Taking a “hydrogen bomb” to school

It's been a boring week. I love it!
However, a pleasant life for me makes for boring reading for you. So I think I'll take a newspaper article and walk down memory lane with it. I submitted “Student charged for bringing tool into high school” (news articles about it are in the Chicago Tribune and Belleville News Democrat) to slashdot this morning. This is similar to a story I submitted last year, “Student Arrested for Writing Essay”.
Jees but kids today have it rough. I once made an F on a paper because the incompetent teacher thought I made up the word “hierarchy”, and got an A on a different paper because it was over the incompetent teacher's head. I bet teachers hate nerds. But at any rate, I never got arrested for writing a paper, but I did almost get expelled for a science project.
The student in the linked newspaper articles is
...an honor student at Grayslake Central High School, a choir singer, as well as a former football player who spends half the day training to be a firefighter.
That exemplary record now includes something new: A police ticket for reckless conduct given last week after school officials discovered a a multi-tool flashlight in a jacket he left in the cafeteria.
The tools include a 2-inch blade, screwdriver, pliers and other gadgets prohibited under school policy

When I was in seventh grade, I needed a floating balloon for something or other, I don't remember what, but it was some geeky project or some such nonsense. It wasn't for school, only for my own personal curiosity and amusement.
I often took these nerdy things to school to amuse my fellow students and annoy my incompetent teachers. The previous year I had built a “dufus detector” out of a soda can, small light, battery, magnetic switch, a ring, and a magnet. I'd cut up the soda can and made a housing out of it, and wired up the light, battery, and switch, and glued a magnet to a ring. Place the ring correctly and the light on the box would light up. I had loads of fun with it until it pegged the teacher as a dufus and she took it away.
Another one was a prototype for what was later to become a real computer program, Artificial Insanity (which I'm going to translate to javascript some time). It was a computer that wasn't really; it was a box again fashioned out of a can, only it held a roll of paper with generic answers to questions on it, like a “Magic Eight Ball”. You would ask the question and the next sheet out was your answer. The other kids ate it up until it, too was confiscated.
I made a real computer out of two potentiometers, a voltmeter, a battery, and a switch. Well, actually it was more of an electric slide rule, but it really did compute. If I remember correctly, I turned that one in to a science teacher and got an A on it before it was confiscated.
So I have something in mind that floats, I don't remember what but I've always been a weirdo with a strange sense of humor. I had no idea where to get helium, so I schlepped down to the library and researched.
Helium was quickly ruled out as “no way in hell can a 7th grader do that” so I switched my research to hydrogen, and found two feasible methods of production. One was electrolysis, but I would have had to construct an airtight container with two chambers and... well, it would be too much work and if it had a leak between the anode and cathode where the oxygen could mix with the hydrogen it could explode.
The chemical solution was much simpler. It seems that if you eat zinc with acid, hydrogen is produced. So all I had to do was fill a coke bottle (they were made of very thick glass back then) with galvanized roofing nails, then fill it with vinegar, and put a balloon on the top.
The next morning saw a full balloon on top of the coke bottle. I took it off, tied its neck, let it go and it floated... straight down to the floor, as if it was filled with normal air.
Wanting to test that it really was hydrogen, I figured I'd see how flammable it was; if it was very flammable it probably was hydrogen (and the book had said...). So I put another balloon on the bottle and left it for ten minutes, just enough for a golf ball sized balloon. I tied that, put it on the end of a coat hanger, turned on the stove, reached out and
WOOMP! A big fireball a yard wide! Okay, this was at least flammable. Very flammable. I decided to ask my science teacher about it. I took the full balloon to school, and asked the science teacher why a balloon full of hydrogen might not float.
“Well,” he said, “if the hydrogen was impure it might not float. Why do you ask?”
“Because,” I said, “I have a balloon full of hydrogen in my locker and...”
“You have WHAT?!?!?!???!!!!”
I was whisked out of class and to the principal's office, leaving the other kids to gossip about what that crazy nerd mcgrew had done this time. It was obviously a little more serious than a dufus detector.
At the office they were talking expulsion.
“So,” I said, “you're going to punish a student for being curious and doing a science experiment? And you wonder why kids hate school?”
Somehow I talked my way out of any punishment at all! I did, however, have to take my balloon full of hydrogen outside and break it. This was one project the teachers were afraid to confiscate. Today they'd probably have the bomb squad there and I'd be in guantanamo, or at least the county jail.
The kids talked about how “mcgrew brought a hydrogen bomb to school and almost blew the school up” the rest of the year.
Jan 16, 2008


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