Monday, February 14, 2005



I started my college life as a student of science. The practicals are stuff that is nightmarish and at the same time a hilarious experience for the students. I shall limit my blog to the Physics and the Chemistry practicals.

The Chemistry practicals take the cake. The first class inside the laboratory was marked by the reading aloud the dos and the don't s. I say reading aloud because the teachers had a book by an eminent Professor in front of them. Till today I am not able to fathom why the author insisted on writing the record(which contains the details of the experiments done) in 'past tense'. For instance, one should not write “ add sulphuric acid to the copper turnings” or the gas formed is “sulphur dioxide”. Instead one has to write “sulphuric acid was added to the copper turnings” or “the gas formed was sulphur dioxide”.Rarely the actual results matched the contents of the book. A brick red coloured precipitate turned to pink in our hands. The flame displayed by the ubiquitous Bunsen burner did not match the required colours. Of course, to be fair, the book did not show any colour since it was in black and white.
I had a particularly good experience during the 'titration' experiment. Such experiments are performed to estimate the strength of the given acid combined with an 'alkali' or a 'base'. I was stupefied by these terms and still get some shivers while typing. The acid that I was supplied(read provided) with was to turn into a pink colour when mixed with a specific quantity of a particular reagent. To my surprise, the colour changed to pink even before the required quantity and when the exact quantity was added the colour became brown of a very dark shade. The teacher wouldn't budge even an inch and wanted me to redo the experiment from the start. The second time was no different and I had to go back to my desk for the third time. By then most of my batchmates were leaving the laboratory having got success. I decided to do something different and stopped the adding of the reagent as soon as the solution turned into pink. My teacher was surprised and came to my desk to find the right amount of the solution. I just threw the excess solution into the drain.

The Physics practicals were the most taxing in every sense of the term. The teachers believed in having the pupils under control. At the slightest mistake they made us sweat. The records were thrown out of the laboratory. If not, the teacher would just use the 'dreaded' red ink pen to good effect. My seniors told me that the red marks would damage the prospects in the examination. That was reason enough to lose sleep. My first experiment in Physics was the 'slide callipers' with which I had to measure a hollow metal cylinder. I took ten readings but the teacher was not amused. He wanted to get more readings so that the average would be more stable. The condition was that the readings had to be different. Now that was difficult because the cylinder had the same characteristics throughout. My friend asked to me make small changes to the values and complete the experiment. Within minutes I had fifty readings. In order to measure the effect of heat on metals I was given the 'Pullinger's Apparatus'. It was a long hollow pipe in which a metal rod was to be placed and steam was to released into the pipe. Due to its property to expand, the length of the metal rod increases under the impact of the steam. But in my case, that just wouldn't happen because the steam did not go into the closed pipe but the surroundings. All I had to do was to copy from the record of a senior.

I feel that the practicals of these significance should not be thrust upon the hapless students in the name of broadening their horizons. They only serve to strengthen the hands of the teachers. The practicals serve to benefit the teachers who use them to great effect to favour their chosen ones or punish the disobedient. The equipment and the experiments are of the vintage having no such utility in the actual life. A friend of mine said matter of factly that there is a need for manipulations while carrying out the experiments. This, surely, is a revelation having come from the mouth of a science teacher.

It was much later I heard Pink Floyd sing “we don't need no education, we don't need no thought control, no dark sarcasm in the classroom, teachers leave the kids alone, all in all its just another brick in the wall, all in all you're just another brick in the wall”. The song makes me feel liberated after all these years from the tyranny of the practicals and the science teachers. Of course, now they are my friends and colleagues now.


Blogger CosmicParoxysms said...

What you have written makes me reminisce about the high school days. Boy, in a chemistry practical, we had to do like 20 reactions, record our observations (so that we can guess the products and hence the reaction) and go to the next reaction in 80 minutes.

Oh man... We just couldn't do it. The next day I just tried to look up on the internet the necessary reactions and asked my physics teacher, who also happened to have a degree in chemistry.

3:03 PM


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