Better Education Through Chemistry

Written by Jester

I never had one of those inspiring movie teachers. You know, the ones like Robin Williams in Dead Poet's Society. Nobody encouraged me to stand on desks and shout poetry. That's fine, because the Augustans and Romantics put me into a deep coma (Victorians and Moderns fucking kick ass).

Fortunately, I had someone much better than Robin Williams. Mr. Embleton.

Mr. Embleton taught Science. Up until Grade 11, science covered general sciences, such as the basics of the universe, life on planet Earth, and the nifty kinds of matter you could find here. About 70% of it was biology. In Grade 11, science split into the more specific fields of biology, physics, and chemistry. Chemistry was Mr. Embleton's specialty.

Mr. Embleton: tall, glasses, dark receding hair, looked fairly conservative. It was probably a cunning ruse to disguise his true nature. Outside, he looked plain, perhaps even boring, but on the inside was the capacity for some truly wonderful mayhem. Mr. E never openly stated it, but I got the impression that the reason he became a teacher was to earn the pleasure of occasionally terrifying snotty teenagers, and studied chemistry in order to learn how to do as much damage as possible. And not simple

explosives, oh no. Those would be boring. Anybody can blow something up. Mr. E wanted to play with his prey.

During his university years, he used to amuse himself by mixing up chemicals that got under the human skin and left black handprints everywhere. It could be placed on a doorknob and was untraceable until mixed with human sweat. He used to leave it on classroom doors.

His finest hour came one night when he and a friend designed a tennis ball cannon. I have no idea how it worked, but basically with a few tubes, and some chemical process I can't fathom, he was able to construct something that could build up enough pressure to launch a tennis ball at a pretty good velocity. Once their weapon had been constructed, they decided to test it.

On campus security.

That night they climbed on to the university roof. As the "mice" (as campus police are sometimes called) wandered around, they took aim, and fired.

Mr. E's buddy happened to work in campus security, so he had a walkie talkie with him and was able to track the movement of the guards. Whenever they got too close, they just picked up their cannon and moved. They also used it to pinpoint isolated victims. They kept the chase going until the wee hours of the morning.

I know this, because this is the sort of thing he would tell us. I remember that he also worked at campus security at one point and had to eject Bryan Adams from a university party once. One more reason to like Mr. E. He also told us a story of the time he told a cop to do something "anatomically impossible with a baseball bat." Ironic, because I believe that when I graduated high school, Mr. Embleton had decided to switch career tracks and become a cop.

In his younger days, he was quite the hell raiser. We only got treated to light doses of his chaotic nature. We were lucky. When he became a teacher, he didn't settle down much. In fact, he did the pre-emptive strike thing. No kid dared raise hell in Mr. Embleton's class because he wasn't afraid to do it first. And considered the vast store of chemical know-how he had to draw on, Mr. E's hell-raising abilities demonstrated what rank amateurs we were.

Once, he hauled in a Vandergraph Generator (you see them at science centres all the time. They're those globes they use to make your hair stand up). Demonstrating this amusing phenomena for a moment, he then had us play Pass the Electron. With one hand on the generator he held hands with another student, conducting the electrical charge on to them. That person got a shock of course. Then that person held hands with the next person in line. And so on. The further down the line you were, the better of

f you were. The charge wasn't as strong by the time it got to you.

I don't know who it was that touched a metal counter while we were playing Pass the Electron, but it grounded us instantly. And it hurt somewhat. It made an interesting finale to the experiment to feel both your arms tingle and momentarily go numb.

However, we got off lucky, compared to what happened to one of his other classes.

Somehow, Mr. E got a hold of some liquid nitrogen. Liquid nitrogen is an extremely cold substance, so much so that most matter becomes extremely brittle when dunked in it. Doctors use tiny droplets of it remove warts and other skin imperfections. One little drop, and the wart breaks off like dried mud. Needless to say, they don't give this stuff to just anybody.

Mr. E demonstrated the stuff for the benefit of one class. He took a rubber ball, and like a magician performing a trick, bounced it. He then dipped it into the liquid nitrogen. Removing it, he tried bouncing it again. It shattered like cheap glass. Next, he dipped a rose into the nitrogen. That done, he tapped it against the desk while the students watched, fascinated. The rose also shattered.

For his finale, Mr. E picked up the dish of liquid nitrogen he'd been using, and unceremoniously flung the contents at his class.

The thing you have to know, and his students didn't, is that liquid nitrogen evaporates instantly. Although everybody freaked, nobody was harmed.

He said it took it him over 30 minutes to calm everybody down and he never tried that again.

I really liked Mr. Embleton, but sadly, he always seemed to catch me at my worst. Have you ever run into someone who only sees you when you're doing less than glamorous or hardly noble things? You want to explain to that person that you don't normally say, vomit a lot, get arrested, or dress like a member of the opposite sex, but if you do it just looks like you're making excuses. Mr. Embleton was like that for me. Every time something was going wrong with me, he seemed to walk into the room.

For example, there was the time I ordered a pizza at the Science Fair. Well, it was so fucking boring, our experiment didn't work and I was hungry. What can I say? Mr. E wasn't happy about that one. I for one wasn't happy that the judge for our non-functioning experiment appeared to have died mid-way though our presentation, but I had the sense to realize I was already in the bad books so I kept my mouth shut. I just remember my partner Chris and I explaining our experiment to the judge who had not blinked or moved for five minutes. I waved my hand in front of his face and when he didn't react, I said "Chris, I think we killed him."

The pizza at the science fair was a bit of a disaster. It didn't exactly endear a man who not only held my grades in his hands, but a man who probably also knew how to make 50 megaton explosives with simple household cleaning products. Plus, it wasn't even good pizza. The one we ordered for the history detention was much better (People say I have a knack for ordering pizza at the most inappropriate times, but I maintain every time is pizza time).

Although chemistry seemed to be a great subject, it was one I had no talent for. I was always good at science, but if you take it long enough, it becomes math. Eventually it gives way to equations which govern the laws of the field. Biology takes a while to get there. Physics and chemistry get there on day 2.

I really wished I'd understood this better. Lots of people struggled with chemistry, and I was one such person. I tried, staying after school for remedial classes, but nothing work. It didn't work for a lot of other people too. It seemed you either got it or you didn't.

Fortunately Mr. E would accept plea-bargaining. See the mess our grades were in, at the end of the year he tactfully offered us an escape. We would pass this year, provided he didn't see us next year. He didn't state it so explicitly, but the message got across. We all took our parachutes and jumped.

Perhaps its best that I never tried showed any skill for chemistry. In high school I was somewhat anti-Christish, and would have put the knowledge towards mayhem. Then Mr. E would have retaliated, and between the two of us we would have destroyed the school.

Actually, that doesn't sound like such a bad idea.