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When you hear "chemistry", you think “Flogiston”

fot. KFF Focus

They are organizers of international conferences and science festivals; they participate in picnics; they do uncountable shows and workshops. Members of the Warsaw Chemistry Science Club “Flogiston”, operating at the University, use knowledge to show that science can be interesting and enjoyable.

“Flogiston’s” presentations are particularly well-liked by children. The students don’t simply conduct chemistry experiments. They tap into the audience’s imagination. They don’t quote scientific theories or laws, they don’t use complex vocabulary. Instead, they just tell stories, not dissimilar to fairy tales. Children look inquisitively, as an experiment’s result becomes an elephant’s trunk, they listen closely to the tales of the genie of the lamp (actually, of the kettle), they laugh when they hear that experience in making shakes at McDonald’s helps in efficient mixing of substances. “We have our fans who come to most of the picnics and say: ‘I know you! I saw you here, here, here, and here’”, says Anna Chęcińska, member of the Club. “Once, a boy came to us and said: ‘When I hear chemistry, I think Flogiston’. It was very sweet”.

They show that chemistry is cool

There is a strict division of duties during shows: one person tells a story, the rest conduct experiments. “Shows are often conducted by the most experienced people; however, we want all Club members to learn this art and be ready to conduct both experiments and shows”, adds Patryk Tomaszewski, Vice President of “Flogiston”.

When creating presentations, the students take advantage of ideas of their fellow older students, former Club members. They also search for inspiration on the Internet and in books. Afterwards, they adjust it to their own concept of what they want to show and how, and to the audience’s age. “We introduce modifications to make things more eye-catching or safer”, emphasizes Anna Chęcińska. At times, changes are sudden. “Sometimes someone spontaneously invents something during the show, and other students have to adapt their roles”, says Patryk Tomaszewski.

It’s also thanks to this that you can watch “Flogiston’s” performances multiple times and not be bored for even a single second.

fot. BPI

They support themselves and teach others

Shows at picnics, festivals, open days, at schools and orphanages, or at children’s visits at the Warsaw University of Technology form only a part of the Club’s activities. Its members also take part in their two large projects: YoungChem, the International Congress of Young Chemists, and the Science Festival “Skołowany Weekend” [Clubbed Weekend].

This year will be home to the fifteenth edition of YoungChem. It’s an enormous undertaking. “Flogiston’s” members prepare it throughout the year. “The Congress is aimed at graduate and postgraduate students, and at young scientists”, explains Anna Chęcińska. “It’s an opportunity for them to show results of their studies, see how such an event looks, establish closer relationships with companies from the chemical industry, and to simply have fun”.

Joint research projects come about as a result of meetings at YoungChem, and young chemists have the opportunity to build their networks of contacts, which often results in exchanges and internships.

The second large project of “Flogiston”, i.e. the Science Festival “Skołowany Weekend”, is aimed mostly at children from primary, junior high and high schools. “We invite various science clubs to cooperate with us, mostly from Warsaw”, says Anna Chęcińska. “These clubs conduct lectures that explain what they do. And they don’t always represent exact sciences. Our guests included the Religious Education Club, or the Biblical Country Tourism Club.

“Sometimes even doctoral students who have their own science clubs come to us”, adds Patryk Tomaszewski.

This year will be home to the fifth edition of “Skołowany Weekend”.

They perform science projects

Popularization of science is not the only activity of “Flogiston”. The club also performs science projects. The last study of this kind was about ferrofluids, i.e. magnetic fluids. “We decided to make such a magnetic fluid ourselves”, says Club member Andrzej Wiśniewski. “It’s different from other fluids in that its liquid phase, where we suspend iron oxide nanoparticles, is an ionic liquid. Iron oxide is magnetic. But the ionic liquid itself also displays certain magnetic properties. We are interested in what will happen: will these iron oxide particles order themselves particularly well? Or will this liquid have new properties? We want to examine this”.

Ferroliquids have many uses. They are used in sealing, speakers, acoustic headphones, or vibration dampeners. “We can then show this ferrofluid ourselves at our presentations”, says Andrzej Wiśniewski.

fot. BPI

They inspire and educate

The Club consists mainly of students of the Faculty of Chemistry of WUT. However, at the moment, its members also include two female students of the Faculty of Chemical and Process Engineering.

In its present state, “Flogiston” has been operating since May 2001. Three students of the Faculty of Chemistry – Michał Bieniek, Wojciech Bury and Adam Sobczuk – decided back then to reactivate the Club. Warsaw University of Technology Associate Professor Michał Fedoryński, PhD (Eng.) supported them in this endeavour, and he is still the adviser for these young chemists.

Wojciech Bury, on the other hand, is a doctoral graduate who published joint papers with Sir James Fraser Stoddart, who was awarded the 2016 Nobel Prize in Chemistry. It’s all thanks to collaboration between research groups.

Wojciech Danowski, also a former member of „Flogiston”, currently prepares his doctoral thesis in the research group of another 2016 Nobel Prize laureate – Prof. Bernard L. Feringa.

What’s more, Prof. Feringa was a guest at YoungChem in 2010.

They receive awards

Members of “Flogiston” want to continuously develop and gain new experiences. But they have already significantly succeeded. A large cause for pride is the title of Science Populariser received in December 2016 at the competition organized by the Polish Press Agency service – Science in Poland, with the cooperation of the Ministry of Science and Higher Education. Our students were awarded the main prize in the category Teams. In 2014, they received a distinction at this competition. The Club also received prizes and distinctions in the competition of the Student Scientific Movement StRuNa, and the title of Ambassador of Polish Chemistry Poland, awarded by the Polish Chamber of Chemical Industry.

Agnieszka Kapela

Office for Promotion and Information