Manchester University
Oak Leaves

October 2, 2020

liquid nitrogen

Dr Davis pours liquid nitrogen from its tank during her ‘Tricks and Treats’ Facebook Live.

Photo provided by MU

Dr. Davis Shares Chemistry Tricks for Homecoming

Erin Clanton

As the weather gets cooler and the leaves begin to change to the crisp autumn colors, it’s beginning to look like Dr. Kathryn Davis’ favorite time of year. She is an associate professor of chemistry at Manchester.

She fell in love with chemistry when her 10th grade chemistry teacher made soap bubbles filled with methane gas. The teacher gave one of her classmates a meter stick with a lit birthday candle on the other end and asked him to torch the bubbles. This experiment demonstrated combustion reactions, which produce water. Davis said that she would never forget that because she heard the droplets hit the paper that her teacher spread on the floor beneath, so she could both see and hear the result of a chemical reaction. It was the first time she got really excited by something in science.

This love of science drives her today for her students, showing them the same magic she experienced when she was in school. She teaches because she loves to help people understand things they didn’t understand before. There have been a lot of teachers in her family, so the personality and skill set is pretty strong with them. She is excited for the day when she can go back to having all of her students in her class at the same time and see their facial expressions. “I really miss those interactions, and they’re just not the same on Zoom,” she said.

Davis got to show some of her scientific skills during a Homecoming event after being asked by Mike Leckrone, assistant director of Alumni Engagement, to make liquid nitrogen ice cream over Zoom. She said that it was a pretty standard trick that all of the chemists in the chemistry department know how to do, and Leckrone had remembered her helping out with an alumni event where they made it. From there, she said, “How about I do a couple more tricks with it?” and started to think up some of the tricks that would look best on camera.

She froze an oak leaf, a ball, and even made some mint-raspberry ice cream with the liquid nitrogen. She said that not all of the experiments worked the way she wanted them to, but that’s what science is; trial and error.