Sunday, June 3, 2007

Mushroom Cloud Anyone?

Math and science have never been my thing. There are several examples of this throughout my school experience (note the time I drove my Algebra teacher to yank at his own hair when I demanded to know exactly what "x" and "y" stood for and refused to be mollified by the vague "two points in space" answer. Where in space? Who chose to call them "x" and "y" instead of "r" and "k"? Why do I care about two anonymous points in space anyway?).

The most notable example of my incompatibility with math and science is my brief stint in Chemistry as a junior.

Chemistry requires a fundamental understanding of the scientific elements and an appropriate respect for the methods used to combine those elements. Both of these were problematic for me. I anticipated long hours struggling to memorize the table of elements. I was sure I would toil over the mathematical equations used in the lab experiments and probably get it all wrong.

I never dreamed I would destroy my chances at success over the mechanics of a simple Bunsen burner.

We were two weeks into the school year and I was already in way over my head. I viewed our first lab day with something akin to relief. Finally, a chance to DO something rather than just sit there feeling stupid while I tried to understand why I shouldn't combine chlorine and ammonia (apparently the smell alone is enough to rip your lungs out through your nostrils) and why I should care. I mean honestly, when am I going to come up against a situation where combining chlorine and ammonia is really an option?

Our lab assignment was simple. We were to light a Bunsen burner and put a beaker of some liquid or other over the top of it until that liquid boiled.

No problem.

I liked to cook. Cooking often involves boiling water. This was a slam dunk. I entertained visions of my lab grade offsetting my classroom grade with favorable results.

I took my time setting up my area. All around me, my friends turned the knob on their Bunsen burners, releasing a sharp hiss of gas, and then flicked a lighter to ingite a steady blue flame.

How easy could it get?

I turned the knob on my Bunsen burner and waited to hear the hiss of gas.


I turned the knob farther.

Still nothing.

Trust me to get the one defective Bunsen burner in the mix. I turned the knob farther. No hiss. I glared at the burner. The burner didn't care.

At this point, the knob had been opened for over a minute. Everyone else was already well on their way to boiling their clear liquid. My dreams of redeeming my Chemistry grade were slipping away. Because I didn't know what else to try, I grabbed my lighter, pointed it at my burner, and flicked.


A ball of flames bloomed around my burner and hit the ceiling in a mushroom cloud formation. The ceiling, it turns out, was not as flame-resistant as perhaps would have been wise in a chemistry lab. The ceiling caught fire.

People screamed and dove under the table. The teacher snatched a fire extinguisher and coated the entire lab - floor to ceiling and every person in between.

Turns out Bunsen burners can release gas even without the tell-tale hiss.

I thought this was a definite design flaw. My principal thought I was a hazaard to the school population in general and my Chemistry class in particular.

I was relocated to geology.


  1. Lol did they really take you out of chem because of that?! Now that's talent girl! :)

  2. Yes, they really did. =) We reached a "mutual agreement" that I was much better off studying rocks.


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