The Day The Lab Exploded

Nestor Huculak was our Chemistry teacher and he decided one day to explain to us how dangerous Sodium was. I don't remember if it was during a class or one day when a bunch of us were gathered at the back of the grade 12 classroom. Anyway he had a one gallon jar (looked like one of those that dill pickles come in) and in it was a big block of sodium.

He started by explaining how sodium reacts with just about everything and how careful you had to be when handling it. This got everyones interest and he proceeded to take the top off the jar, extract this block with a long pointed thing and place it into a square cake pan. We peered in and everyone was careful not to touch it.

It looked innocent enough just lying there - for a minute or so, slowly we noticed what appeared to be smoke coming from the pan that increased in intensity rapidly. Mr Huculak got quite excited at this point and warned us all back, stuff was spitting out of the pan and he kind of panicked. To save the day he turned on the tap, got some water and poured it over the block completely submerging it. This seemed to work and once again order was restored - at least for a few moments. During the excitement he forgot one important fact about sodium, not only does it react with just about anything it comes in contact with, it particularly does not like water. Very quickly not only did the smoke reappear but the water began taking on a life of its own and doing strange , scary things. By this time most of the observers had retreated into the hall and the cloak room with those near the door giving a running commentary of what was happening inside.

Somehow Mr. Huculak got most of the water poured out leaving only the block of sodium trying to melt its way through the metal of the cake pan. Suddenly he was overcome by a stroke of brilliance, there was one of those dry fire extinguishers in the room. Mr Huculak took it down and proceeded to spray the contents over the sodium until in the middle of the table through the clouds of white powder could be seen a conical mound about 8 inches high of fire retardant that covered the sodium and most of the cake pan.

I remember him telling us as we began filtering back into the room about that being an example of how sodium was nothing to fool with. It appeared that the crisis was over, but little did we suspect that beneath the mound of white powder the sodium was preparing for a spectacular finale.

It seems the sodium disliked whatever came out of the fire extinguisher even more that its hatred of water. Suddenly the top blew off the mound and the room immediately began to fill with smoke again. As we retreated back into the halls it became apparent that the few minutes of non activity had given Mr Huculak the time to pull himself together, he approached the sodium with the long pointed object, stuck it in and pulled out the block and after shaking the residue off put it back into the jar from whence it came.

No one said anything, but the same thought was in all of our heads, " I bet he'll be in real trouble if Mrs Sternig finds out