Safely “Playing With Fire” in the Chemistry Classroom

Bowtie Diagram for flammable solvent safety

It’s the beginning of a brand new school year, and a brand new opportunity to capture students’ interest in chemistry and the joy of lab-based sciences! In thousands of chemistry classrooms across the country, teachers will be planning labs, demos, and ways to have students be engaged and excited about learning. Before you dive into a demonstration with the intent to inspire “ooh’s and aah’s”, please take a moment to read this excellent article published in the Journal of Chemical Education, in which Samuella Sigmann from Appalachian State University reviews the history and hazards of fire management in chemical education. This is an Editors' Choice article and thus open-access without a subscription.

All too often, the temptation to provide a dazzling flash or bang in a laboratory demonstration overshadows the need for proper training, planning, and safety management before any activities involving flammable substances are undertaken. This article provides an in-depth look at the unfortunately long list of incidents resulting in injury due to carelessness or preventable mistakes made while using substances such as methanol in laboratory demonstrations. While exciting and inspiring demonstrations can and should be a powerful tool in the chemistry teacher’s “bag of tricks”, following some of the guidelines outlined in this article can help prevent risking injury to students and teachers.


The preview image of this post is called a "bowtie" diagram. It is used within the J.Chem.Ed article "to help readers visualize hazard, risk, and controls in a flame jetting risk scenario". You can find this diagram in figure 1 of the article. 

Publication information
Alt. Title: 

An excellent look at managing fire hazards in chemistry, this article published in J. Chem. Ed. is designated as an Editors' Choice article.

Publication Date: 
Monday, June 18, 2018