From Times Online: School lab health and safety rules ‘could stop future scientists’:
It is a scientific fact, tested and proven by generations of pupils, that experiments in school laboratories win young people to the cause of science. White coats, goggles and the chance to set fire to things foster a passion for chemistry that even years of examinations do not extinguish.
But government advisers and eminent scientists are warning of a disturbing development that could endanger generations of future scientists: pupils are no longer allowed to experiment.
Health and safety concerns are preventing students — including those taking A levels — from performing vital and exciting investigations into what happens when one sets fire to magnesium ribbon, or drops a small glob of sodium into a dish of water.
The comments follow an Ofsted report warning that the national curriculum and testing regime led to boring science lessons. Schools spent too much time drilling students for tests, it said.
Jane Lees, head of Hindley High School in Wigan, and a former head of science, agreed that health and safety had put an end to a number of “whiz-bang” experiments. “But we’re moving on to different ways of teaching science — with videos, and on the web with virtual learning environments which are quite as interesting. It’s a different way of learning but it should still be able to turn them on. What you need is inspirational teachers.”
Experiments at risk
Ammonium dichromate volcano Make a pile of ammonium dichromate and set the tip alight using a magnesium fuse. The result is a tiny volcano, complete with ash, steam and nitrogen gas
The thermite reaction Mix metal powder with metal-oxide to create thermite and set it alight. The mix will burn at an exceptionally high temperature
Potassium in water The classic school experiment. Drop potassium into water and it reacts violently, making hydrogen, which then ignites in a small fireball
Safety is very important, but these demonstrations can be done safely with the proper training and setup.
I still remember demonstrations from middle school physical science and high school chemistry (a long long time ago), such as sodium in water, and (gasp) actually handling mercury (do students today ever even see mercury?).
Grace and Peace