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PhytoChemia Acta

Activities and Events


The Chemistree history

6 January 2020

Corine Lormel, PhD

In the past month, several pictures of chemistry Christmas trees also named chemistrees probably blossomed in your news feeds. As some of us in the laboratory,  you assume this phenomenon is recent and the pioneers are very passionate about chemistry.

Of course, a bunch of enthusiasts is necessary but those who have first dealt with chemistree did it sooner than you think.

In December 1940 Wilamena Schnooberger, a chemistry teacher in Michigan, managed the achievement of the first chemistree currently known. Her high school students used the laboratory equipment such as stands, rubber hoses, copper sheets, glass wool made to complete their tree. They wrote Merry Christmas in dichromate potassium as well (Image 1).

Image 1: First known chemistree, dating from 1940 and made by Michigan’s high school students

In 1956 another chemistree was identified in an IOWA high school. According to teacher A. W. Sturges, the purpose was to introduce indicators and the nomenclature of equipment (O’Donoghue, 2019). Twenty years later, in 1976, Waterloo’s University magazine (Hein, 2019) published the same year three articles on chemistrees made by American and Canadian high school students (Images 2). Two of them resulted from a redox reaction between copper and silver to obtain silver fir trees.

It seems that chemistrees come, mostly, from an educational and playful tradition in English-speaking schools.

These last years, an online educational chemistree competition was created by a Ph.D. student John O’Donoghue (OChemistree, 2019). Based on five categories, from paper/poster trees to grown (crystals), nanoscale or molecular modeling trees (Hein, 2019), every December he nominates the winners among those with the hashtag #Chemistree and @johndhodonoghue. According to John O’Donoghue, the movement has mushroomed since 2017. With not only a higher number of competitors but also a greater diversity of tree forms and origin (Images 3). This explains as well why chemistrees seem to be a novelty for many people.

The #Chemistree hashtag has also a catalyzing effect on chemical research laboratories. New chemistrees models usually linked to the laboratory research activities were created (Images 4) and we can, fortunately, expect more creative chemistrees in the future.



John O'Donoghue, OChemistree,

Hein, J. (2019, 01 05). Growing a chemistree and a competition -cover article. CHEM13 NEWS MAGAZINE. (U. d. Waterloo, Éd.) Waterloo, Ontario, canada. Consulté le 12 18, 2019, sur


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