Friday, March 18, 2011

Astellas Scientist Shows How to Light Ice on Fire!

This is Robert Kernstock, Principal Scientist at Astellas Pharma US. I was alerted to meet Robert and "learn why he LOVES science & who inspired him" by @AstellasUS, the company's Twitter account.

I immediately recognized Robert from a video he made that teaches kids how to light ice on fire. That video was the highlight of a conference I attended last year. That's Robert and his fiery ice on the left. I embedded the video below.

The Astellas YouTube channel (here) showcases several of its scientists as part of the company's Science WoRx (get it? ie, "Rx" for prescription) project, which is a local mentoring program and online resource network for science teachers.

I think this is an interesting program because it shows us some of the real people who work in the pharmaceutical industry and how they got there. Robert became interested in chemistry because his father was a chemist and worked for Dow Chemical and he admired his chemistry teacher in school.
[Personal aside: I recall that Dow Chemical produced deadly napalm and agent orange during the Vietnam War in the 60s and was responsible for the 1984 Bhopal (India) disaster, one of the world's worst industrial catastrophe due to a leak of methyl isocyanate. Obviously Dow Chemical also produces some great products that make life easier. In the balance of things, however, I'd much rather be like Robert and work for Astellas than like his father who worked at Dow. Robert says he had a "particular passion" which is "to help people. I wanted to cure diseases," said Robert (see his interview here).]
Astellas says "We encourage you to leave comments here. However, we will review all comments and will remove any that are inappropriate or offensive. Please understand that comments posted to this channel do not necessarily represent the opinions of Astellas Pharma US, Inc."

I guess Astellas has not received any comments or it finds all comments that were submitted -- I think I submitted one a while back -- inappropriate or offensive because I can't find any comments at all. That's a shame because it would be neat to have some kind of conversation with scientists like Robert or at least send them comments to say how much we enjoyed seeing ice on fire!

P.S. Astellas says "We understand that the future of innovation lies in our children and that a child’s interest in science is sparked in the classroom," says Astellas. "We also recognize that America’s science teachers are key in igniting this spark and that it’s their commitment that compels a child’s desire to pursue their interest further. In fact, many of our own employees attribute their passion for science to dedicated science educators like you."

It's too bad that state governments currently under Republican rule like Wisconsin and Pennsylvania are drastically cutting funds to education and undermining the teachers that Astellas and other pharmaceutical companies depend upon to get future scientists on their payrolls. I think the drug industry needs to step forward FINANCIALLY to fill some of the void being created by draconian budget cuts. That's my opinion at least.

Whoah -- this ice is on fire! Learn how this "cool" reaction works with Science Pro Robert. Kids of all ages will get a kick out of this, but adult supervision is definitely required in this experiment! Please remember to wear all Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). Incorporate this flashy experiment into your next class by requesting a companion lesson plan from!


  1. interesting post. thumbs up!:)

  2. Anonymous1:19 PM

    You diminish the value of your post by your liberal rant at the end. No correlation has been demonstrated between the amount of money the government throws at teachers (dollars per pupil) and the quality of education. In fact, student competence has continued to diminish even as teacher income has continued to grow. If you want to improve the quality of education, outlaw teachers' unions. They only serve to promote mediocrity in the teaching profession by protecting bad teachers and keeping good teachers from being rewarded by performance-based incentives. (Teacher performance should be measured by their students' increase in competence. The current union-based system rewards teachers for simply showing up -- the more years they show up, the more they're "worth," regardless of whether students in their care are actually learning anything!)

  3. I don't recall saying anything about teacher unions, though I did mention Wisconsin which is fighting collective bargaining.

    Most cuts to education, which is what I am really talking about, will result in fewer teachers in public schools and higher tuition in state and community colleges. As a result -- no matter the competency of teachers who remain -- there will be larger classes and few students able to afford college.

  4. Anonymous3:01 PM

    No, you didn't specifically mention teacher unions, but they are the driving force behind the ever-increasing cost of education. I believe that cutting the amount we spend on education is a good thing, but only if the cuts in personnel are limited to ineffective teachers and the layers upon layers of school administrators.

    In my opinion, it would be better to employ 50% or less of the current number of administrators and 80% of the current number of teachers -- as long as the 20% of teachers sent packing are the ones that provide the worst student outcomes. This can never happen, of course, as long as union-imposed "last hired, first fired" rules are in place.

    By outlawing teacher unions and targeting the least competent 20% of teachers for layoffs, the remaining 80% of teachers can easily cover the slack, for one very important reason: With unions out of the way, good teachers can shine! Their personal drive for excellence can finally be recognized and rewarded. Gone will be the attitude of, "Why bother doing my best? I get paid the same, whether my kids learn or not." No longer will outstanding teachers be paid less than the "chaff" who have been "teaching" for 40 years -- even though they stopped actually teaching 30 years ago.

    Give teachers an incentive to be the best, then stand back and watch our children thrive!

  5. Anonymous8:47 PM

    Wow, ignorance must be bliss, especially as a layperson! As a chemistry teacher myself, I can tell you that teachers CANNOT "Cover the slack!" Science teachers cannot DO science if there is no funding (Simple math)!! How do we buy lab supplies??? Also we cannot let students perform labs if our classrooms are bursting at the seams with students because then labs cannot be done safely! Hands on science is truly the best way to do science and to get the students excited and engaged about science. Then, hopefully, they want to take more science and eventually major and get jobs in science! The USA is 14th in the world in math and science! That is NOT a good thing! We need help educating students. Do you really believe that education will be better by having fewer teachers and more students in the classroom?? Teachers are NOT the enemy; uneducated, ignorant people ARE!

  6. Anonymous8:53 PM

    Oh and @John Mack, I'm so sorry I got all worked up and forgot to thank you for sharing this video! ;) Very cool demo! Can't wait to share with my students!! :)


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