‘Christmas in the Lab’ celebrates 50 years of chemistry and comedy


December 2, 2019

First published here.

What began as a holiday treat for long-suffering freshman chemistry students has turned into a 50-year tradition. Professor Bassam Shakhashiri took to the stage to perform “Once Upon a Christmas Cheery in the Lab of Shakhashiri” to packed houses Saturday and Sunday, amazing and delighting with a series of chemistry experiments. If you couldn’t score a ticket, watch it on PBS Wisconsin Dec. 16 at 5 a.m., Dec. 18 at 9 a.m., Dec. 20 at 11 a.m., Dec. 22 at 7 a.m., Dec. 24 at 5 a.m. or Dec. 25 at 11 a.m.

Photo of the audience and the scientists onstage with their equipment

On stage at far left, Shakhashiri and Rodney Schreiner, a senior scientist emeritus, perform science accompanied by the Science Is Fun Band, led by Mike Leckrone. PHOTO BY: JEFF MILLER

Photo of a ball of flame erupting from a balloon.

Explosions – the bigger and louder, the better – are a key part of the show. PHOTO BY: JEFF MILLER

Photo of Bucky Badger pouring a chemical into a flask.

Bucky Badger helps Shakhashiri perform a color-changing experiment. PHOTO BY: JEFF MILLER

Photo of the Tin Man holding a piece of paper with a pink heart.

A color-changing chemical reaction gives the Tin Man, played by Sam Taylor, the heart he’s always wanted as Dorothy and Shakhashiri look on. PHOTO BY: JEFF MILLER

Dorothy, played by Faith Oldenburg, prepares to make a rainbow from monochromatic chemicals.

Dorothy, played by Faith Oldenburg, prepares to make a rainbow from monochromatic chemicals. PHOTO BY: JEFF MILLER

Photo of Shakhashiri seen through brightly colored cylinders of chemicals.

Shakhashiri says his goal “is to trigger cerebral and emotional engagement to heighten the audience’s joy in learning and to celebrate the role of science in society.” PHOTO BY: JEFF MILLER

Photo of Santa Claus and Shakhashiri shaking round flasks full of chemicals.

Santa Claus and Shakhashiri swirl some liquids… PHOTO BY: JEFF MILLER

Photo of the flasks, now covered in a shiny silver coating.

… to create gleaming silver holiday ornaments. PHOTO BY: JEFF MILLER

Photo of an audience member wearing a

Attendees received a holiday goodie bag containing a “science is fun” button and experiments to try at home. PHOTO BY: JEFF MILLER

Photo of a father, mother and daughter in red and green elf costumes.

The Van Rossum family of Fitchburg show off their elf attire: from left, Joey, Dakota and Brenda. PHOTO BY: JEFF MILLER

Photo of red and white balloons dropping into the audience.

A cascade of balloons ends the show. PHOTO BY: JEFF MILLER