Chemistry lecturer’s science demonstrations blow up

Brooke Vincent

From breathing fire to setting a balloon alight, chemistry lecturer Kate Biberdorf’s explosive demonstrations — and herself — have recently been featured by news media and other programs.

CNN, NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt and Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls program, along with local TV stations, have all featured Biberdorf for her demonstrations aimed at making science fun and for breaking stereotypes of women in the STEM field.

“I want to show everyone that anybody can be a scientist,” Biberdorf said. “I loved Bill Nye since I was a kid, and I would love to be the next scientist for the new generation.
Science is amazing.”

Most of the demonstrations involve explosions or fire. Her “self-carving pumpkins” use a chemical explosion to punch out the classic jack-o’-lantern face. The demonstrations are part of Biberdorf’s Fun with Chemistry outreach program, started in 2014, where she travels to different schools and events to try to inspire a love for science.

“We go out to Austin schools, and we try to show kids that science is fun and entertaining and you don’t have to be a dork or a nerd to like science,” Biberdorf said. “It’s high energy — fire and explosions.” 

Chemistry senior Jacks Reyna has volunteered for Fun with Chemistry since 2015 and helps with setting up the demonstrations.

“I’ve seen the same demonstrations from other professors, and none of them are as interesting or eye-catching as when she does it,” Reyna said. “It’s so fun to go out and see the kids’ reactions. I would honestly hope it goes to some type of TV show where she can teach this all the time and just show everyone this awesome energy that you should have and this excitement for science.”

Nicole Behnke, a former volunteer with Biberdorf, has started her own Fun with Chemistry program at Rice University, where she is a graduate student.

“(Biberdorf) just finds a way to make the subject material more interesting,” Behnke said. “She engages her audience really well, and she does it with so much enthusiasm. I think she is really going to catch on.” 

There will be more features and collaborations coming up, Biberdorf said, but she is not allowed to say who she’s working with just yet. 

“My mission is just to prove that anyone can be a scientist,” Biberdorf said. “You can just be a normal girl who likes fire and bubbles and fun things.”