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A Safer 'Rainbow Flame' Demo For Chemistry Classrooms

A few weeks ago, a fire inside a high school chemistry classroom in Virginia sent two students to the hospital in critical condition and injured four others, including the teacher.

A few weeks ago, a fire inside a high school chemistry classroom in Virginia sent two students to the hospital in critical condition and injured four others, including the teacher.

The incident involved was a "rainbow flame" demonstration that's a popular lesson in high school chemistry classrooms -- the experiment even appeared in the pilot episode of the hit show "Breaking Bad."

The lesson involves interacting metals or certain chemicals with a flame to show how they change the fire's color. According to a student in the Virginia classroom, the teacher in the incident poured flammable liquid onto a desk and lit it with a Bunsen burner, then passed certain metals through the flame. When the flame got smaller, the teacher poured more liquid on it, which caused a "splash of fire," burning students standing close to it.

According to a Washington Post report, the fire in Virginia was at least the fifth time this type of lesson has harmed students since 2000. This most recent incident has stirred up renewed calls for a ban on the "rainbow flame" demo, including a petition on Change.org to "#BanTheBurns."

Meanwhile, the American Chemical Society recently released a video to demonstrate a safer way to pull off the experiment.

According to ACS, "The experiment is meant to show how various metal salt solutions can create flames of different colors, but it can be unsafe if teachers use highly flammable solvents like methanol or ethanol in the procedure. To prevent future injuries, the American Chemical Society (ACS) Committee on Safety recommends that rainbow flame experiments involving flammable solvents be discontinued immediately. In this new video, Kim Duncan and James Kessler of the ACS Education Division demonstrate a much safer alternative using the same metal salts dissolved in water (rather than in ethanol or methanol)."

What do you think? Should this experiment be banned in U.S. classrooms? Let us know what you think by commenting below.

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