The Power of Purple

A FREC (Source: David Laciak)

By David Venturi

Orientation Week for Queen’s
engineering students is quite the spectacle. The majority of traditions date back far enough that a fair amount of participants have no idea as to how they even began… but everyone, from arts and science students to nursing students, can appreciate their existence. The science behind a handful of these tangible traditions is largely unknown as well, even to those familiar with Applied Science’s rather unique Orientation Week. The following will answer the “whats” and “hows” of some fascinating Frosh Week conventions practiced by Queen’s Engineering… but, you’ll probably always have to wonder about the “whys.”


Gentian Violet

The deep purple tint of the skin of the FRECs FRECs (orientation group leaders) is arguably the most recognizable symbol of Engineering Orientation Week. Gentian violet, also known as crystal violet, is the intense dye that allows these upper-year engineering students to temporarily change colour. The dye starts as a dark violet powder and is added to water to create a solution in which the FRECs can bathe. A tablespoon of gentian in a full kiddie pool is usually sufficient to completely dye several individuals from head to toe in less than fifteen minutes each. This rapid impartment of colour is facilitated by the affinity of gentian for the skin’s surface. Essentially, chemical bonds want to be formed between the two subject molecules and this is how the skin acquires gentian’s characteristic colour.


Gelatin Powder

The seemingly invincible hairdos modeled by FRECs and frosh alike for the first two days of Orientation Week is not a style you see everyday. The magic ingredient is gelatin powder. The engineers have taken a page from the playbook of the synchronized swimmers and combined this translucent, colourless granular substance with boiling water to create a heavy-duty homemade hair gel. You can even buy the ingredient yourself at a local grocery store. After styling, cooling and the simultaneous hardening, gelatin’s high melting point (roughly 35°C) ensures the hairstyle endures encounters with water, which would normally be the ruin for regular hair gels. Just as how cold pool water cannot dissolve the gelatin in a synchronized swimmer’s slicked-back look, the combination of sweat, rain and Super Soakers that accompanies Orientation Week does not pose a threat to the Eng Cut. Removal of the solidified gelatin simply requires a hot shower.

Let the FREC create the EngCut (Source: Mark Mitchell).


According to the annual Frosh Week Primer, which is issued to the incoming class of engineering students, during the famed Grease Pole event first-year students are required to climb a pole that is “covered from top to bottom with a lubricant so slippery that it can only be called one name — lanolin.” Lanolin is a greasy, yellow wax secreted by the sebaceous glands of wool-bearing animals, such as sheep. These sebaceous glands excrete lanolin to lubricate and waterproof the wool of these animals to keep their coats lightweight by preventing water absorption. Just like the Dockers “Stain Defender” pant, any water that comes into contact with lanolin is immediately wicked away. This property makes cleaning the substance off of oneself that much more difficult… and unfortunately (for those attempting to climb the pole), lanolin is also very sticky and transferrable. As the grease pole is immersed in a pit of freezing cold water, any individual seeking to scale it is guaranteed
a struggle.

Orientation Week is not all fun and games, and happiness and rainbows, which appeared out of nowhere. The science accompanying these traditions indicates that there was some thought involved… maybe some “evil-genius” thought, actually.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s