Discourse: Explosive chemistry with Andrew Szydlo (Theatre)


Thu Feb 29 2024 at 07:20 pm to 08:45 pm


The Royal Institution of Great Britain | London, EN

A remarkable opportunity to delve into the evolution of explosive chemical experiments with world renown Andrew Szydlo.
About this Event

This page is for ‘in person’ Theatre tickets only. For online tickets,Both in person and online ticket holders will have access to the event recording.

The discourse promises to be an enlightening journey that will be accompanied by live experiments and illustrative slides. Dr. Szydlo, a maestro of the explosive chemical realm, will intersperse the presentation with anecdotes from his life, offering a personal touch that will captivate the audience and add a unique dimension to the exploration of scientific endeavors. The evening promises to be a riveting experience, as Szydlo regales the audience with tales of his past exploits, including:

1. A daring and "strictly banned" experiment involving the explosive mixture of sodium hypophosphite and potassium chlorate at Latymer Upper School in 1966, resulting in a resounding detonation that reverberated through the entire building. The experiment aims to illustrate the stark contrast between this forbidden concoction and conventional black powder.

2. An unforgettable escapade in 1982, when he tossed sizable lumps of sodium down a drain in Exeter, later transformed into a demonstrative experiment involving the controlled use of sodium pieces submerged in a water-filled Perspex tube.

3. A spectacular chemistry lecture at Cambridge University in 2012, where a tennis ball fired from a mortar blasted a hole through the ceiling of the Myers Squibb Lecture theatre. This momentous event was part of a lecture titled "Fireworks and Waterworks."

4. A thrilling endeavor in 1981, when a mixture of acetylene and oxygen was detonated in a school playing field using a dustbin liner. The shockwave caused the windows of a nearby boarding house to shake, prompting the housemaster to investigate the aftermath, only to find a gaping crater.

5. A run-in with the authorities in Epping Forest in 1980, stemming from the conduct of oversized chemical conflagrations involving butane gas canisters, weedkiller, and sugar. This incident led to the development of a fascinating experiment that demonstrates the ignition of a mixture of icing sugar and potassium chlorate using a drop of concentrated sulphuric acid.

6. A shift in the trajectory of his demonstrations in 1990, when the headmaster of Highgate School banned explosive chemical displays. Inspired by a passionate pupil, Ian Cohen, who had an affinity for magic, Dr. Szydlo transitioned his explosive talks into "Flower Power" magic shows, delivering the same excitement on a grander scale.

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And as we're always trying to understand more about you our audiences at the Ri, you'll notice we've introduced some optional questions when booking tickets. Please do take a moment to fill them in if you have the time.

Discourses are one of the Ri’s oldest and most prestigious series of talks. Since 1825, audiences in the theatre have witnessed countless mind-expanding moments, including the first public liquefaction of air by James Dewar, the announcement of the electron by JJ Thomson and over 100 lectures by Michael Faraday. In more recent times, we have had Nobel laureates, Fields medal winners, scientists, authors and artists – all from the leading-edge of their field. Discourses allow the best and brightest to share their work with the world.

Steeped in nearly two centuries of tradition, a Discourse is more than just a lecture. To keep the focus on the topic, presenters begin sharply at 7:30pm without introduction, and we lock the speaker into a room ten minutes ahead of the start (legend has it that a speaker once tried to escape!). Some of our guests dress smartly for our Discourse events to add to this sense of occasion.

Discourses are free for Ri Members and Patrons - consider joining today.

Please find out more about the history of Discourses on our blog.

The doors will open at approximately 6.45pm, with a prompt start at 7.30pm. There will be a brief question/answer period after the talk.

Latecomers will be admitted to the gallery.

Event image by the Ri


Where is it happening?

The Royal Institution of Great Britain, 21 Albemarle Street, London, United Kingdom

Event Location & Nearby Stays:


GBP 0.00 to GBP 20.00

The Royal Institution

Host or Publisher The Royal Institution

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