Our country can be quite resourceful in some cases. Go to the Bio labs of any school, and you'll believe it. Of course, not the labs that our poor counterparts studying under the British Curriculum have in their institutions. Our ones are real, with real equipment and creatures. With microscopes and dissection boxes full of slides and magnifying glass and deadly surgical blades.
The first practical Biology class saw us clustered around the jars of animals kept inside the shelf, peering curiously. Snails were the least impressive. We had snakes. Starfish. Sea urchins. But the most thrilling moment might have been when a friend of mine tugged my sleeve and pointed at a jar excitedly, eyes gleaming with raw enthusiasm.
Squinting hard, I tried to look through the yellow liquid of formalin. There were… tentacles. And the pores all over the body were vaguely familiar…
Then it struck home. “OCTOPUS!” Not even the stares coming from thirty students and the severe glare that the teacher kindly bestowed upon me could keep me from shouting.
Well, later it turned out that it was a squid after all, but hey, how many people can get the chance to glimpse a dismembered squid body in their entire life, let alone in high school?
Of course, there was a human skeleton too. Bio labs would lose all their novelty without a real skeleton hanging on the wall, regardless of its redundancy. Admittedly, the skeleton was a bit broken. And all the limbs were certainly stuck at rather odd angles, but that couldn't overrule the fact that it was a skeleton. A real human one.
And then, the experiments.
Handling the microscope? That was child's play. Dissecting earthworms? Not as breathtaking as it might sound to the… other students. Compared to what was in store for us, they were just preparations for sharpening our skills. And what was the use for such skills?
For the dissection of toads, of course. And much later, cockroaches.
When we were holding the toads and taking turns to slowly cut our way through the grey mucous skin, carefully peeling it apart to see the digestive and excretory system underneath, we had a moment of revelation. We weren't pretending to be surgeons. We were surgeons. And when the teacher came to congratulate us on our brilliant work, we felt pride stir in us as we tried to look modest over the completion of our brilliant job.
It was a toad, and there were fifteen of us to one, but still, it was a story to tell, sitting in the middle of a crowd years later, nodding and smiling as the listeners would draw breath and stare with open mouths. That's what happened at the last RS meeting; at least, that was jealous reaction by those who had never been there.
The cockroaches are a different story, and one that is not meant to be told today. Mainly because yours truly still hasn't got a chance to hold a cockroach. All in good time, my friends.
There you have it. The whole of the excellence of our bio labs told in a nutshell. Though the novelty of it has been wearing off lately. The number of experiments to write is enough to drive anyone crazy. Not to mention the increasing toughness of the experiments as we advance higher in level. Some days I almost catch myself thinking wearily of shifting classes and taking up Computer Science instead. Bliss.
By Shamsil B. M. Kamal
Inside the Engineering Labs
“A junkyard is where creative minds thrive.”
And one only has to watch the Swat Cats to verify the authenticity of the above statement. Judging by what a typical Bangladeshi junkyard should have, Physics labs in English Medium Schools cannot be, in any way, called junkyards. While the wealthier ones can afford expensive instruments like oscilloscope, ticker timer or light gate, the others are left with the bare necessities of metre rules, clamp stands, multimeters, newtonmeters, etc. Moreover, the nonchalant lab assistants throw out whatever junks the students or teachers muster, thus pulling the plug on creativity in a place that is supposed to be the breeding ground for future scientists. In the chemistry lab, the situation deteriorates into a farce, when the teacher's incessant blabber on safety procedures is all chemistry has to offer. So our prayers for bona fide lab experiences have to wait till universities. Below are the three labs at BUET, yours truly has managed to sneak into:
Physics and Chemistry Labs: The ground floor of the Old Academic Building is nothing short of a mini maze and following your friends is the best strategy to reach the Physics lab in time without getting lost in the middle. Your first view of the lab might prove to be unflattering - it's not the avant-garde spacious lab you have always dreamt of. Yet eleven new experiments in as many weeks sounds like an interesting proposition at first. However, pointless report writing (read: report copying from the book); dreadful viva voice and inept lab assistants will translate your initial interest into agony and anxiety. Your lab assistants can make the instruments work, yet why and how are questions always left unanswered for the viva voice and by that time you are already clueless about what you have done. The occasional visits to the air conditioned Dark Room, to perform experiments of optics, are a breather but even that can change if your lousy teacher sneaks in with his barrage of questions that you can never answer. The chemistry lab on the first floor of the same building, basically survives on the marriage between chemistry and cost cutting and don't be surprised if chemicals end up in your mouth after the first experiment. That's because pipette bulbs are too expensive and in order to transfer chemicals using pipettes, you must rely on the precision of your 'sucking' ability!
Machine Shop: A machine shop is where you learn to operate the different machines which shape our world. The shop is filled with gargantuan, noisy, old machines and most of them send metal flakes flying around when they cut metals using sharp cutting tools. While the task of making these machines work is relatively simple, bench work is not. This is one strenuous activity where you have to cut metal using a hacksaw, make it smooth on all sides and then drill a hole into it to produce a square nut within two and half hours. And forget the fantasy of a machine metamorphosing into a transformer and helping you in that hell hole!
By Nayeem Islam
“There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”
And work miracles. Like the curious, brave sons of the first men who made the first fire and stared in wonder at their game roasting in it, all the while licking their lips in anticipation, we shake the flat bottomed flask by its neck making solutions of indeterminate concentration. Our wary fingers grab the switch of the burette and turn it slowly so that no extra drop of the potion falls into the solution without us noticing the change in colour. I guess the alchemists of the ancient world would be proud if they saw us gaping wide-eyed at our test tubes emitting unexpected fumes not mentioned in the books. And at the prudent way we work miracles by making a blue solution changing its colour into pink; or make fire on water by dipping the tiniest of sodium in it; or make flames of rainbow colours in the Bunsen. Fireworks!
We feel sorry for those who haven't dabbled (or burned themselves) in the fiery Bunsen burners, or made the precipitate of the most brilliant blue colour possible, or swallowed very diluted Sodium Hydroxide from the pipette, or licked the salt in a desperate attempt to find out its ions.
Unknown toys (apparatus) are thrust into our hands. We are shown the desk. And we are then commanded to “do the experiment”. Experiment we do indeed. We look with wonder at the screw gauge, the simple and the compound pendulum, hydroscopic balance, the weird round looking thing whose name I forget and every other weird gadget that makes some calculation or other.
The values that the greatest minds of this world have spent so much time and hair on finding, we evaluate within the one and a half hour of our allotted time in the Physics laboratory. The only drag is: if our calculations were to be correct, we would have been living in Jupiter or Saturn (value of g) and had mercury as our atmosphere (velocity of sound) and electrons would have positive charge (I dreamt it once).
I feel sorry for the ones who haven't seen the Creator's miracles with their own eyes, those who haven't made the neurons in their brain work furiously to somehow lower (or higher) the value to reach a respectable (and possible) value. These are not cheating. These are but the lessons in life.
All hail chemistry and physics laboratories with sufficient instruments.
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