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Student Blows Up Kitchen Performing Virtual Chemistry Lab


Photo by grace_kat / CC BY-SA 2.0

 With online classes in full swing for many Penn students with nothing better to do this summer, some have decided to take their online learning experience to the next level. The Chemistry Department has already announced that all fall labs will be online, regardless of class size. While even under normal circumstances, many students will tell you that chem labs suck, students still have concerns that they are missing out on a full education. 

In preparation for this fall, College junior Michael Lambert decided to get a little demonstration going in his own kitchen. He was taking an online chemistry course and decided he might as well follow along with the instructor rather than just watch and record the results on his screen. So what if he didn’t necessarily have the "exact chemicals" used by the professor? He had always been told to stay away from the sink cabinets as a child because they had “dangerous” chemicals — there had to be something there that he could use. 

Drain cleaner? Check. Some weird unlabeled bottle? Check. A splash of bleach and detergent? Check. Throw in a few more things in the right proportions, making sure to keep the mole ratios the same and voilà. Maybe it should’ve been a red flag when all of these items appeared on the WikiHow article titled “How to Make A Home-made Bomb”, but clearly if Michael just mixed the chemicals the way his professor did, everything would turn out perfectly.

After some careful measurements and slow heating of the chemical concoction, Michael was ready to make some observations. Observation 1: mixture is bubbling rapidly. Observation 2: volume of mixture is rapidly changing. What is that smell? Observation 3: OH GOD IT BURNS! EVERYTHING BURNS! I CAN’T SEE. MAKE SURE SOMEONE WRITES THAT DOWN FOR ME!