Faraday's Great 19th Century Lectures

for a 21st Century Audience


Lecture One Lecture Two Lecture Three Lecture Four Lecture Five

book cover

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Book Details (metadata)


A Superb Introduction to Chemistry

“There is no more open door,” said Michael Faraday, “by which you can enter into the study of science than by considering the physical phenomena of a candle.” Through a careful examination of a burning candle, Faraday introduces readers to the concepts of mass, density, heat conduction, capillary action, and convection currents. He demonstrates the difference between chemical and physical processes. He reveals the properties of hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, and carbon dioxide. And, in a stunning final lecture, he uses a candle to explain human respiration.

Guides to Aid Viewers & Readers

The companion book contains the complete transcript of each lecture as delivered in the video series. To help readers grasp Faraday’s key points the book has an “Essential Background” section that explains in modern terms how a candle works. And, to help the modern reader, each lecture is preceded by a short guide written in contemporary language. These guides mirror the lectures chronologically so a viewer can follow while watching.

Detailed Commentary on Every Video Lecture

In addition every video lectures can be viewed with a commentary track by book's authors. These commentaries explain the background and purpose of every aspect of the lectures.


Lecture One Commentary Lecture Two Commentary Lecture Three Commentary Lecture Four Commentary Lecture Five Commentary

Extensive Teaching Guide & Student Activities

Michael Faraday aimed his lectures toward those new to science, especially young people. His lectures remain today an excellent introduction to the scientific method and serve well as an entry point to the chemical sciences. For this reason the companion book features a detailed teaching guide. It contains a section “The Big Ideas of Chemistry,” that outlines the essential chemical background needed to understand the phenomena Faraday touches on in his lectures. This section uses simple analogies to give younger students an entry point to understanding the particulate nature of matter. The guide contains six activities and one set of demonstrations that teachers can use to help students investigate for themselves “the chemical history of a candle.” Each activity has a student worksheet followed by a teacher’s guide. Teachers and self-learners can get the teaching and student sections by either downloading the entire book, or by downloading the student worksheets and teaching guide separately. Activities for the following are included:

  • Observations of a Candle This activity guides students to develop theories and explanations of the “why” underlying a candle.
  • Convection Currents & Density Students cut out a Christmas-tree shaped spiral to study convection currents.
  • Capillary Action Students study the process by which molten wax climbs up the wick of a candle. They use capillary action to move colored water from one beaker to another, study how water rises in a stalk of celery, and causes a paper flower to open.
  • Molecules are “Sticky” Students learn how many drops of water can fit on a penny. They compare it to alcohol to see which liquid is “sticker.”
  • Physical Changes: Changes of State Students observe and measure the temperature changes that occur as water transforms from solid to liquid to vapor.
  • Chemical Changes Students use baking soda and vinegar to create a chemical change. They contrast it to the physical changes observed in the previous activity.
  • Two Demonstrations to Show the Pressure Caused by Air These demonstrations show students the pressures caused by air. One involves crushing a can by condensing steam and the other sucking an egg into a bottle.

About the Creators of this Series

This series was created by Bill Hammack, Don DeCoste and Alex Black. Bill Hammack is a Professor of Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering at the University of Illinois—Urbana, where he focuses on educating the public about engineering and science. This outreach work has been recognized by The National Association of Science Writer’s Science in Society Award; the American Chemical Society’s Grady-Stack Medal, and the American Institute of Physics’ Science Writing Award. Don DeCoste is a Specialist in Education in the Department of Chemistry at the University of Illinois—Urbana, where he teaches freshmen and pre-service high school chemistry teachers. He has won the LAS Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching, the Provost’s Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching Award, and the School of Chemical Sciences teaching award (four times). He is the co-author of four chemistry textbooks. Alex Black, at the time the series was filmed, was a University of Illinois undergraduate studying chemistry.


This video series was produced with support from the Special Grants Program of the Dreyfus Foundation, from a Public Engagement Grant from the University of Illinois-Urbana, and from the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering.

Book Details (metadata)

Faraday Front Cover





version: 2016-06-26-1448