Report released on New York high school fire

The New York Special Commissioner of Investigation yesterday released its report regarding the Beacon High School fire last January. The fire was widely reported to involve the “rainbow” flame test experiment.

And indeed it did. And, as many suspected, this is what happened:

Pool continued that, as she lit each Petri dish, a different color flame appeared. When the flames died out, the students asked Poole to conduct the experiment again. Poole explained that, this time, after she added the nitrates to the Petri dish, she reached for the one gallon container of methanol to add to the Petri dish and, all of a sudden, a fire ball–like a blowtorch–erupted and shot across the room. Poole did not hear anything, but saw a white flame shoot across the room, adn and then Studnet Student A was on fire.

I truly do not understand why so many teachers decide to pour an alcohol from a large container around open flames.

For a safer way to do the experiment, soak wooden sticks in chloride solutions, then burn them in a Bunsen burner, as recommended by the National Science Teachers Association. People at the University of California, Davis, chemistry department have experimented with this as well to find an optimal procedure to produce vibrant colors. Their results aren’t published yet, but contact Debbie Decker for more information.

(I’m traveling and without my laptop, so I had to retype the quote. Any typos or other errors in that quote are mine. Monday update: typos fixed!)

Author: Jyllian Kemsley

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