Why experiments are important

Yasmin Jayathirtha

lab Over the last few months, I have shared with you how to illustrate concepts and reactions in chemistry in a safe manner. This month, I would like to digress a little on experiments – how to set them up, why they are important, what they can tell us and what they cannot. There are two long excerpts that that I would like to share which show, very nicely, the importance of experimentation.

“I propose that there are few of us who have personally verified that the earth is round. The suggestive globe standing in the den or the Apollo photographs don’t count. These are secondhand pieces of evidence that might be thrown out entirely in court. When you think about it, most of us believe what we hear. Round or flat, whatever. It’s not a life or death matter, unless you happen to live near the edge.

…I suspect that there are quite a few items we take on faith, even important things, even things we could verify without much trouble. Is the gas we exhale the same as the gas we inhale? (Do we indeed burn oxygen in our metabolism, as they say?) What is our blood made of? (Does it indeed have red and white blood ‘cells’?) These questions could be answered with a balloon, a candle and a microscope.

The author works with Centre for Learning, Bangalore. She can be reached at [email protected].

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