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September 28th, 2015:

Hair on Fire | Birthday Memories

Last year for my birthday, I asked my friends to send me stories related to our friendship. I spent my birthday taking a trip down memory lane, reading through all of them. This year, I asked some of my friends if I could share their memories with you.

12 Molar Hydrochloric Acid by maticulous from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

12 Molar Hydrochloric Acid by maticulous from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

This final memory comes from Tavys Ashcroft, one of my classmates from St. Vincent High School. I remember this day from Mr. D’s Honors Chemistry class our junior year. (NEAT STUFF!) It was an experiment that required an acid that was so strong that thick white fumes rose from the bottle when you opened it. Mr. D. selected me to be the one who administered the acid, advising me to hold my breath.

Here’s how Tavys remembers that day:

I think it was 10, maybe 12 molar hydrochloric acid (mid-to-high thirties percent concentration). The kind of acid that could ruin your whole day. There was a story about highly diluted test-tube splatter dissolving pants.  

Only one was to be chosen to dispense this liquid danger. Who among them had the implicit trust of the man at the front of the room?

This was a serious production. Lab coats. Check. Goggles. Check. (Put down your strikers!) Notify all nonessential personnel to vacate the area. Do not reenter the laboratory until the “all clear” is sounded. 

Out came the bottle, a surprisingly large plastic jug. Aitch Cee Ell. The cap only just removed and already a fine mist began to appear. And the clock was ticking.

Bench to bench, beaker to beaker, she carefully administered each allotment.  

Slowly enveloped in a faint fog, the room faded away. Out in the hallway, the wafting swimming pool aroma gave way to burning eyes and tightening throats.

She emerged, lab assistant triumphant. The incongruous wisps from her brow a steaming halo of pride and sublimation.

Was it sugar hydrolysis? Did carbon snakes leap from glassware? I don’t quite recall the purpose of the lab (me neither), but I clearly remember the poison cloud and the smoking hair.

During the experiment, Mr. D. asked if I could smell the chlorine. When I said, “Yes,” he said, “You’re burning your lungs.” I probably damaged all the cilia along my respiratory tract that day. Ah, the sacrifices we make for science.