Words and art by Alex Hanson
I crossed paths with my worst academic nemesis, fourth period Honors Chemistry, in my sophomore year of high school. While much of my distaste of the subject was due to a teacher whose vibes didn’t mesh with mine, as well as my severe inability to visualize the concepts that I was supposed to understand, I did find one class experiment to be particularly redeeming.
One day, my hair knotted up in a bun and my eyes shielded by plastic goggles, rock and roll music about the periodic table blasting from my teacher’s self-designed speaker system, my lab mates and I burned combinations of various metals and salts to create colored flames. We lit that Bunsen burner with the glory of Thor wielding his trusty Mjolnir, igniting our portion of what became a rainbow of tiny flames in the classroom lab. It was one of those magical “aha” moments in chemistry where I could truly see the effects of all the equations and reactions happening before the naked eye—and it was beautiful! I was enthralled by the combination of bright, saturated flame colors and the inherently mischievous act of igniting a fire in a classroom. Even though I bombed the next day’s quiz on metal classification, the experiment’s application to understanding how fireworks achieve their colors stuck with me.
When I’m feeling incompetent or academically frustrated, I look to my memory of the flame test experiment as a reminder that there is something to be enjoyed and learned from every class—even if it isn’t going to be on the test.