Melissa Anderson and others:
You have asked for feedback related to demonstrating PYROTECHNICS and other fire effects in the teaching laboratory. I am going to respond , however, I would like to broaden the discussion. I am compelled to do so since the subject of pyrotechnics as come up frequently on this site. The contributions have frequently described serious injuries to student and teachers.
I am compelled to ask why the obsession with having pyrotechnic demonstrations? Tongue in cheek, I will note it can not be because of the great demand for students trained in pyrotechnics! The typical answer is it excites students. If this is the case, I think we are getting student excited about the wrong aspects of chemistry and science.
If you are going to spend time and resources on the exciting students about chemistry I suggest it would be better to focus on what chemists and other scientists and engineers do in the real world -- how they make a living. How many teachers have spent some time in a modern chemical processing plant, observed an oil/ gas drilling operation, observed a hydraulic fracturing operation, spent time in a modern petroleum refinery, observed production of electronic chips, observed the production of synthetic insulating fibers, spent time in a modern pharmaceutical production facility, spent time in a modern high volume analytical chemistry laboratory, observed lab scale chemical syntheses and I can go on and on. I still find a visit to one of these kinds of facilities exciting. A few years ago I had one of friends, a Professor of Chemical Engineering accompany me on a visit to a major oil/gas field to observe drilling , hydraulic fracturing and production activities as a p!
relude to our doing some problem solving. That individual still tells me years later how invigorating that visit was to him and useful in his teaching of both undergraduate and graduate students. He saw real world applications of the concepts he teaches.
I offer these comments based on my career as a "hands on" manager of two major research laboratories , one with a staff of 150 individuals and the other with over 200 individuals participating in multi-disciplinary research addressing contemporary real world issues concerned with building a scientific base for developing health and environmental standards. Chemists were essential members of the our research teams. I never had one of my chemist colleagues tell me they were attracted to a career in chemistry because of a pyrotechnic demonstration in middle school, high school or college. I heard many stories about how they were attracted to science because of an inspirational teacher who worked side by side with them doing some real world science in the laboratory, in the field or at the computer.
If our goal is to motivate students I think the focus should be on what scientists, engineers and technicians really do rather than irrelevant demonstrations of dubious value. If your fascination is with "gee whiz" , what went wrong stuff just spend some time reviewing the activities of the Chemical Safety Board or scan the stories in C and E News. Being a little cynical, I will close by noting whatever theatrical pyrotechnics demonstration you produce will have a tough time competing with the computer games your students are playing. There is no need to compete on that playing field!!
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Roger O. McClellan
On Mon, 1/23/17, Melissa Anderson
Date: Monday, January 23, 2017, 6:17 PM
We're in the
process of converting one of our introductory chemistry
classes into a project-based curriculum. One of the ideas
that's getting tossed around is a project built up
around movie special effects, and the subject of
pyrotechnics and other fire effects came up.
One spirited discussion later, we (well, some of
us) were left wondering about the safety and legal
constrains of creating theatrical pyrotechnics as part of a
chemistry lab project. In particular, I know that fireworks
are 100% illegal in our city, which seems to imply that
anything involving flash powder-type reactions might not
only be dangerous, but illegal. However, I'd like to
bring more than my own initial bias to our next
I'd like to be able to bring some insights
back to the group on:
1) What kind of evidence exists for or against
the legality and safety of such a project? (i.e. laws,
anecdotes, case studies, etc.)
2) Is this idea, overall, worth the logistical
3) Are there some particularly good alternatives
that would have the same "wow" factor (i.e. allows
students to experiment with variables and has a neat effect)
but with decreased risk.
Any suggestions or insights would be most
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This e-mail is from DCHAS-L, the e-mail list of the ACS Division of Chemical Health and Safety.
For more information about the list, contact the Divisional secretary at secretary**At_Symbol_Here**dchas.org
Subject: [DCHAS-L] Pyrotechnics in the Teaching Lab
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