Popular chemistry lab deemed unsafe

Superpowers+activate%3A+Senior+Kenzie+Jacoby+holds+fire+as+part+of+an+honors+chemistry+combustion+reaction+experiment.+District+officials+scrapped+the+lab+for+2012+due+to+liability+issues.+This+photo+was+retrieved+with+permission+from+Flashback+2011.

Superpowers activate: Senior Kenzie Jacoby holds fire as part of an honors chemistry combustion reaction experiment. District officials scrapped the lab for 2012 due to liability issues. This photo was retrieved with permission from Flashback 2011.

Atreyo Ghosh

Superpowers activate: Senior Kenzie Jacoby holds fire as part of an honors chemistry combustion reaction experiment. District officials scrapped the lab for 2012 due to liability issues. This photo was retrieved with permission from Flashback 2011.

Honors chemistry students are no longer permitted to light their hands on fire in a popular lab experiment.

During the lab last school year, many students uploaded pictures and videos of the alight hands to Facebook, where parents and school district officials saw them. District officials were concerned with the images, and voiced fear for the students’ safety. Neither principal Mark Maus nor the district officials had been informed of the lab prior to the experiment.
“I think we could’ve prevented this,” Maus said. “At the time the new science coordinator had been turned over, I was new, and a lot of [the issue] was how other people found out about” the lab.
Although district science coordinator Mike Szydlowski reassured the district that the students were safe, assistant superintendent for secondary education Dr. Wanda Brown still scrapped the lab due to liability issues.
The experiment was instituted to help students classify and balance chemical reactions. After soaking their arms in water, students would hold methane-filled soap bubbles which were then ignited giving the illusion of holding fire.
“There are a couple of [labs] that are slightly dangerous,” chemistry teacher Barry Still said. “This is one of those that the safety concerns outweigh the educational value because, if done incorrectly, you have a potential to hurt yourself.”
The lab has not been completely cut though. Chemistry teachers can still perform the reaction, but students cannot hold the bubbles. Maus does not think the change will negatively impact student learning.
“With as good as our teachers are,” Maus said, “they’re going to be able to find another way to make sure that the chemistry students know the stuff.”
Chemistry teacher Gregory Kirchhofer did the lab to provide to students a good example of a chemical change, so they could clearly differentiate between physical and chemical changes, as well as to give students a physical action to connect with the curriculum.
“They’re doing something kinesthetic (learning by physical movement),” Kirchhofer said, “that they’re going to remember is a chemical change, as opposed to watching a video. If you actually do [the educational material] yourself, it’s going to stick better.”
A number of former students dislike the ban. They said the lab had been a memorable experience in the class. Senior Connor Gundy had looked forward to the experiment from the beginning of his junior year and had taken the class in part to do the lab.
“Not only is [the lab] a good learning experience,” Gundy said, “but it also excites the kids about challenging themselves in an honors course at Rock Bridge.”
Some of this year’s honors chemistry students are also unhappy about the absence of the lab in this year’s curriculum. Junior Jack Scoville was disappointed when he heard the class no longer did the experiment. He had looked forward to holding the fire.
“I really wanted to do that this year,” Scoville said. “It looked like one of the highlights of chemistry. A lot of people talked about it, and I was pretty upset.”
However, the lab is not necessarily gone for good. Maus believes the decision could be reversed in the future.
“There are riskier experiments done, I know, in honors chemistry,” Maus said. “I think we need to keep it open and talk to everyone to see what we can do. It certainly is abnormal for us to say no, but that’s just kind of the situation we’re stuck in though, sadly.”
By Atreyo Ghosh