Blowing It Up Out Of Proportion

, , , , , | Learning | May 14, 2018

During my sophomore year of college, our campus had a bomb scare, not because of a threat, but because of incorrectly stored chemicals. A professor had brought some picric acid into one of the labs and failed to screw the container’s cap on properly. Picric acid is a component of TNT. It’s relatively safe when kept in an aqueous solution, but when it dries it’s highly explosive and can be set off by being jostled. In response, the university cancelled classes and evacuated half of the campus. The cafeteria was also half-closed, and students were shuffled in to eat in small groups, and told to finish as quickly as possible and get out of the “blast zone.” The fire department was called, and they sent in a bomb squad to retrieve the container and detonate it safely.

Later that day, one of the professors found more dried picric acid in the lab, and asked another professor what to do. They just poured water into the container and dumped it down the sink.

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That Went Down The Tubes

, , , , , | Learning | May 3, 2018

(I’m a teacher’s assistant. A physics teacher has a demonstration that he’s used for years: he draws a cello bow across a glass tube, making it hum, and shows how gradually dipping it in water changes the pitch. This year, the demonstration takes a different turn.)

Teacher: “As you can see, I have a glass tube, a cello bow, and a bucket. Now, we’ve been talking about frequencies and vibrations, and I’m sure you remember the slow-motion video of the violin from last week. I’m going to slowly draw this bow across the tube. What do you think’s going to happen?”

Student #1: “It’s probably going to make a noise.”

Student #2: “No, no, it’s not flexible like the strings. Nothing’s going to happen.”

Student #3: “But remember, we watched the video with wine glasses? Glass can-–”

Student #4: *interrupting* “IT’S GOING TO EXPLODE!”

Teacher: “Well, let’s see.”

(He places the tube in its stand and begins to pull the bow. The tube instantly shatters, and the fragments fall into the bucket that he would have otherwise filled with water.)

Teacher: “[Student #4], very good. The minute vibrations induced by the bow are too much for a fragile glass tube like this to handle. Next week, we’ll introduce tubes of varying thickness to see what happens then.”

(After class, I hear the story.)

Me: “So, I hear your tube demonstration went wrong today.”

Teacher: “Ah, no, it went perfectly. The important thing isn’t the expected outcome; it’s that they got a chance to learn something new.”

(He thinks for a second.)

Teacher: “And that they don’t realize I screwed up a demonstration I’ve done for every class for the past fourteen years.”

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Oh, The Humanity!

, , , , , | Learning | April 28, 2018

(I’m in AP chemistry.)

Teacher: “[My Name], can you go to [Other Teacher]’s class? I think she left her purse here.”

(I head to her room. When I walk in, she’s gone, but the other class has managed to get a Bunsen burner, plug it in, and turn the gas on. They are standing about ten feet away, while one guy is holding a sparkler you use to ignite the gas. At this point, I drop the purse, turn around, and SPRINT out of the classroom. I almost accidentally knock over the elderly academic chemistry teacher.)


(She tells me to calm down and makes it back to the classroom, but not before we hear a “whoosh” and a few screams. Apparently, the idiot who started it decided to walk near it and light it directly where you’re supposed to, but it had been pumping gas for so long it blew up all over the place, giving the idiot pretty bad burns. I see the teacher a few days later.)

Other Teacher: “Just so you know, the Hindenburg was hydrogen.”

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It’s Not The Solution Except When It Is

, , , , , , | Learning | April 26, 2018

There’s a stereotype that the more academically intelligent or successful you are, the less likely that you have “common sense” intelligence. This was never truer than in my chemistry exam eight years ago. Despite being part of the “nerdy” group in my class, I wasn’t feeling confident with chemistry at all. In my anxiety, the weekend before the exam I managed to complete every single past exam that I could get my hands on, dating all the way back to the mid-90s. My head was whirling with about 15 years’ worth of formulas and equations, and I finally felt ready for the exam. All that practice did pay off, as I found most of the exam fairly straightforward, right up until the last question.

It was a long question divided into multiple parts, and it started off okay, asking me standard questions like writing out the correct formula, identifying the product of the reaction, naming the molecule in question, describing its structure, and so on. Everything was fine… until the very last question completely threw me off.

The question was, “Why wouldn’t you place this molecule atop a Bunsen burner?”

I stared at the question for several minutes, completely stumped. There hadn’t been any questions on the dozens of practice exams I’d completed that were in any way reminiscent of this one. It was only worth one point, but I couldn’t think of what to write. I ended up writing something ridiculous, like, “Because Bunsen burners are hot,” or something equally stupid.

After the exam, my nerdy group of friends gathered together outside the classroom and we all pondered over that last question. None of us had figured it out; we had all been equally baffled. Then, finally, one of my friends slapped her forehead in frustration.

“Oh, my God, you guys! It was alcohol!

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This Table Is A Bit Extra-Dimensional

, , , , | Working | April 25, 2018

I work in the editorial office of a big furniture store. We write furniture descriptions for our online shop, and get in touch with other departments when we notice mistakes or inconsistencies, such as a bed having a length of 100 cm and a width of 200 cm, or a lamp having a green colour on the picture, but being described as red.

I noticed a coffee table which was marked as quadratic, but had a width of 90 cm and a length of 102 cm. I sent an inquiry to check and correct those figures, as either the measurements or the quadratic note had to be incorrect. Yesterday I got the answer back: “Corrected.” Indeed, when I pulled up the table in my browser, the measurements were corrected. The table now has a width of 90 cm, a length of 108 cm… and still is marked as quadratic.

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