July 21, 2010

The Science of Flatulence

Just when I thought I wouldn't be able to come up with a good blog topic this week, I happened to be perusing MSNBC.com and saw the following headline: "How to get boys to read? Try a book on farts." Immediately, I knew I was going to have to check out the article. Because, you know. . . FARTS!

For an article with such an attention-grabbing headline, some of the first introductory paragraphs just didn't deliver what I was hoping for. For example:

Boys have lagged behind girls in reading achievement for more than 20 years, but the gender gap now exists in nearly every state and has widened to mammoth proportions.

See what I mean? Boring! I was lured by the siren song of farts, and now I had to slog through stuff about a "gender gap?" The article was losing me, in other words. Thankfully, the article eventually went on to explain what I've already known for over 30 years. Namely, if you want to get young boys interested in learning, you often have to start with the lowest common denominator: potty humor.

"Butts, farts. Whatever," said Amelia Yunker, a children's librarian in Farmington Hills, Mich. She hosted a grossology party with slime and an armpit noise demonstration. "Just get 'em reading. Worry about what they're reading later."

Sing it, sister!

Actually, I have my own anecdotal experience to draw upon in support of this learning initiative. Back when I was 10 or 11 years old, what I wanted more than anything else for my birthday was a chemistry set. I didn't want the set because I wanted to learn anything, necessarily; rather, I was mesmerized by the picture of the alcohol burning thing-a-mabob that was used to heat up test tubes. That thing alone sold me on a possible life as a scientist.

Lo and behold, my parents bought me a chemistry set for my birthday, and within a couple short hours, I had everything set up in the basement, ready to embark on my new Dr. Jekyl career. After the first few "experiments," however, I was rapidly starting to lose interest. One experiment, for example, was titled "Why hard water is a baddy." Leaving aside the terrible English, I nevertheless labored on that experiment to produce. . . chlorine.

Science, I was quickly starting to conclude, was for morons.

But then, about midway through my experiment book, I happened upon the greatest experiment science has come up with, even to this day. I can't for the life of me remember the title of the experiment, or what it was supposed to prove or disprove, but I remember that experiment like I cooked it up yesterday.

The experiment itself was simple enough. It called for a little bit of sulfur and a pea-sized chunk of wax to be placed inside a test tube, which I then heated up over the alcohol burning flame. The actual experiment also called for a piece of litmus paper to be placed at the top of the test tube but, I'm here to tell you, that piece of paper was COMPLETELY unnecessary.

The result of that experiment was FARTS. I mean, I don't know what kind of chemical reaction went on between the wax and sulfur when heated, but within ten minutes the entire house smelled exactly like the bathroom after my Dad had been in there for an hour. It was as if a semi trailer loaded with the rottenest of rotten eggs had crashed into our house.

My mother instructed me, in no uncertain terms, that I was never to conduct that "experiment" ever again, and I waited a good half hour before I cooked up another batch of fart science. Over the next several weeks, I drove my parents to the brink of insanity by repeatedly conducting that experiment. I called in friends from all over town to come to my house to see and smell science in action.

The experiment was pure murder on the test tubes, however. Each tube was only good for about three or four "experiments" before the bottoms became so bloated with old wax they were completely unusable. I also ran out of pure wax fairly quickly, but my scientific mind was quick to deduce that crayons were a perfectly acceptable substitute.

Eventually, unfortunately, I simply ran out of usable test tubes (and, for that matter, sulfur), and my mother flat out refused to buy me any replacements, knowing full well what I'd use them for. And so, my brief but shining career as a scientist came to a close at a shamefully young age.

I can't help but wonder, however, what kind of mathematics genius I would have turned out to be if only numbers somehow smelled like farts.

Posted by Ryan at July 21, 2010 09:29 PM | TrackBack
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