High School Chemistry Demonstration Gone Wroing

May 21st, 2013
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One of the great benefits of the proliferation of cameras on phones and devices is that so many wonderful events of every day life are not captured and uploaded to the internet.

Here’s a great one from a high school chemistry class.

Now I’m all for hands-on learning, because it shows how science can be fun and helps demonstrate basic principles.   I’m not sure exactly what they are demonstrating here, but I’m guessing that it’s the fact that methane gas, the primary component of natural gas is both lighter than air and flammable.

What could possibly go wrong?    My first concern would be that they could inadvertently set fire to the ceiling.   Hanging ceiling tiles are supposed to be fire resistant, but that only means they will usually char slowly and self-extinguish.  They can still, under the right conditions, catch fire, and there are exampled of hanging ceilings that, for whatever reason, did not seem to meet the standards for fire resistance.   Hence, given the low elevation of the ceiling and the potential to start a fire, I would not consider this an entirely safe demonstration.

Thankfully, that did not happen.   However, something even funnier did…


I have no idea whether the teacher kept his job. My guess would be that he did, since teachers unions tend to be quite protective and he didn’t seem to have done anything overtly indefensible. (like an inappropriate relationship with a student or stealing from the school) But regardless, it’s pretty certain that he had some real egg on his face after this, and that by the time they got to the valve to shut down the sprinklers, there was a pretty huge mess to clean up and some substantial water damage.

One should remember that as far as chemistry demonstration mishaps go, many have gone far worse than this one!


This entry was posted on Tuesday, May 21st, 2013 at 6:54 pm and is filed under Bad Science, Education, Humor, media, Misc. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.
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8 Responses to “High School Chemistry Demonstration Gone Wroing”

  1. 1
    TomT Says:

    At my school for years the chemistry lab/trailer had interesting streaks along the ceiling. The chemistry teacher had been disposing of old chemicals in that 70′s way of tossing them into the sink and what he thought was a completely degraded lump of Potassium Chloride wasn’t.


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  2. 2
    DV82XL Says:

    It doesn’t much better than that.


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  3. 3
    Matte Says:

    Hmmm, had a similar experience in a chemistrylab at highschool when I did an exchange year in the US. A classmate had an ill thought out experiment (extra credit project) where he was heating beakers of vegetable oil with bunsen burners. He was trying to measure the heat capacity of different oils, in a very poor manner.

    Well, it didn’t go well. One of the oil filled beakers started to spout flames. The rest of the class did not have much to do so we watched from a safe distance with the teacher. When our budding experimentalist tried to extinguish the blaze with water (and creating an impressive fireball in the process) our chemistry teacher decided enough was enough and stepped in.

    But not before turning to me and reminded me about my course evaluation comment about the lack of “spectacular experiments” in class. Great balls of fire was not what I had in mind though…


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  4. 4
    Brian-M Says:

    Funny, but predictable. As soon as you realize that he’s producing balls of fire in close proximity to a sprinkler head, it’s obvious what’s about to happen.

    I wonder what it looked like from the point of view of the security camera we can see on the ceiling? Probably wasn’t pointed the right direction.


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  5. 5
    Gavin Says:

    Positive Spin: Great news! We don’t have to worry about fires in the science lab at all, we just verified that the sprinkler system is more than adequate and is functioning perfectly.


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  6. 6
    Calli Arcale Says:

            TomT said:

    At my school for years the chemistry lab/trailer had interesting streaks along the ceiling.

    The chemistry teacher had been disposing of old chemicals in that 70′s way of tossing them into the sink and what he thought was a completely degraded lump of Potassium Chloride wasn’t.

    I read once about a lab which was following the proper procedure of maintaining glass bottles under a vent hood into which chemicals not to be disposed of down the sink drain could be stored. However, they weren’t taking adequate care keeping track of *which* chemicals had been dumped into the storage flasks. One day, they got an inadvertent demonstration of hypergolic reactions….. Fortunately, the vent hood structure contained the fire, which of course could not be put out by any means other than waiting for the reaction to complete.

    We never had anything this spectacular, but I did have a chemistry prof who had a history of attempting clever demonstrations without first testing them in private. He wanted to show us liquid carbon dioxide and had come up with a clever method. He packed dry ice into a single-use disposable eyedropper (filched from the bio lab), clamped the nozzle shut with a pair of pliers, and then held this over the overhead projector. Within moments, the sillhouette of boiling CO2 was projected onto the wall. He was expecting the eyedropper to explode, and so was wearing safety goggles and had cleared the first couple of rows of desks. But that’s not what happened. The pliers lost their grip on the eyedropper and it rocketed across the room on a trail of CO2, bouncing off two walls before finally coming to a stop. Luckily, it didn’t hit anyone. And naturally, none of us were wearing safety goggles. In the end, the safest person in the room was the professor himself! It was a cool experiment, but I hope he found a safer way to do it.

    “It’s all fun and games until someone shoots their eye out with a rocket-propelled eyedropper.”


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  7. 7
    Q Says:

    “One should remember that as far as chemistry demonstration mishaps go, many have gone far worse than this one!”

    Yeah. That’s true. After all, there are definitely some chem demonstrations that have actually burned down buildings.

    I remember hearing of one explosion in a college chemistry room (noone hurt, but again, egg on the professors face) and the response was “The reaction went according to plan. Unfortunately, we had underestimated the scale of the reaction”


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  8. 8
    Anne Leah Says:

    Chemistry is such an interesting subject but unfortunately, some have a hard time learning it for some reasons they wouldn’t be able to appreciate it’s complexity. high school chem/high school chemistry tutoring can help in breaking those complex concepts into simpler and understandable ideas.


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