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Celebrating Ten Years of the Chemistree

Posted on 27 November 2020

The Department of Chemistry’s Teaching Labs’ Chemistree is twice its usual size for its tenth anniversary year, bringing even more colour and light - and a fantastic variety of glassware - to Christmas 2020.

Chemistree 2020

Standing on an 8ft retort stand, with 25 ‘branches’ made from bosses and clamps, and 41 pieces of glassware filled with coloured dye solutions prepared in-house, the Chemistry Teaching Labs’ Chemistree 2020 is an impressive sight at the labs’ entrance. 

“Our aim was to make something more impressive this year,” said Helen Burrell, Deputy Teaching laboratory manager  in Chemistry Teaching Labs, and the tree’s creator. “Making the labs covid-secure for 2020 has made more space where the chemistree usually stands, and this has turned out to be a great opportunity. We wanted to make something for the new students who haven’t necessarily seen a Chemistree before, and to celebrate the tenth anniversary year by making a much bigger tree, showcasing some more unusual chemistry glassware.” 

As well as the more bauble-like round bottom flasks, this year’s tree incorporates even more chemistry into its structure, with fractional distillation columns, coil condensers, conical flasks and even sinter funnels which are used for filtration. The giant retort stand which serves as the tree’s base was specially made in the Chemistry Workshops, and the coloured solutions filling the various types of glassware were produced from water soluble dyes such as naphthol green and methylene blue, in the Teaching Labs’ prep room. Filling all the different pieces of glassware, not all of which are frequently used in labs any more, was one of the challenges of creating this year’s tree. 


Helen Burrell prepares coloured dye solutions

The first Chemistree was built in the Department in 2010 by Julia Walton, following her own chemistry teacher’s tradition. The 2010 York chemistree was featured in Chemistry Review magazine, and more recent trees have gained much of social media attention, with a photo of Chemistree 2019 being one of the Department’s most popular Instagram posts ever. Helen Burrell has created all of the Department’s recent chemistrees.