Letter Re: Surviving Science

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HJL,

Your surviving science log reminded me of a high school chemistry class experience. The year before had been physics. That class I aced with no problems. (I had lots of garage experience with levers and such.)

However, chemistry was something I couldn’t get my brain “wrapped around”.

In chem class we had the typical of the times (1959 to 1961) chem class desks that included flasks of hydrochloric acid, nitric acid, sulfuric acid, and some glycerin for lubricating the glass tubes for going through the rubber stoppers used in various experiments.

We had desk partners; mine was a typical girl (sorry) who memorialized the week’s chapter and vomited back the answers on the Friday test. (There was no association of the subject with the real world.) I, on the other hand was always asking myself, “Can I use this somehow?”

Later in the year, (remember that for later), I came across a formula in the text book that was only half there. That irked me. I thought I should remember the rest of the formula. (I do have a good memory, even for stuff I don’t care about.) I paged back through the previous chapters until I found what I was looking for. The first half of the complete formula for nitroglycerin!

I wrote out the complete formula, checked it against the rules, and put it in my text book.

The next “lab period” I started in. My lab partner had no idea what I was doing. I told her to just look like I was copying her. However, as the teacher came around, he noticed something was amiss. He looked over what I had spread across the desk, asked to look through my text book, found my scribbled formula, looked at my desk partner and asked “What is he doing?“ She got the classic deer in the headlights look and shrugged her shoulders. He looked at me and said, “Pour it out the window.” (By now it was spring, and we had the windows of the classroom open. There was a bush row under the downstairs classroom windows.)

The teacher said to me, “You were on your way for a “D” in this class. You just earned a “C”. Do not turn in any more weekly tests. I do not want papers showing that you do not deserve a “C”. I thought “I can do that.”

The lesson to be learned? Even “book learning” can have a practical side. – K.S.

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