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Science experiment death brings safety issues to fore Science experiment death brings safety issues to fore

Jan-16-2015 | 0 Comments


KOCHI: A 15-year-old girl from Ponnurunni died on Wednesday evening after sustaining burns while conducting a science experiment at home on Monday.

Amrita Viswam, a Class X student of a private school, Karanakodam, died at a private hospital where she was undergoing treatment.

Though her grandmother and brother were at home when the incident occurred, the fire engulfed the room, leaving her with severe burns. The incident happened after Amrita reportedly lit a mixture of kerosene and vinegar filled in a bottle, imitating an experiment done at the school earlier. The school, however, denied discussing the experiment. According to police, the incident happened around 5pm on Monday when the girl reached home after school. The girl was supposed to go for tuition when the accident happened. Her mother was away, attending a meeting in the neighbourhood.

"The girl made a mixture of vinegar and kerosene in a bottle and lit it using a matchstick. The fire from the bottle swiftly spread on the bed and her body. She sustained over 70% burns," said a police officer.

Amrita was immediately taken to a nearby private hospital by local residents.

According to police, the doctor at the hospital where Amrita was admitted had taken her statement before she died. The girl narrated the experiment to the doctor and said she was trying out what was shown at school. A magistrate has also recorded the statement of Amrita from the hospital.

The incident has brought to focus safety issues involved in conducting experiments in the absence of expert guidance.

"We never recommend students to carry out experiments at home because most of them have to be done carefully and in the right place," said a city-based Chemistry teacher. "Ideally, students should take part in experiments conducted by a group, under the guidance of a teacher. Experiments using ammonia, chlorine and concentrated acids should never be done without proper preparation," said Benny P P, a Chemistry teacher working with a government school in Ernakulam. Experiments involving dangerous chemicals should not be done outside laboratories.

Not just students, even teachers are mostly unaware of the science behind most experiments. That is one reason why incidents like these happen, said a teacher who refused to be named. "We have noticed in most unaided and CBSE schools, teachers who are not qualified conduct such experiments. Often, you will find a Biology teacher taking Chemistry classes. Once, there was a small fire at the lab due to this," he added.

According to another teacher, science fests are worse because most of the time students are clueless about their projects and they are done either by teachers or other experts. Students trying out experiments, based on information from the internet, can also prove to be highly dangerous, he added.

In an effort to improve the scientific temper among teachers and students, an operation science lab (OSL) was set up by the teachers' club in the Ernakulam revenue district. "The lab conducts training programmes for both teachers and students from the lower primary, upper and high schools to acquaint them with science and also to prevent avoid tragic incidents like this," said T T Poulose, a teacher from MES Eastern School, Eloor, where this project was implemented in the previous academic year. "We have listed out experiments to be conducted for students from Class I to X, and our resource persons demonstrate them to students and teachers," he added. However, the school is yet to get any government aid to run such projects.

"Children are usually very inquisitive and want to learn science. Programmes such as 'Vijnanolsavam' are planned to improve their scientific temper. When they do experiments on their own, we cannot discourage them, but make sure there is no compromise on safety," said M K Prasad of Kerala Sasthra Sahithya Parishad.

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