nitrogen, and when you ate then, smoke came out of your nose.

If someone can remember the name of that restaurant, that could be your source for ideas.
posted by divabat at 5:02 AM on April 9, 2006

If this outfit has a location near you, perhaps you could hire them to do the entertainment. I've never used their services, but they perform live science experiments to entertain school groups. I suspect they could develop a program for you.
posted by squink at 7:02 AM on April 9, 2006

devilsbrigade writes "'Gold'-plate pennies for people?"

These or keys would make excellent favours.
posted by Mitheral at 7:19 AM on April 9, 2006

On-the-spot sperm count. If she's a biologist, and even if she's not, she can probably help with this one.
posted by pracowity at 8:39 AM on April 9, 2006

Something that's very wedding appropriate, and makes for a great show of physics, is sabering a champagne bottle before you make a toast.

French champagne bottles have a weak point where the seam meets the annulus (ring that holds the cork). Simply remove the foil along a seam, and find the point near the cork where the seam and annulus meet. That's what you'll aim for.

Hold the bottle by the base in one hand, and using a champagne saber or backside of a really heavy cleaver, slide the blade down the neck and strike the annulus.

If you do it right, the internal pressure of the bottle (about 115 psi, iirc) will pop the top of the bottle off, with the ring of glass still around the cork. It'll fly about 20 feet, with a nice spray of foam. The champagne is perfectly safe to drink, with the break being clean.
posted by kaseijin at 12:42 PM on April 9, 2006

Best answer: An oscillating clock reaction is cool. Google for other examples of OC reactions.

You know when the solution changes from one color to the next - assuming you use the same stock solutions B&C for this work, you can rely on the rate of change like a clock.

You say "ladies and gentlemen: by the POWER OF MY MIND I will make this solution chnage color in the next 10 seconds - it will go! it will go": each time it changes, you look godlike. You can make a pun about omniscience, and sugggest that you predict oscillations but a stable reaction between them for many years to come etc...

You should definitely practice it with the same reagents though!
posted by lalochezia at 12:42 PM on April 9, 2006

Here's one that involves pyrotechnics, though I'm not sure how feasible it. This also assumes there will be music:
Get a big metal pipe (preferably at least 1/2 foot in diameter- mine was about 15 feet long. Best bet is to try hardware stores who accumulate random extra piping and and see if they have some extra laying around they don't plan on selling). Drill holes (good drill/drill bit and a steady hand is key) an even space apart in a straight line from one end to the other. When I did this, I kept about 3/4 or 1 inch between each hole.
On one one, attach a speaker that will be hooked up to the music being played (easy way to do this is get a crappy car or computer speaker and take it apart). The important part for this step is to ensure the end is sealed. With out experiment, we used a computer speaker which we removed from its encasing.
For the next step, you need to figure out a way to attach methane or some kind of gas. When I did this in class, I sealed a funnel around the edges of the pipe opposite of the speaker and used a regular bunsen burner tube to hook it up from the gas to the funnel.
Turn on the music & gas, wait for the gas to fill up the tub, and light up one of the holes. This will create a sinusoidal graph in the form of fire jumping up and down from the holes you drilled in pipe. Increase/decrease gas flow and music volume for desires flame height.

note: I don't have any documentation for this. My physics teacher came up with the brilliant idea of trying this out one day. He was a pyro, and it took total of 5 hours with 3 of us working on the project.
posted by jmd82 at 7:32 PM on April 9, 2006

Another fun liquid nitrogen demo my Chemistry teacher did for us is drench cheetos with the stuff. It makes it seem like your breathing smoke when you eat it, it's a lot of fun. You have to be a little careful eating it, making sure you don't hold it in one area too long, but it's reasonably safe and a lot of fun.
posted by phr4gmonk3y at 12:10 AM on April 10, 2006

Fill a beer bottle with water, right up to the rim so that surface tension is visible. Hold the bottle steadily by the neck with one hand and slam your other hand down on the top. The bottom of the bottle will pop off and water will go everywhere.

It's because water transmits the shock waves much better than air.
posted by alby at 7:45 AM on April 10, 2006

Fill a beer bottle with water, right up to the rim so that surface tension is visible. Hold the bottle steadily by the neck with one hand and slam your other hand down on the top. The bottom of the bottle will pop off and water will go everywhere.

It's because water transmits the shock waves much better than air.
Anyone have pictures of this trick?
posted by Songdog at 6:18 AM on April 12, 2006

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