As anyone will tell you, there’s usually this drawn-out moment of panic when you light your first Bunsen Burner, during which all you hear is the hiss of gas, a sound that I’d imagine isn’t too dissimilar from what Colin Creevey might have heard in that instant before Tom Riddle’s basilisk came spilling out of the old Hogwarts pipes.  And, like a basilisk’s stare, the sound of gas escaping from somewhere deep beneath your school’s foundations (or so I imagine) is powerful enough to render a body incapable of any motion other than maintaining your defensive half-crouch while your lab partner – the one who somehow isn't overwhelmed by the very idea of lighting a Bunsen Burner, that bitch – gives you a sweetly sympathetic look and uses one of those sparky-flinty tools (I really never bothered learning the proper name, since I swore from the first time I saw one that I’d never have the guts to use it myself) to coax a little flickering flame out of the Burner.  The sight of this flame, small and tame, like any one of the aromatherapy candles sitting on the lip of your bathtub back home, is almost enough to chase any lingering visions of mushroom clouds or charred corpses out of your head.  Almost.


Ya know - now that I think about it, Rowling must have meant for the basilisk to be a scientific allegory all along!

I mention this delightful Easter tale because today also happens to mark the birth of Robert Wilhelm Eberhard von Bunsen, a German chemist whose eponymous invention would later become a staple in high school science classrooms and meth labs the world over.  Through the years, the Bunsen Burner has taught me many valuable lessons, the most helpful of which I’ve taken the liberty of including below:

1) Don’t be afraid of fire.  At least very small domesticated ones that, if need be – and need there most certainly will be – can be deprived of their source of fuel simply by pressing a giant red button on the wall.

2) If you don’t have the balls to do something yourself, hire or bribe or coerce someone into doing it for you.  Make friends with that bitch who acts like she’s impervious to flame, so when she asks if you want to partner up with her for lab class she’ll think it was her idea all along.

3) As a fail-safe, join your high school’s band, orchestra, or choral ensemble.  If you’re lucky, you’ll be able to “schedule” your music lesson during your science classes, so at least if the chemistry room does blow up – and I’m placing my bets on a Bunsen Burner explosion – you’ll be far outside the blast radius.

mushroom cloud

R.I.P. Fellow students - should've taken violin lessons like me!

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So, what do you think?