Those who know me well know that when I ask if it’s okay that I set something on fire, I mean it.

Usually in one of the classes I’m teaching right now I both do a lot of chemical demonstrations and have the students do their own.  Chemistry is, in more ways than most sciences, a very practical field.  Humans have done extraordinary chemistry for millennia with little theoretical understanding.  In fact, a chemist from 100 years ago probably had more practical skills in material science than a chemist today.  Today we certainly understand more about things like atomic structure, bonding and the effect of these on material properties.   But I would be hard pressed to smelt ore, for example.

Not having a lab presently, I can’t ask the students to do their own demonstrations.  But an idea for a simple one occurred to me at the end of class Monday and I asked my colleague in the room (we’re sitting in on each other’s classes much to the bewilderment of our students who can’t understand why someone would take a class that isn’t required) if it was okay for me to use a lighter in the classroom.  That perked him right up and he eventually managed to point me to the sprinkler right above me.  I decided perhaps a video from last year’s class would work quite as well.

After class, he asked the question in the title, kind of laughing.  “Of course,” I said.


In other news, classes after 5pm have been cancelled (again) due to a protest (Día del Joven Combatiente).  To be fair, it sounds like a great thing to protest: on this day in 1985 two young men, probably Marxists, definitely opposing Pinochet, were shot.  Terrible and worthy of scorn.  I’m not sure how current young men not going to class will help the world but there you go.  And, as protests often do, it’s evolved into more a day of general violence largely unconnected with the event it attempts to memorialize.

On the other hand, it sounds like we’ll be allowed to set things on fire.


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