By Geoff Coxon
Our outreach project highlighted how molecules were manipulated to allow pilots to control aircraft, how metals and composites were used as materials to build aircraft and how medicines need to be understood in order for pilots and air traffic controllers to be safe in their jobs.
The shows were interactive, allowing the public and children to become Scotland’s newest chemists by blowing bubbles in the jet wash of an electric ducted fan jet engine, demonstrating how molecules move in air. This took place under the magnificence of Concorde!
Out in the Good Friday sunshine, the shows climaxed by starting up a 1:5 scale F16 jet fighter with a real jet turbine engine. Here we proved how hydrocarbons and their chemical bond enthalpy of formation were responsible for creating thrust. Then, by using a smoke generator similar to that used by the Red Arrows, we were able to prove that air molecules were at the heart of this again by creating plumes of white smoke with a hint of bubble gum odour – triggering molecular recognition of receptors in the nose, causing neurotransmission in the brain.
theSKYLAB has outreached to the public at airshows across the UK with audiences of tens of thousands, and has worked with the Red Arrows to inspire school children to become RAF Engineers or technicians. However, we wanted to showcase to the public how it is really chemistry at the heart of aviation, and it is not just engineering that enables this to happen.