The Day I Blew Up The Science Lab

Okay, so I didn’t really blow up the entire lab, but the title sounds good.

I have no idea where this memory bubbled to the surface from, but it’s a darn funny story, so I thought I’d blog it.

Back in the day, (yes, this really is one of those stories) I was in Chemistry class in high school. Chemistry classes in my high school generally consisted of two different themes:

Theme One: Do nothing.

Doing nothing really consists of copying verbatim notes written on the blackboard by The Teacher, as if that would hold our interest to the point that we would enjoy being there and work hard towards getting good marks.

Theme Two: Do an experiment.

Well, if you call mixing two liquids together, looking to see what colour it becomes and then writing the result down an experiment that is.

On this particular day, however, The Teacher decided that we were going to have a little bit more excitement than simply mixing two liquids together. Today, we were going to study the properties of the various metals which are on the far left side of the Periodic Table of the Elements: Potassium, Sodium, and Lithium. These various metals are stored in mineral oil because they oxidize extremely readily.

The procedure of the experiment was simple enough: obtain a sample of the metal in question from the teacher, who would put it into a petri dish for you, return to your workspace, at which point you and your lab partner would don safety goggles and up-end the petri-dish over a beaker of water. We were then to watch what would happen with the metal when it hits the water, leaving the petri dish stitting on top of the beaker as a safety measure.

That certainly seemed to make sense; and, given what I’ve described as the safety precautions we were required to take, I’m sure you could guess what the metal would do when it hit the water.

So, first up for my lab partner — an extremely good looking (and therefore 100% unavailable) young lady — and myself, was the potassium. Off she goes and gets our sample for testing. As The Teacher handed her the petri dish, he said, very seriously, “now, if it sticks to the side, shake it, because if that happens, you have hydrogen building up and you don’t want that.”

So that’s fine. She comes back over with our sample. While she’s gone, I put the goggles on, up on on my forehead, ready to be safely slipped over my eyes as the experiment gets under way.

So we flip up the petri dish and drop the potassium into the water, and we’re extremely happy to watch this little piece of metal floating around, fizzling away around and around the edge of the beaker as it reacts with the water. Every couple of seconds, I check the petri dish to make sure it’s not sticking to the sides of the beaker, which it isn’t.

My lab partner says, “it’s sticking to the sides!”

I respond, lifting the petri dish again, “no it isn’t, see?” At that point, I realize that I’ve left my goggles on my forehead, “oh, I should probably put these on over my eyes,” I said.

Then, disaster struck.

Just as I settled the goggles over my eyes and reach forward to shake the beaker (because my lab partner is now jumping up and down in terror over something that isn’t sticking to the sides,) a bright blue flame erupts from the potassium.

****BOOOOOM*****

The petri dish goes flying across the room one way, the beaker goes the other. My lab partner screams, and I jump back about three feet. The room goes dead silent, all looking at me.

After a moment of staring, The Teacher looks at me and says, “I told you to shake it if it sticks to the sides!” Everyone bursts out laughing, and attempts to duplicate my experience.

Much to my delight, I had the only truly successful explosion of the day.

About Steven Britton

Steve is a freelance programmer, partial billionaire, dad, Recovering Atheist, Conservative, and occasionally prolific blogger.