By Emma Ferraro
July 11, 2022
UPDATED 12:00 PM EST
You passively put on your safety goggles and heavy apron, not thinking that anything of your classroom science experiment. What could possibly go wrong during a simple, guided lab in the comfort of your own school?
Unfortunately, many students actually get injured during science experiments during school. Caustic acids, bunsen burners, and other common lab materials and equipment can be the recipe for an unforeseen injury. It’s more common than you may perceive for one to get hurt in a classroom lab.
In April of 2011, Michele Dufault, an undergraduate at Yale University, was killed in the Sterling Chemistry Laboratory machine shop. This tragic incident was a result in Dufault’s ponytail catching fire while working in the shop in her lonesome. As a result, the university replaced dozens of large power tools and prohibited student use in this specific laboratory without supervision of a faculty or staff member.
Similar incidents even happen in high school science experiments, despite the less hazardous and serious equipment in, say, the laboratories in colleges and universities. Two sophomores at Beacon School in New York were injured in a lab incident in 2014, one of which being left with critical burns. The chemistry teacher, Anna Poole, gave a demonstration of a lab involving a rainbow of flames that is renowned for the number of tragic incidents it has caused in high school labs. Four nitrates are burnt in individual crucibles, which builds up methyl alcohol. These fumes built up into a fireball that zoomed across the top of a lab table and swallowed one of the students. The student tried to stop, drop, and roll, until a fire extinguisher and fire blanket were in use. At this point, the student had already suffered second- and third-degree burns to his head and neck. None of the students in the lab were wearing safety goggles.
It is unthinkable for such tragic outcomes to result from innocent school science experiments. However, freak accidents happen, and it is hard to prepare for an event so unforeseen. It is crucial to consciously continue to take into account laboratory precautions in order to remain safe in all lab environments, and to not assume that safety is inevitable in the presence of classmates and teachers.
Mongelli, Lorena, et al. "Two High School Kids Burned in Lab Accident." New York Post, 4 Jan. 2014, nypost.com/2014/01/02/students-injured-in-high-school-science-class-blast/.
Rosenberg, Eli. "17 people were injured when a classroom science experiment caused a flash fire." The Washington Post, 9 May 2018, www.washingtonpost.com/news/education/wp/2018/05/09/a-classroom-science-experiment-turned-into-a-chemical-fire-injuring-17/.
STERMAN, JOCE, et al. "More Than 160 Students, Teachers Nationwide Hurt in Science Experiments Gone Wrong." WJLA, 13 Nov. 2020, wjla.com/news/spotlight-on-america/more-than-160-students-teachers-nationwide-hurt-in-science-experiments-gone-wrong.