Sunday, March 09, 2008


[Sunday Scribblings asked us to write about Experiment or Experimental this week.]

I don't remember many classroom specifics from Junior High School, but I do remember that in 9th grade I had "Introductory Physical Science," which we called IPS. Unlike the mousy grandmother-like 7th grade science teacher and the dynamic, moustached 8th grade science teacher (who said all 8th graders were squirrels – probably due to being largely little bundles of hormones) I don't remember who my 9th grade teacher was, except that it was a man.

Back then 9th grade was in the junior high school, although some of us had some classes at the high school, meaning we walked back and forth, around the football field and across a small parking lot more than once during the day. 9th grade band members played with the high school band. 9th graders could take Spanish and that was at the high school. And most of the sports teams we were on were at the high school (after regular classes were over). But everything else was at the sprawling, single-floor, cinder-block junior high building we shared with the 7th and 8th graders.

7th grade science had been mostly about reading things from the text book. We didn't do much (and I know we skipped some chapters, but that is a story for another day). In 8th grade science, we were more hands-on, making things, and gathering things. We were still mostly following directions for everything and knowing what outcome to expect.

9th grade IPS was the first time we were introduced to the idea of reading about something, coming up with a hypothesis, performing the experiment with a lab partner (willing or unwilling), observing the results, and writing up a conclusion. I got stuck with someone really dumb and shy as my lab partner. This wasn't a big deal to me because most of the experiments could be done with two hands, and all the other things were up to the individual to write down. I always took charge of setting up the experiments. I guess I was heartless.

The class was relatively full of heartless people, in a way. I remember a week when we had a substitute teacher. The substitute was not dynamic and not even particularly observant. At one point, the boys gathered handfuls of little rubber stoppers from the bench at the back of the room and took turns lobbing them up to the teacher's desk. I guess that got her attention, but I don't remember what she did about it. I was not impressed (by the substitute or my classmates).

I do remember one experiment clearly, however. We did electrolysis of water, using electricity to break water into its component parts: oxygen and hydrogen. It was relatively easy to set up and it worked pretty fast as long as your battery wasn't dead. We used a medium-sized beaker of water and we gathered the oxygen and hydrogen gasses in test tubes. I remember being pleased that my hydrogen tube had more gas in it that the oxygen tube, since water is made of twice as much hydrogen as oxygen. And then we tested each gas to prove it was what we thought it was. We put a lit match to what we thought was oxygen and the flame flared up then went out after it used all the oxygen. We put a lit match to the other tube and it made a sound like a seals bark – a tiny explosion of the hydrogen gas.

I was so excited about this and I came home and told my family all about it. Well I told my parents about it, but my brother listened too. He was threes years behind me in school and wasn't yet in junior high. This controlled explosion thing must have sounded cool to him because he decided to try it on his own.

In our basement, he set up a large bucket of water and started gathering oxygen and hydrogen into glass bottles. Large glass bottles. They must have been one- or two-gallon sized. This whole thing was set up next to our gas furnace and water heater. Oh, yeah! And our parents didn't know about this.

Days later, Mom happened across the setup in the basement and when she learned he was gathering a large glass bottle full of pure hydrogen gas, she made my brother release the gas into the air outside (without the desired explosion). Had one of those bottles tipped over, we could have had an explosion in the basement and although it wasn't enough to bring the house down or anything, it would have made a sever mess and might have damaged the furnace or water heater. My brother was quite bummed.

I don't remember my thoughts at the time, but I guess the whole episode stuck with me, seeing as it is the only science content I remember from ninth grade.


R. Sherman said...

Ah, hydrogen.

I had a college roommate who would inflate balloons with hydrogen using lye, water and aluminum foil as the catalyst to break down the water into H and O2. We'd then tape a streamer of newspaper to the balloons, light the streamer and release, waiting for the explosion.

One night, we did this at a party and a drunk (he who shall not be named) let the balloon go without lighting the newspaper. The paper was from a small weekly tabloid published by a roommate's father in Brunswick, MO.

Three weeks later, roommate's Dad gets a letter from Utica Minnesota where the balloon wound up in a farmer's field to be found by his daughter.


Thanks for visiting my place.


gautami tripathy said...

Loved reading this post. Took me back to my school days!

Michele sent me here today!

LittleWing said...

school days yeah!!..

sister AE said...

Hi, R. Sherman. Thanks for the story!

Hello, Gautami. Thanks.

Hi, LittleWing.

Sherry ~ Cherie ~ ms. herbes de provence said...

What a treat this was to read. Brought back many memories of Junior High School...they say the most important memories stay with you -- this one obviously did! You have to love younger siblings who decide to try things on their own!

sister AE said...

Hi, Sherry - Thanks!

Jon said...

I hated Physics when I was at school, preferring English. But I loved reading this, I could just imagine the look of horror on your parent's faces.

Robin said...


I know I took high school physics, but strangely I remember absolutely nothing of it. Not a thing (a lot of that year is a more than a little fuzzy). Now high school biology I still remember - dissections - yuck!

Linda said...

I'm like you; I remember bits and pieces but so much has been lost! This was an enjoyable read since it took me right back to 9th grade. Thanks!

Maria said...

I went to a Catholic girl's academy. We never did anything remotely fun. What I remember from class is when Sister Adeletrude made all of us girls go into the bathroom to see something "horrible." It was a used sanitary napkin stuck under the toilet seat of one of the toilets. She was so mad that she was spitting. This was right before our lunch, as I recall. Lunch was pizza. None of us ate much.....and it was never discovered who was the deed doer.

sister AE said...

Hello, Jon. I don't remember the faces - just the yelling.

Hi, Robin. I actually remember quite a bit from high school physics. Its junior high that's fuzzy for me.

Thanks, Linda.

Hello, Maria. Some folks were just not meant to be teachers.

Stacy said...

Great details and I love your brother's logic here. Explosion = fun; bigger = better.

sister AE said...

Hi, Stacy. Thanks. I'm pretty sure that whole argument is pretty common with guys (of all ages). Be warned!

Shyam said...

Haha - nice school memories! :) Cant say I had the best time with experiments in school, though!

sister AE said...

Thanks, Shyam.