"It's all gone wrong for me"1 - no, not the hungover cry of the ethanol-loving undergraduate, but the familiar wail of another lab cock up.
Mine, sometimes; yours, occasionally; and historic, from time to time.
1 Bill Bailey, 2001

Mr B's Biology Books

The first flames of my passion for chemistry were ignited in year 10 when I had a very good chemistry teacher. My best friend and I would work together to get finished as quickly as possible and then follow her round the classroom pestering for more work. ...Yes, we were actually that geeky.

I immediately decided that I wanted to do chemistry or something chemistry related at university ...so much for my family who assumed I would do English. It's not that English isn't fun, or you can't get jobs with an English degree, but chemistry not only explains the hows and the whys, but it does it with bangs, flames and vibrant colours and odours.

The particular chemistry teacher I mention was especially good at demonstrating the ease with which practicals that seem to start off well can quickly go up in flames. There were a few incidents.

One I remember was the electrolysis of brine, which she happily told us how to set up, then left us to it. Ten minutes later I asked her how long we should run it, as I was starting to feel dizzy from all the chlorine...

Her lackadaisical approach only made us all the more keen to experiment: I remember one incident when she urged us to cautiously add just a touch of iodine to a solution, just the tip of a spatula. Naturally, one of the boys on the bench next to me had to see what would happen if he threw a whole load in - BANG, and iodine on the ceiling. Which actually remained there the whole time I was at school.

One of the highlights had to be "Mr B's Biology Books". This was a demonstration she ran, and I can't actually remember what it was now, although I suspect it involved ethanol. A dangerous demonstration, she set up the plastic shield between her and us at the front of her desk, while she heated a reflux condenser set up with rubber tubes to feed the water in. Quickly, she realised that the screen base was too high and we couldn't see anything. Scouting around, she spied a pile of A level biology text books, which she nicked to pile up her apparatus on before continuing heating.

The inevitable happened: the rubber tubing caught fire, the rubber tubing lit the biology books. We were all very appreciative and unhelpful in the face of disaster.

She extinguished the fire, leaving the biology books scorched and hiding them on the shelf whilst begging us not to tell Mr B. Of course, he was immediately notified.

Posted by Rowena Fletcher-Wood on Aug 22, 2013 8:48 AM Europe/London

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