Date: Fri, 11 Nov 2005 19:24:35 -0700
Reply-To: DAVID KATZ <dakatz45**At_Symbol_Here**MSN.COM>
Sender: DCHAS-L Discussion List <DCHAS-L**At_Symbol_Here**LIST.UVM.EDU>
From: DAVID KATZ <dakatz45**At_Symbol_Here**MSN.COM>
Subject: Re: Students not selecting chemistry

I must take issue with with the statement regarding "draconian 
application of Health and Safety rules" along with the other statements 
about experiments being banned.  First of all, a number of our 
colleagues did it to themselves with constant demonstrations with fire, 
smoke, and explosions.  Also, most of the textbook publishers did not 
help with the dull clones of laboratory manuals with "so what?" boring 
experiments.  Chemistry is not a bunch of experiments with fire, smoke, 
and explosions, rather it demonstrates the fascinating properties of 
many elements and compounds and amazing transformations of matter.

As chemistry teachers we must first and foremost be aware of laboratory 
safety, proper handling of materials, proper storage, and proper 
disposal.  These are not add-ons to our experiments, but standard 
operating procedures. That's where people like Jim Kaufman and Larry 
Flinn come in.  I'm not ignoring all of you out there, but these 
individuals have worked tirelessly to take safety to teachers in the 
schools.  Jim with his workshops and Flinn with the excellent safety 
information in his catalog along with his safety workshops.

What about experiments and demonstrations?  First, I'm proud to state 
that I do demonstrations and occasional hands-on activities in almost 
every class.  I demonstrate the reactions of lithium, sodium, and 
potassium (in small scale, projected on  a large screen), a Thermite 
reaction (in a safe outdoors location), show the oxygen burning splint 
reaction, burn a test tube of hydrogen, and lots of other chemical 
reactions and phenomena. Sure, we need those safety shields and we must 
take all the proper precautions because as chemistry professionals this 
is part of our life. I have maintained a 100% safety record throughout 
my career - small accidents have happened, but there have been no fires, 
property damage, or injuries. 

I'm always searching for interesting experiments to turn my students on 
to chemistry and am especially trying to relate the chemistry to daily 
life.  It's time to get away from a lot of those boring measurement and 
density labs and to do some interesting chemistry.  Just add a real-life 
application to an existing experiment where possible, grow crystals of 
grocery store alum, work with liquid crystal materials, etc. There is a 
wealth of information on experiments and demonstrations in the Journal 
of Chemical Education and at a number of web sites - but, choose wisely 
and put safety first.  (Okay, I have to put in a plug for my web site, 
where I post most of my experiments for my students and to share with 
the world.  My site is   
To find experiments, click on the "Pima Chem Courses" link and look at 
some of the specific courses.)

So quit complaining and get off your duffs.  Prove to your school 
boards, administrators, legislators, and the general public that you are 
responsible and safety minded chemistry professionals and regain their 
trust.  Educate the general students, they're the regulation setters of 
tomorrow. Add some new and interesting experiments to your courses to 
get your students to say "Wow".  The current situation isn't going to 
change overnight, it will take time.

David Katz
Chemist, Educator, Expert Demonstrator, Science Communicator, and 
133 N. Desert Stream Dr., Tucson, AZ 85745, U.S.A.
Voice/Fax/Message: 520-624-2207     Email: 
Programs and workshops for teachers, schools, museums, and the public
Visit my web site:

  Further  back on the education chain, though, the worry is that young  

  people  are not being attracted to chemistry because of the draconian  
  application of Health and Safety rules.  The sort of experiments  that 
  we did in labs with Bunsen burners and mixing things and hoping  for  
  bangs and liking to see fermentation and bubbling and grizzling,  has  

  now been banned.  A teacher stands behind a glass screen  and  
  demonstrates.  In other words, all the three of them  agreed, it seems 
  to be no fun at all for students who are peeling  away from chemistry  

  en masse.  The worry is not only that fewer  students are taking up  
  chemistry, but that even those who are taking  it up cannot be hands  
  on and, therefore, cannot begin to be  innovative at the start of  
  their careers.  There was worry that  this would lead to a drop off of 
  real interest in pushing chemistry  forward into areas where it is now 
  so important, to do with research  into fuels into the atmosphere and  

  so on.

  It seems that,  again and again, when we bandage people against  
  reality we save some  things but seem to lose at least as much and  
  perhaps far more  important things.  As this country has been so  
  fantastically  effective in its studies of chemistry over the past two 
  centuries,  it would be a pity if over-fierce regulation were to crush 
  the life  out of it, which seems to be the case.

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