The first day of the Science Fair was quite uneventful – not too many students came to the labs to look at the experiments (the crowd’s usually on the second day) and the judge was scheduled to come the next day. It was rather boring for the most part except for the fiasco Roy and I were in right at the beginning of the day –
When I reached school, I ran past my classroom and headed straight for the chemistry lab. The previous day I had struck up a deal with one of the lab assistants, Mallick Da – he gives us the seat that Roy and I want in lieu of us refilling all the empty bottles of distilled water in the lab. Seemed quite fair at the time.
Roy waddled into the lab with a childish grin on his face a little after I had come. I suggested that we make a quick sample just for the fun of it; I found the experiment really fascinating and couldn’t get enough of shaking the solution and seeing it change colour instantly. As soon as I said this, we both realized that we hadn’t exactly measured the amount of each chemical we had used the last time we had performed the experiment. I tried to replicate that day’s perfect solution by adding what I thought was roughly the same amount of each chemical as I had added that day. Of course, Roy was getting anxious and hyperactive and screaming into my ears every other second, “How do you know you have to add that much?!” When the solution was prepared, we waited for it change colour, but to our horror, it was staying as blue as a B.B. King song.
Actually it did turn transparent, but it just took its bloody sweet time to do it. We knew we had gotten our measurements wrong because it was taking over two minutes to change colour.
Roy was now panicking. He was jumping about and constantly biting his nails to the extent that I was sure he’d be out of fingernails by the next hour if he continued at that pace. I stopped this with a quick slap to the back of his head and a firm “Keep still and let me think!” I suggested that we make samples with different compositions of the various chemicals till we got it right. Roy said that we needed to add more sugar because the solution was too alkaline – didn’t work. I tried adding more NaOH because I thought that there wasn’t enough in the solution to reduce the methylene blue – didn’t work. We then added more methylene blue – it made no sense to do it, but we were grasping at straws. That made it take even longer.
We tried cutting off the oxygen supply to reduce it faster by placing a stopper on the mouth of the flask, but that approach failed as well. Roy was really hysterical now and it took a colossal amount of effort to pacify him. If the teacher-in-charge saw our experiment performing sub-optimally, he might have decided to scratch our names off the list. We had to get it right, really quickly.
It was now eight a.m. which meant it was time for school assembly. However, we decided to skip assembly to try to find a solution to making our solution (get it?). During the twenty minutes of assembly, Roy and I probably made over thirty 120 ml samples. We were frantically running around the laboratory grabbing distilled water bottles from other racks because we’d managed to empty all the bottles in our vicinity.
Fast forward thirty minutes and assembly is over, everyone is back in the laboratory and the teacher-in-charge is making an announcement that the middle school will be coming to view our experiments in five minutes. Five minutes. I could hear the death knell sounding for our ephemeral experiment and Roy’s panic was starting to infect me.
I could see the sixth graders standing outside the lab and so, went for a Hail Mary and tried the only remaining combination – adding more water. We never expected it to work, but to our great surprise, it did! The new solution changed colour as fast as Roy – he went from white with fear to red with excitement in a heartbeat. I could hardly believe that we’d managed to do it just in the nick of time and clearly so did Roy who was now running around high-fiving everyone in the lab in his ecstasy.
Just when the excitement died down, I felt a firm hand grip my shoulder. I turned around to see the stern face of Mallick Da who looked like he was on the verge of strangling me. Without saying a word, he motioned with his index finger for me to look at our table. When I did, I realized what he was angry about – in our frenzy to get the solution right, Roy and I had used up every single distilled water bottle in the lab. The table next to us thus had a two feet tall pile of empty water bottles. Mallick Da reminded me of the deal we had struck and left.
Instead of displaying our project, Roy and I spent the next twenty minutes refilling all the distilled water bottles and putting them back in their respective racks. It was worth it though, because now we wouldn’t get the experiment wrong in front of the judge the next day.