Chowan Chemistry professor makes colorful elephant toothpaste explosions

Published 11:14 am Monday, April 3, 2017

By Amanda Bradshaw Sharpe
University Relations


AHOSKIE – Ridgecroft School students (Pre-K through 3rd grade) were captivated by science after observing an elephant toothpaste experiment conducted by Dr. Brian Duffy, new Chowan University Professor of Chemistry, when he visited the private school in Ahoskie on March 9.

“The experiment, titled Elephant Toothpaste demonstration, investigates the release of oxygen using chemical reactions,” explained Dr. Duffy.

He used hydrogen peroxide (a common bleaching or sterilizing agent), and two different chemical catalysts to facilitate the reaction. Utilizing similar element compounds, water (H2O) and hydrogen peroxide (H2O2), the reaction used the extra oxygen in the hydrogen peroxide to make foam.

Chowan University Chemistry professor Dr. Brian Duffy is shown demonstrating his experiment during his visit to Ridgecroft School.

Dr. Duffy explained, “Hydrogen peroxide normally breaks down into a large amount of water and oxygen gas, but slowly over time. However, the presence of the aforementioned catalyst speeds up the process. The liquid mixture traps the oxygen, which is quickly released, creating foamy bubbles that explode out of the container.”

The students were thrilled to see the chemical reaction as the green and red foam Dr. Duffy dubs elephant toothpaste shot out of two glass beakers. The children cooed with excitement, stating, “Wow, it’s amazing”; “That is so cool”; and “It’s so sparkly.” They were mesmerized by the phenomenal reaction made by combining a few simple items found in almost any home.

Dr. Duffy is a first-year professor at Chowan University who teaches general and organic chemistry. He earned his PhD in chemistry from Syracuse University, and his MS in Chemistry and BS in biochemistry from East Carolina University.

He shared, “I have always enjoyed teaching and performing demonstrations to exhibit how fun science can be.”

He and his wife, Chelsea, have two children, Connor and Chloe, and reside in Murfreesboro.

For more information about Chowan University, visit or call 1-888-4-CHOWAN.