Monday, November 27, 2017

Another alcohol/flame incident in New York City

I didn't get wind of this until someone posted it in the comments. There's plenty of coverage of it in the media, including from the New York Daily News, NBC New York and the New York Times. Here's the damning passage from the Daily News:
Marcus, a 9th grade student, heard that the students in the class were learning about the different properties of fire. “The crazy thing is, I had chemistry for fourth period,” she said. “I was supposed to be in that class too. We already did that experiment the week before and nothing happened.” 
Marcus explained the experiment involved making a flame change color. “It was kind of dangerous when he did it but he was very careful,” she said. “I'm guessing it was the same way with this.” 
Marcus said the teacher told her class it was a mistake with the alcohol he was using in the experiment. “I think that while he was pouring the alcohol in, the fire caught onto the bottle by accident," she said.
Yet another incident where there was a combination of:
  • fire
  • alcohol being added to the flames
  • from a bulk alcohol container with
  • students being too close
that has caused injuries and teachers getting fired and lawsuits being filed in this country time and time again.

Another reminder that the American Chemical Society's Committee on Chemical Safety specifically asks teachers to "Stop Using the Rainbow Demonstration."*

*The indication that it was a Rainbow-related is this comment in the New York Times story: "One of the injured students, Elizebeth Diaz, 15, said the chemistry teacher was conducting an experiment to demonstrate how an atom goes from ground state to excited state."


  1. Again I wonder: where do teachers learn this particular demo? I know Shakhashiri wrote it in some lab manual, but I've never seen his manual in a high school classroom. It is not ubiquitous the way certain books are (every high school has a crate of unwanted Ayn Rand novels somewhere, for example, they just appear by magic). I never took education courses so maybe they teach the Rainbow in there? I just wonder how the tradition of the Rainbow has become so established, and I've still not managed to learn anything about how it propagates to new generations of teachers. I've taught at multiple high schools and generally I'm not handed a big book of experiments to do. Maybe my experience isn't typical but I still want to know: where does the Rainbow come from?

    1. There is a book called "a demo a day" that (I think) has it. Its made by Flinn scientific, could be more popular in HS level teaching.

  2. People change when the pain of change is less than the pain of staying the same (TM)

  3. Methanol, and boric acid or metal salts, is an excellent demonstration, and the only one for which I use methanol as a fuel.
    Teach the teachers to do it correctly, and they are modeling safe solvent use at the same time. How many charcoal lighter fluid accidents happen a year?

  4. The 'Rainbow Flame' experiment is performed in at least some of the annual (since 1981) Michael Faraday Christmas lectures.

    Chemistry professors Ron Ragsdale and Jerry Driscoll performed (in top hats) the lecture more than once. 2017 has a different crew of 2. The U tube condensed version from 2010 (starts in 1st minute):

    They use petri dishes with methanol and salt, and ignite. Salts were among others KBr and LiBr. One changes color as it burns from blue to red.


looks like Blogger doesn't work with anonymous comments from Chrome browsers at the moment - works in Microsoft Edge, or from Chrome with a Blogger account - sorry! CJ 3/21/20