Course Icon

Chemical History of the Candle

Chat times for Summer 2024
11:00a-12:30p ET/8:00a-9:30a PT

Dr. Christe Ann McMenomy

SO Icon

Introduction to Chemistry, using Faraday's The Chemical History of the Candle
Scholars Online Summer Course

Scholars Online The Chemical History of the Candle

Come and meet the original Mr. Wizard!

I propose to bring before you, in the course of these lectures, the Chemical History of a Candle. There is no better, there is no more open door by which you can enter into the study of natural philosophy than by considering the physical phenomena of a candle. There is not a law under which any part of this universe is governed which does not come into play, and is not touched upon, in these phenomena.

— from the first of six lectures by Michael Faraday,
delivered in 1861 as the Royal Institution's Christmas Course of Lectures Adapted to a Juvenile Auditory.

Learn the fundamentals of chemistry from Michael Faraday's 1861 Lectures

In 1861, Michael Faraday stood in the lecture hall at the Royal Institute in London, and delighted his audience with lively demonstrations of the fundamental principles of chemistry and physics. We will read his lectures and perform his experiments with equipment and materials you have at home or can easily purchase. Then we'll act like real scientists, write up our experiments, and discuss what we've discovered.

All you'll need is a little time, a good sense of humor, and a lot of curiosity.


Curiosity, and adequate time to perform and write reports on at least four experiments during the summer.

Meetings: The course meets once a week for 90 minutes. See the 2024 Schedule for topics.

Required Texts: Students will need to download a copy of Faraday's Lectures on The Chemical History of the Candle from the web. See the Text link for more details.

Labs: Students must perform and report on at least one experiment every other week. The Labs page explains the safety procedures and lists required lab equipment for experiments used in this course.

For Parents:

Michael Faraday (1791-1867) was one of the greatest experimental scientists the world has ever seen. His discoveries and inventions include the concept of the electric field, the electric motor, the electric generator, laws governing magnetic induction of electrical current, isolation of a number of chemical compounds, and proof that magnetic forces bend polarized light.

Childless himself, Faraday loved teaching children, and inaugurated a series of lectures for children at the Royal Institute in 1825. The lecturer performed experiments live on stage, and the first six rows of the Institute's Lecture Hall, usually occupied by prestigious Fellows of the Royal Society, were reserved for the exclusive use of visitors under 14 years of age. Between 1825 and his death in 1861, Faraday delivered nineteen of the lecture series himself, introducing the latest concepts of chemistry, electricity, the properties of metals, and forces of nature to his "juvenile auditory". The original "Mr. Wizard", his lectures involved lively descriptions and nearly constant experiments or demonstrations performed (after much practice!) in front of his live audience. In the process, he revolutionized how science was taught to children. The Royal Institute has sponsored the lectures continuously since 1825, the only exception being the years from 1939-1942, when London was under attack. Recent lectures have been given by such notable scientists as David Attenborough and Carl Sagan.

Our eight week course uses the six lectures Faraday delivered on the chemistry of a burning candle in 1861 to establishing fundamental concepts in chemistry. We are lucky to have the exact text of the lectures, since an enterprising newspaper reporter took them down verbatim in shorthand. We will use these lectures as Faraday himself did — going from direct observation to a discussion of scientific thought and experimentation, chemical composition of wax and the nature of matter, combustion reactions, forces and energy, and the history of the human scientific endeavor.

All students will perform adaptations of Faraday's experiments to develop proper experimental techniques (with an emphasis on lab safety) then submit their lab reports for teacher and peer review, and discuss their experiences in online class sessions. This is an excellent opportunity for junior high and early high school students to prepare for high school level science courses.

Advanced students planning on taking Scholars Online Chemistry in the fall may opt for more challenging assignments and lab exercises which might be used to fulfill course requirements and reduce lab work required during the regular academic year.

Because Scholars Online personnel cannot oversee the experiments, parents must sign an agreement to provide adequate supervision during performance of experiments.


Enrollment for the 2024-2025 summer session opens March 1, 2024. Please use the Scholars Online website to review tuition and fees for this course.

To attend pre-session orientation to the Scholars Online Chat and Moodle platforms, be sure to enroll by May 31, 2024.