Letters to the editor

  • Pyramid of Erlenmeyer flasks alternating red and green fluorescent liquid.The colorful arrangement on the front cover of the December/January issue looked to me as a "collapse" waiting to happen. Perhaps there are thin shelves supporting each layer of flasks—but my old eyes could not see any.

Quibbler, a.k.a. Gerry Toogood

[Dear Quibbler,

After a second look at the cover photo, we would like to clarify that the Erlenmeyer flasks pictured were small 25-mL flasks. The flask tower was only 30 cm in height. These little flasks are made with a fairly thick Pyrex material and do not break easily. If the tower did collapse, the result would require cleaning up a spill of fluorescently-dyed water. It was worth the risk for this one-time photo done in the lab.


  • Sorry to bother you with this, but I keep being confronted with educational theories and new technologies for teaching. I am dismayed. If I want to teach a student how to play the piano, sail a boat, or learn chemistry, is providing an iPad application first on my list? Can the student then simulate the process and learn how to do it?

The problem is like a virtual meal; I see it, but I don’t experience it — no aroma, no taste, no satisfaction. Learning is doing. Someone once said that you can learn more about sailing by getting in a boat and sailing than by reading all the books on the subject. The same is true about chemistry. Of course you need some background information, but in the end, with guided inquiry, you just do it.

I remember how I learned to ride a bike. I reviewed Newton’s Laws, watched a video, and then I knew what to do. We have lost our way. An old Chinese proverb: “I hear and I forget, I see and I remember, I do and I understand.”

Dick Moran
Canton High School, Canton MA

  • From across the pond,

The letter in Sept 2011 issue from Shawn McGovern contained many questions we are asked at CLEAPSS. Greg’s response is excellent and common sense. I suspect there is someone with chemophobia at Shawn’s school and the waste disposal system is way over the top. Keeping hazardous waste bottles has caused problems. For example, in the past a bottle with ammoniacal silver nitrate residues has exploded in storage.

The expiry date issue is often quoted over here. It is really the date after which the supplier cannot guarantee the assay. I have seen calcium carbonate expiry dates. I ask those enquiring —should we dispose of the white cliffs of Dover?

Shawn needs to ask for the actual law to which the board is responding to. I am curious about how Shawn got on.

Bob Worle, Lead Chemistry Adviser, CLEAPSS*
The Gardiner Building, Brunel Science Park
Kingston Lane, Uxbridge UB8 3PQ, United Kingdom

*CLEAPSS is an advisory service providing support in science and technology for a consortium of local authorities and their schools including establishments for pupils with special needs.