The Failed Chemistry Experiment

The title says it all. I love chemistry because it is the essence of life. Everything that you and I use is a chemical; the good and the bad. When people go all skeptical and say, “Oh my God, this has so many chemicals!” I roll my eyes and give them a look of derision because EVERYTHING IS A CHEMICAL!!! I have been a lab geek forever and this is a tale of a survivor. The number of explosions that I have caused and the destruction to property should not be taken lightly. I can write my thesis on the things that have gone wrong in the course of experimentation over the decade of my life that I have been a chemist.

Let’s start from school—when you think after you act. You know how dangerous a Bunsen burner in the hands of 14 year old prankster is? I’ll tell you. Very. I was not an arsonist in making but in my eleventh standard I set fire (willingly and unwillingly) to a lot of random things. Then there was an experiment in CBSE XI syllabus that involved the use of a foul smelling chemical called sodium sulphate. For those of you who do not know, sodium sulphate smells like rotten eggs and it’s the ultimate prank to steal some of it and place it in someone’s bag or in an enemy’s desk drawer (Hey! I am not suggesting anything).

Then I met sodium in my first of college. There’s a spontaneously combusting metal that you don’t see every day! Honestly this is dangerous. Sodium metal can spontaneously combust when put in water to release hydrogen and form sodium hydroxide. The heat of this reaction can cause hydrogen itself to catch fire. Hence you need to be extremely careful with that stuff. But well, in teeny weeny amounts it may be used to freak people out, which was exactly what was done to us by our lab assistants on the first day of organic chemistry lab. They kept a glass of water in front of us and were explaining something about lab ethics (the thing that can put a healthy active hummingbird to sleep) and suddenly one of them dropped a pinch of sodium in water and KABOOM! That snapped us out of our stupor and I instantly realized this course is going to be fun. Well I did say I was a nerd.

A word of caution to anyone who wants to take the case of a chemistry geek— Never mess with a chemist, especially a graduate level chemist coz they have access to things that will just scare the crap out of you. Take for example a stupid and mind numbingly dumb accident that happened in our lab. I wasn’t a part of it but it is still really funny. A friend of mine was happily doing a reaction to produce something so unstable that it had pretty much the same effect as TNT, when kept in normal temperature and pressure (Ahh you know what happens to TNT, don’t you?). Hence it had to be in a 4” ice all the time to prevent from catching fire. After the reaction was done this man, voluntarily left the set up in his cupboard. By this time, the reader should realize what happened. Yes. An explosion. His entire cupboard along with the set up went BOOOOM. Ideally this would not have been funny but since no one was hurt we could laugh at the stupidity of the guy.

Another chemical that I like is helium because it can make your voice sound like Alvin and the Chipmunks. You can YouTube this stuff. It’s hilarious and it’s true. Helium is lighter than air and increases the frequency of the sound so everything you say becomes funny and squeaky aka Donald Duck-ish. You can get access to this gas when you are in an institute, like me, that deals only with developing new chemical processes. A note of caution here is that you shouldn’t ever inhale too much of this thing because it can cause asphyxiation really fast.

It’s not always fun and eureka moments everyday so you do need some of these things to keep you up. I have had countless accidents, some fatal. Like recently I burned my hand because someone carelessly left a beaker which was in an oven set at 2000C on my desk and I, always a stickler for cleanliness, picked it up. Chemistry is wondrous and dangerous at the same time so you have got to be careful.

All I can say is, life without chemistry is just as vacant as the s– orbital of H+ ion.


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