A report on the mummification of chicken in my back yard

Shortly before the winter holiday I went to my son’s third grade class to talk about mummification.  They were studying the Egyptians and had learned that the brains of the dead were pulled through their nose by a hook, their guts were removed, and their bodies were packed with salt to preserve them for the ages.  I figured that it might be interesting to see if this worked with chicken, so had the kids prepare several different samples for experimentation.

Hypothesis:  If chicken is placed in a chemical environment similar to that used to preserve mummies in ancient Egypt, the chicken will be preserved.

The experiment:  Pieces of chicken about 10 x 4 cm were placed in a non-airtight plastic container.  Different preservation techniques were used to see if the chicken would be preserved.  These techniques included the following:

  1. Control (light):  The chicken would be left in the light without the use of any preservation techniques.
  2. Control (dark):  The chicken would be left in the dark without the use of any other preservation techniques.
  3. Packed in salt
  4. Soaked in vinegar
  5. Soaked in alcohol
  6. Soaked in brine

I had originally planned on running this experiment in my kitchen, but after about three days the smell became bad enough that it was no longer possible.  It was clear that the experiment would need to be brought outdoors.

I kind of forgot about the experiment until last week, at which point it had been sitting outside exposed to all sorts of weather, temperature, and light conditions (with the exception of the dark control).  Oops.


The chicken in each container had the following appearance after the experiment:

  1. The light control had turned black and dried out.
  2. The dark control was sitting in a puddle of goo.  The smell was horrible.
  3. The chicken packed in salt was in very good condition.  It appeared normal and had only a minor smell.
  4. The chicken packed in vinegar was preserved, but had turned yellow.  The vinegar had also turned brown, and the smell was quite bad.
  5. The chicken packed in alcohol seemed fine, with minimal smell.
  6. The chicken soaked in brine was in pieces, sitting in a puddle of goo.  The smell was horrible.


  • Salting the chicken and preserving it in alcohol were very effective.
  • Pickling in vinegar was less effective, though the chicken was acceptably preserved from a cosmetic viewpoint.
  • Doing nothing to the chicken and leaving it in the sun preserved the shape of the meat, but not the texture or color.  It did not look unlike what mummies look like.
  • Pickling in brine was not effective, nor was leaving an untreated sample in the dark.

Sources of error:

It is very important to understand that this lab was performed with such imprecision and poor technique that it is impossible to say that the results given above are scientifically valid.  Some of the many sources of error are given below:

  • One trial for each sample is woefully inadequate.
  • External variables were completely uncontrolled, with the exception of the dark sample which had only the light controlled.
  • The specific sizes of the chicken were not the same, nor were their pre-preservation masses.
  • No quantifiable data were taken after the experiment was over.

It is tempting to state that these results confirm the methodology of the Egyptians.  However, from a scientific standpoint it is impossible to draw such a conclusion for the reasons above.  I would classify this experiment as being useful mainly because it gives insight as to how the experiment may be more carefully performed in the future (i.e. controlling the smell, managing variables, etc.)  Additionally, the data suggest that the environment in which chicken is stored has some effect on its preservation, though it’s impossible to say anything more than that without further study.



This is a tough one to write…

Hi all.  As I’ve mentioned one or two times, I’ve spent the past six weeks at home recovering from back surgery.  Before this, I spent most of the past year either limping around, hobbling around with a cane, or using a wheelchair to deal with having my sciatic nerve jammed where it didn’t belong.  No lie:  There were many times that I crawled around the house because I couldn’t get up on my feet.

Now, I’m not that old a guy.  I’m 46, which puts me pretty squarely in the middle of the teacher demographic.  I’m old enough to know what I’m supposed to do, experienced enough to share what I do with others, and mature enough not to freak out as much as the new teachers. Basically, I should be writing a worksheet for your use right now.

But that’s just the thing.  I’ve already written enough worksheets that you’ll never have to write another.  I’ve written enough labs to teach an entire class of general and honors chemistry.  I’ve written quizzes to assess all of these.  I’ve written tutorials for students, as well as a full chemistry textbook for teachers and a partial textbook for younger kids.  I’ve even started a project for homeschoolers.  What’s left to do?

When you put it all together, it turns out that I’m pretty well tapped for ideas.  I can keep putting new things up, but the fact of the matter is that there’s already so much stuff on the site that there’s no point.  If I post a half-lives worksheet, it won’t be the half-lives worksheet.  It will just be another half-lives worksheet.

So, what does this mean for my chemistry sites?  Now that I’m not writing new stuff and now that I’m taking a multi-decade break from teaching, what will happen to all the stuff I’ve put together?  Not to worry – I’ve still got your back:

  • All resources will remain on my website forever.  The hosting costs are fairly considerable, but not too bad.
  • The site will be updated only rarely, and only if I feel like it.  Maybe I’ll feel like writing a bunch of stuff, but at this point I don’t.
  • If you’ve got questions about teaching, please feel free to keep emailing them to me at misterguch@chemfiesta.com.  I like that kind of stuff, and I’ve found it’s questions I get from the site that often gets me thinking about new things.

In other words, don’t think of me so much as a content creator but as a librarian.  I’ll make sure the doors are open in the morning and that somebody cleans the coffee pot before lunch.  When the day comes to an end, I’ll turn off the lights and close up.  Everything will be safe and taken care of, though you may not notice that much changes over time.

So, what will I do with my time?  Volunteer.  I’ve spent a lot of time working with a group called UCM in Alexandria, VA that works to provide various sorts of aid for families with challenges of various sorts.  I’ve decided it might be fun to work with 3-4 year olds, so if you see me walking around with a head cold, it’s probably their fault.

Will I ever make chemistry the focus of my new efforts?  I have no idea.  However, I wouldn’t rule it out.

Interesting facts about the periodic table

I was just browsing the Interwebs when I found an interesting article about the top ten things you may not have known about the periodic table.  While I’d guess that most of the chemistry folks here know at least a few of these, I thought I’d put it up here for the entertainment and enlightenment of you and your students:

Listverse:  http://listverse.com/2018/05/21/top-10-things-you-didnt-know-about-the-periodic-table/


Medical science is nice, except when it’s not

A couple of weeks back I wrote a blog post about how I was nervous about having some back surgery done.  I forget the name of one part of it (an -ectomy of some kind) and they also fused two of my vertebrae together.  For those of you who wonder what it’s actually like to go through surgery, here’s the breakdown:

12:00:  Show up at the hospital pre-surgery check-in.  Fill out some papers.

1:00:  Go into the back, take off my clothes, and wear an old cotton gown.  There’s a huge hallway with cubicles like this.  Some are open, many are closes, and occasionally a patient with some obvious physical issue will wander by.   Worry.

2:00:  Still sit around.  Use the bathroom.  Meet three anesthetists, each of then who is subbing for the last.  They were nice.

4:00:  Sit around.  Do nothing much.

4:30:  My doctor comes in and says that it’s time to get going.  That’s when I asked him my most scary question:  “Will I be catheterized?”  It turns out that I would, but that they’d also take it out before I wake up.  That’s a relief.

4:45:  The anesthetist and some people wheel me down the hall.  They inject something into my IV line and I give my wife a hug and a kiss.  To be honest, I had the gut feeling that the surgery would kill me, which is a pretty damn awful thing to feel when you’re being rolled toward the ER.  Whatever they injected into me soon calmed me down (I found out that it is, indeed, a sedative) and I relaxed a bit.  I prayed until they finally knocked me out with another shot.

Some time afterwards:  I’m awake.  My eye has terrible pain, and there’s something wrong with my back.

Later:  I’m awake again.  I try to speak but realize that nobody can understand me.  The nurse holds my hand a moment and tells me that everything went well.

6:45?  The nurse is feeding me ice chips, which taste really good.  I ask her if I lived and she said that I did.  She said my eye looked ok.

5:45?  I can’t read the clock, and am pretty sure that I was in surgery a lot longer than I’d previously thought.  The nurse came over and saw I was awake and told me that it was around 10 and that everything was fine.  Apparently I’d woken up many times asking if I was alive, which didn’t seem to surprise anybody.

10:15:  My wife comes in with [somebody] and tells me that everything went well except they couldn’t do something for some reason.  I couldn’t follow it, but she had to sleep and headed out.

11:30:  Went to my room.  Nice nurse there got me a sandwich and a bunch of water.  He asked if I could pee and I realized that yes, the catheter had been removed.  Interesting fun fact:  If you get catheterized, your urethra will still hurt when the procedure is over.  Fortunately, this was a problem only a few times.

All night:  I’d wake up and take pills or get blood taken.  I was pretty much out of it.

From this point on, things get a lot less interesting.  At the first morning I was there, a PT person came over and got me to walk around the nurses’ station.  It hurt a lot and I’m afraid I was more difficult to deal with than I should have been, but she said I did well.  An occupational therapist came over later and did pretty much the same thing.  Both times they put me in a huge Naugahyde chair in the corner when they were done.  Perhaps the chair for torturing annoying patients?

The evening after the surgery I had some problems with pain.  It seems that in a not-insignificant number of cases, back spasms pop up, with accompanying agonizing pain.  Imagine some time that you’ve gotten a Charlie Horse – now imagine it taking place at a surgical site.  This caused some screaming on my part (I never knew something could actually hurt so much in my life) but since each patient on this ward had similar issues, the rooms were all singles and we were all isolated from each other.  After a lot of pain killers and a lot of muscle relaxants, I started to feel a lot better.  I had another spasm like this later, but it wasn’t as bad.

From there, the whole medical experience was just awful from beginning to end.  I want to make clear, however, that this was not due to any issues with the people who were working to get me better.  The nurses, technicians, doctors, therapists, and custodial staff were always friendly and eager to help.  The reason the experience was awful is just that, well, life is sometimes awful.  I am fortunate, though, to have family, friends, and a medical team who made it as un-awful as was possible under these circumstances.  To the folks at INOVA Fair Oaks hospital, thanks a bunch from the guy with blue hair.


The Washington Post on May 9th reported that an explosion in a K-12 chemistry lab injured 17 students.  Very few details were reported, except that it was a flash fire of some kind and that the fumes had to be cleared from the building with large fans.  Fortunately, nobody was killed and the incident was ruled an accident.

I’ve commented on this sort of thing before, but I think it’s worth mentioning again:  The lab is a dangerous place and we need to take steps to make sure that nobody, under any reasonable circumstances, can be injured.

So, what are the major risks that we should be aware of when running a lab, and how can we keep them from causing an accident?

  • Screwing around:  If you are working with fire in a lab, you’ll likely have some knucklehead burning their pencil, a paper, or any other flammable item on the Bunsen burner.  We all know who those kids are likely to be, so make sure you keep an eye on them.
  • Clumsiness:  Every kid gets butterfingers sometimes and spills their experiment all over the place.  Because you know this will happen, make sure that your students work with small enough quantities of reagent that it’s unlikely to splash too much or cause too much damage.
  • Dangerous experiments:  Does your experiment involve heating flammable materials over a Bunsen burner?  Does your experiment involve chemicals that give off fumes when heated?  Does your experiment involve extremely high concentrations of acid or base?  If these are the case, make sure that you’ve got the facilities to deal with this.  Fume hoods, protective clothing, and the obsessive use of goggles can keep accidents from happening.  And, of course, make sure that any lab you do minimizes any of these conditions in the first place.
  • Goggles:  Your students need to wear goggles.  Always.  In every lab.  No matter how much they complain.  And you need to wear goggles, too.  If a student is not wearing goggles, kick them out of the lab and give them a zero for the assignment,.  There is no single thing that’s more effective at minimizing injury than the use of goggles.

Finally, don’t assume that experiments you find online are safe.  As you undoubtedly know, I’ve posted many, many experiments online – all of them have been used safely by me and by thousands of other teachers.  However, you’ll notice that on my website I make the disclaimer that each of them is dangerous and that care should be used when performing them.  Even though each lab has a good track record with many teachers doesn’t necessarily mean that you should do it.  Before doing any lab, make sure that you have the experience, facilities, and knowledge to perform it safely.  A good rule of thumb:  If you’re not sure that you can do a lab safely, you probably can’t.  It’s better to be paranoid than to have an accident.

Be safe.

Low priority education

I am in tremendous pain right now.  I’m currently loaded up on gabapentin for nerve pain and just finished taking two Percocet for back pain.  I have trouble getting to the bathroom from my bed, and going downstairs to watch TV and see my family is a terrible ordeal.  I haven’t left the house in a week because it hurts too much to walk 10 meters to get into my car, not to mention the walking I’d have to do when I get to my destination.  With all the pills I’ve taken and all the pain I’m currently feeling, it will be a miracle if this post actually makes any sense.

I’m not telling you about this because I want you to feel sympathy for me – to you, I’m just a blogger who occasionally focuses on education.  I’m telling you this because, as a teacher, you work everyday with students who have problems as bad or worse than the one I’m suffering with right now.  Not surprisingly, this causes your students to give your class a lower priority than you’d like them to.  Chemistry just isn’t something students focus on when there are bigger problems to think of.

So, what kind of problems do your students suffer? In my teaching experience, I’ve seen the following:

  • Health problems:  I’ve had students with cancer, fibromyalgia, and a variety of other illnesses that take months to clear up.  As is my case right now, this causes pain and medication side effects that make focusing on their classwork hard.
  • Family problems:  Divorce, death in the family, and unreasonable parental expectations are all common among our students.  In one memorable case, I had a student whose mother killed his father and went to prison – this caused him to be sent to live with his uncle who didn’t want him at all.  Family problems hit our students hard.
  • Sexual orientation:  I’ve taught students who were straight, gay, bisexual, and transgendered – in each case, learning to deal with a core identity that many in society still feel are “abnormal” causes stress and worry.  Other students are just starting to deal with sexuality and worry about whether they’re “normal.”  While we teachers are usually old enough to have come to terms with our sexuality, the same is not true for our students.
  • Mental illness:  There are many mental illnesses that come to light in the teen years.  Among these are depression, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia.  Each of these has their own challenges and difficulties, but all involve medications that may have side effects that seriously harm students’ abilities to function.  I had one student with schizophrenia that believed he heard voices – fortunately, these voices were generally positive and liked me as a teacher.
  • Other issues:  There are other issues that I’ve run into that, while less common, still affect the ability of students to function. I won’t go through them all, but if you look at your students and think of issues that you’ve dealt with in your own life, you can probably think of quite a few.

If your students aren’t paying attention in class, consider that they may be going through issues that you haven’t heard of.  Cut them some slack, and don’t be shy about asking their counselors if you’re concerned.  I’ve yet to meet a counselor that didn’t want teachers to be on board with helping their students.

As for me, I only have four more days before I get surgery.  Hopefully this will take care of the back pain that’s bothered me for years and I can quit taking all of this medication.  If not, I’ll get through it somehow.  Just as your students will.

Principals gone wild!

I’d like to present to you an intelligent principal’s response to the constant whining and nagging of one “concerned” parent.  Don’t we all hate it when unreasonable parents bug us with their nonsense?

I mean, I’d like to present you with this, but I can’t.  I can, however, present to you an insane principal’s response to a parent who’s asking some thoughtful questions about her daughter’s school.  This is a perfect example of how not to ever speak to anybody about anything, ever.

I’ve redacted the names of the parent and her child to protect those who’ve done nothing wrong.  As for the principal, he can sleep in the bed he’s made for himself.

(email originally taken from the Miami Herald, http://www.miamiherald.com/news/local/education/article196480514.html)

———- Forwarded message ———-
From: Alfredo De La Rosa <adelarosa@miamiartscharter.net>
Date: Sat, Jan 20, 2018 at 4:08 PM
Subject: Re: English Teacher – 8th Grade
To: <[redacted]>
Oh, you AGAIN.
Answers below.
Alfred de la Rosa, NBCT
Founder & Chief Education Administrator
Instrumental Music Conductor
Miami Arts Charter Schools
95 Northwest 23rd Street
Miami, Florida 33127
Office: (305) 763-6257
Web: http://www.miamiartscharter.net
On Jan 20, 2018, at 12:11 PM, [redacted] <[redacted]> wrote:
Hi there, what’s going on with the English teacher? I heard your last hire is gone and the kids have been split up. AGAIN.
I believe you sent me a prior email once before about something you “heard”. Of course, just like last time, you are wrong again. But that is typical for you.
As you can understand, I am very concerned about [redacted] learning and completing the language arts standards this year.
Actually, I don’t understand because you are always complaining about things for little or no reason.  Sorry.
How can I get her a more stable learning environment?
You can try another school, maybe?
Can we utilize Mrs. Arce or Mrs. Hernandez MORE in my daughter’s case?
Also, in the future, will you please alert the parents when kids are split up and/or the teacher leaves?
Nobody left. There was a shortage of subs while a teacher was out sick for two days. As always, you “heard” wrong.
Finally, we do watch the news in Homestead
Seriously? How 21st century of you!
and it’s sad our campus did not get an email about the sexual predator at the Wynnewood campus.
Why? What could you have done other than complain and be negative? Where you looking to make a positive contribution? I doubt it.
Aren’t we all one community?

No. The other community is not your community. You live many miles away. In fact, I’m sure nobody there even knows who you are. You just like the drama. You will have to satisfy your need for gossip by watching TV.
By the why, the proper spelling is W-Y-N-W-O-O-D.
Thanks for your attention,

[Poop emoji]