High school chemistry teacher Phil Cook (@chemteacherphil) didn’t know anything about TikTok up until one Friday in August, when a student in his class recommended that he make one of the day’s in-class demonstration: an experiment he calls the “gummy bear” sacrifice, where sugarcoating (a gummy bear) to a test tube of potassium chlorate develops a contained explosion.
” I said, here’s my phone, make the video and we can take a look at it,” Cook says. He posted the video to TikTok and left school for the weekend.
After seeing the response, Cook chosen to keep making videos of chemistry demonstrations. Now, he has more than 900,000 fans on TikTok.
“I see a lot of questions from individuals who are naturally curious,” he says.
The following questions and responses have been lightly edited for clarity.
Tell me more about your first video– what were you attempting to do with that experiment?
I teach an introductory chemistry course. I teach kids to make observations about matter and modification, and being able to distinguish in between physical and chemical change is the focus of the first lab activity. I ask them to mention proof they see that supports that a chemical or physical change has occurred. The gummy bear sacrifice is a pretty popular demonstration, and there’s a lot of evidence the kids can get onto. It’s pretty over the top, and emphasizes the ideas in the lab they ‘d just done.
How do you choose what experiments to place on TikTok?
There’s a common thread in where I remain in the course and the presentations I do videos of. Sometimes I broaden beyond that. Some things are simply things I’m interested in, where I can toss a demo together and see what the chemical reaction is.
What’s behind the appeal of a few of your videos?
I did one with a polymer sodium alginate, which is a polymer from seaweed. It’s used in molecular gastronomy. You can consume it. That video, when I walked through the process, motivated a lot of nostalgia.
Videos that have some sort of fond memories– whether I suggest to do it or not– that have recommendations the kids pull out, are popular.
Why is the “elephant toothpaste” reaction so popular on TikTok and other social networks platforms?
I do not believe individuals really recognize how unsafe it is, particularly when you’re utilizing the concentrations of hydrogen peroxide that provide the experiment a really fast generation of oxygen gas. If you look on YouTube you can see gallons of hydrogen peroxide discarded into a catalyst in a barrel– there’s a reason they’re wearing hazmat fits.
What are your goals for your chemistry videos?
Just factor I do them is because individuals seem to be interested in them. The remarks I appreciate one of the most are the ones where people of whatever age state, “I want my chemistry teacher would have done that, my experience was different, thanks for offering me a 2nd chance at chemistry.” Those are why I do this.