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The best way to set off a fire alarm

And not get in trouble.Here is the story of when I knew I would be a chemist.This is the story I should have told when asked to give a lightning talk. Although, the discovery of the Ziegler-Natta catalyst is a good story, 180 seconds is not quite enough time to give a room of non-chemists enough background to fully appreciate the wonder and significance of the story.But here is a story that serves both as a means to better know me, as well as perhaps encourage others to become scientists.This is especially important as more questions arise about how to increase the number of women in the sciences. Many women have indicated that they realize their passion for science early on, and along that line of encouragement is a project to collect stories of successful women scientist, so this is just as short antidote to increase that growing pile.It is a very simple experiment done often in high school chemistry courses. It only requires placing some magnesium turnings in a crucible, lighting the Bunsen burner and placing it underneath the crucible.

What does not often happen is the crucible exploding.

It was not a large amount of magnesium, so it was pretty much contained. Just a very loud pop. (I did not get hurt, and luckily everyone was safe.)

However, it was enough of an surprise to set off the fire alarm and quite possibly release of all of the adrenaline that I had stored up in my glands.

And so in one of my first chemistry courses ever, I evacuated my entire high school. And made them all stand outside for the entire period as it was not a scheduled fire alarm, nor was it a simple prank pull. And I did not go to a small high school. It was over 2000 students.

Many of my friends were taking an exam in American History.  It was postponed to the next week as a result of my experiment. They very much appreciated my work.

The accumulation of the excitement, investigating a unique occurrence (there was a crack in the crucible), and the acceptance of my peers all in one small event is what hooked me. I somehow must have known that one has the opportunity to study conservation of energy in a controlled manner though bomb calorimeters.

* I know that HS experiments can go very wrong and am thankful now for the insight and attention to safety my teacher had. It is very tragic when a teacher is not so careful as evidenced here and here


STEM fields

STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. Often it is used in the context of describing the status of STEM education.  I am here in attempts to educate myself about the world of science policy. I hear that those interested in policy are often referred to as “policy wonks”. In combining the two, I am a STEM Wonk.