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Education Through Pyrotechnics

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A promising student, though just a learner,
Blew himself up with a Bunsen burner.
If only he'd had a bit more ambition,
He might have done it with nuclear fission.

There's no better way to make a lesson stick than by adding explosions. People in teen comedies picked up on that years ago.

Nothing on God's green earth is more volatile than the science laboratory materials of a fictional high school. Not even Tokyo. Experiments can be reasonably expected to combust, detonate, singe off a few eyebrows, cause Ash Face, scorch the ceiling, blow out windows, force the evacuation of that wing of the building and/or attempt to attack their creators. If they don't, the class Gadgeteer Genius builds a transdimensional collapsatron out of paperclips.

This is not in the least helped by the teachers, as this is a popular position for the Professor or Mad Scientist. Often they have left a university or a private research institution, possibly through the roof. Compare Disastrous Demonstration and Explosive Results.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • In Digimon Adventure 02, Miyako (Yolei) triggers an explosion that leaves her with an Ash Face.
  • In Futari wa Pretty Cure, explosions seem to be a normal side effect of Honoka's experiments, as demonstrated twice in the first two episodes. And in her dreams. And in the intro.
  • Magical Girl Pretty Sammy: This is the opening Washu took in order to study magic. Human in this Alternate Continuity, she nevertheless is the most powerful Mad Scientist in the world.
  • Satomi Hakase in Negima! Magister Negi Magi has done this at least once, exactly as the main group were entering her lab. Naturally done for humour with everyone only a bit blackened with a few hairs out of place.
  • Ranma ˝ does this, in early Season 1, right near the time Ryoga enters the scene. The Chem Club students want to get their hands on Akane and decide to make bombs, which they of course accidentally set off in the chemistry lab (and wind up setting off accidentally during the battle when the mines fail to go off during Ranma/Ryoga's fight).
  • Were she not an elementary school teacher, Yoko from Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann would probably go for this - in fact, she once pulled this trope off unintentionally by destroying two Ganmen that were threatening her students.
    That's it. Class dismissed. (cue Dramatic Gun Cock and both Ganmen fireballing after a Beat)
  • Yu-Gi-Oh! GX: Professor Daitokouji/Banner blew himself up at least once. His specific class is left hard to determine, as is every teacher's on that show, but appears to be alchemy (also his side job).
    • It is alchemy. When he was absent, Professor Chronos/Crowler took over and blew himself up as well.

    Comic Books 
  • In the French comic Les Profs (The Teachers), the physics/chemistry teacher is always seen performing dangerous experiments that end up blowing up the classroom (one time it happens when he adds olive oil to a tomato salad). He actually becomes depressed when his experiments don't blow up.
  • This is more or less a part of Spider-Man's origin. He attended a seminar on radioactive energy. The machines used produced a beam of radiowaves between two generators. The generators were not separated from the public, nor were they sealed off to avoid a random spider falling into the beam and biting a certain Peter Parker. In later retellings, an explosion occurred.
  • In Superboy (1994) Robert Lai caused an explosion during a High School chemistry class, though he evidently was not following directions at all since he ended up in detention for it.
  • Tintin. Happens twice in "Tintin: Land of Black Gold". An oil executive is telling Tintin that he's confident his team of scientists will find the answer as to why petrol is exploding without cause, when one of them rings to report failure. Oh and if they want him to continue, they'll have to build a new lab! In the end Professor Calculus finds the answer, but only after destroying a large part of Marlinspike Hall, much to Captain Haddock's outrage.

    Fan Works 
  • In the Discworld of A.A. Pessimal, Ankh-Morpork's Guild of Assassins School now teaches courses like Applied Exothermic Alchemy, Deployment of Devices, and Bomb Disposal, or how to dispose a bomb so it does exactly what you want it to with regard to the selected target. Teaching staff are not above casually lobbing a Device at a group of students as a sort of practical test of quick hazard recognition, and quick reflexes.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • In The Amazing Spider-Man, Professor Connors is fighting Peter in his high school, and their battle takes them through the chemistry lab. Connors sees two bottles on the desk, picks them up and mixes them together, and hurls them after Peter before they explode like a grenade. Either the evacuation interrupted what would have been an extremely ill-advised chemistry demonstration, or their universe has some incredibly bad procedures for lab safety. Oh, right, it's the second one, that's why a spider/human and a lizard/human are currently battling each other.
  • The parody Bullshot references this trope when Professor Fenton's ditzy daughter drops something in his lab, causing an explosion. "Careful Rosemary! That's how we lost mummy!" His mood changes however when it's revealed the explosion has produced the catalyst he's looking for.
  • Bullseye (1990) had Roger Moore as a conman posing as Bavistock, one of two scientists who've invented a fusion reactor. The scene foreshadows the ending where the scientists are revealed to be frauds themselves, and the fusion reactor they've designed blows up when Margaret Thatcher turns on the power at the official opening ceremony.
    Chesterson: Bavistock, I've got a bone to pick with you! I tried to reproduce that experiment of yours in last month's Scientific American. It blew the roof off my frigging garage!
    Fake Bavistock: Well... maybe you didn't understand the article!
    Chesterson: And maybe... your design is horseshit!
  • Captain America: The First Avenger. Howard Stark is testing a tiny particle of energy from the Tesseract:
    Stark: Emission signature is unusual. Alpha and beta ray neutral, though I doubt Rogers picked up on that. Seems harmless enough; hard to see what all the fuss is about.
    (Stark zaps the fragment with electricity, at which point it explodes and hurls him across the room)
    Stark: (Beat) Write that down.
  • The original The Nutty Professor (1963) opens with Professor Kelp blowing up his classroom.
  • Towards the beginning of Where Angels Go Trouble Follows the Bishop tells the Reverend Mother that he loves coming to St. Francis Academy for Girls because it is always so peaceful and tranquil. Cue loud explosion. In the next scene, the Reverend Mother and the science teacher are cleaning up the lab. The science teacher explains that she had intended to demonstrate that some common household chemicals are dangerous and should be handled with caution, and she had no idea that the girls would use the knowledge to make a bomb. "Never underestimate the Machiavellian deviousness of the adolescent mind," replies the experienced Reverend Mother.


  • Discworld:
    • The entire purpose of the Alchemist's Guild seems to be to accidentally blow things up. As one description put it, "Most of the time, the Alchemist's Guild was across the street from the Gambler's Guild. Other times, it was above it, or below it, or falling in small pieces all around it."

      Their synthetic ivory is of particular note — unlike most endeavors, the process went swimmingly; they managed it in about a week. Unfortunately, the formula still needs fine tuning, as their billiards games keep getting interrupted by exploding balls. Amusingly, this is a very slightly exaggerated version of the real history of synthetic ivory. The first viable substitute for ivory in billiard balls was a mixture of nitro cellulose (guncotton), camphor, and acetone (very flammable). As guncotton ages it becomes more sensitive to percussion, and so every now and then... "I done seen it all, Sheriff. It were the cue ball what shot first."
    • Cheery Littlebottom, asked how she'd parted company with the Guild, replied as follows:
      "Through the roof, sir. But I think I know what I did wrong."
  • The Dresden Files:
    • In White Night, Harry, under a lot of pressure and stressed to the eyeballs, gives into anger and tests Molly by seeing whether or not she can shield herself against a slow-moving fireball. He cancels the spell once he sees she's about to break down.
    • Keep in mind Harry himself admits he's not great at off the cuff magic that isn't big and violent. He'd been planning the ball of sunshine trick for awhile because Molly needed to be taken down a peg. His reaction to the stress and whatnot came a page earlier, where he liquified a metal garbage can and rained molten steel on a bunch of outfit-owned shops.
    • In Small Favor, Harry reveals that he and his Evil Mentor, Justin DuMorne, used to play catch as part of practice. With fireballs.
  • Harry Potter:
    • At Hogwarts, things blowing up or catching fire is about the least harmful thing that can happen in a classroom. Spilled potions cause boils to sprout all over, or cause whatever they hit to swell to enormous size (whether that's hands, nose, eyeballs, you name it.) Then again, the explosion of the Swelling Solution was deliberate...
    • This is a big part of the reason why Hogwarts exists: underage wizards are expected to make mistakes and/or release accidental magic, and it's better to have them all in one place with competent adults to fix the disasters. Plus, with magic medicine, anything that isn't instantly fatal is generally fixable.
      Hagrid: I mean, it's always bin a bit of a risk sendin' a kid ter Hogwarts, hasn't it? Yer expect accidents, don' yeh, wit hundreds of underage wizards all locked up tergether, but attempted murder, tha's diff'rent.
  • Teacher Tabitha Gamble of Magic for Liars uses an electricity arc demonstration for her Theoretical Magic class. At least one student sees it go out of hand before safety measures kick in.
  • The chemistry test in Murderess. It requires students to mix five ingredients from an assortment of test tubes, and actually states in its instructions that a small explosion would cause a 10 point deduction, and a large one would cause a 40 point one. Lu, having no knowledge whatsoever in chemistry, randomly mixes five ingredients and causes a major explosion… which occurs, strangely enough, on Bridget’s desk.
  • Percy Jackson and the Olympians: Spoofed in the second book, The Sea of Monsters. The Weirdness Magnet main character goes to a relaxed, New-Agey school, and his chemistry final is literally "make something explode". Within five minutes, he and his lab partner succeed so spectacularly that the lab has to be evacuated, and the teacher praises them for their instinctive grasp of chemistry.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Occurs in several tales on Are You Afraid of the Dark?: A High School is haunted by the ghost of a girl who died in a lab explosion... The school nerd defeats an evil water spirit (made of water) with manganite ("Mix water with manganite and kaboom!") and other chemicals from the school lab...
  • Blake's 7. In "The Harvest Of Kairos", Avon is poking an alien rock with a technical implement in the foreground, as the others are busy with tactical technobabble. It gives off a small explosion and they all turn to him.
    Avon: Sorry.
  • Bill Nye the Science Guy embraced this trope. "And now, for a really big chemical reaction."..... BOOM. Bill once displayed the chemical formula for nitroglycerin. He then proceeded to drop the formula, and it exploded.
  • Brainiac: Science Abuse: It doesn't matter what they're experimenting with, they're going to blow something up.
  • Dead Gorgeous: In the first episode, Hazel causes a (small) explosion in the school lab despite her experiment seeming to involve nothing more dangerous than coloured foam.
  • Doctor Who: The Meet Cute between the Doctor and Jo Grant. The Doctor is singing "I don't want to set the world on fire..." when his equipment blows up, producing copious amounts of smoke. Jo grabs a fire extinguisher and douses the laboratory bench, only to get shouted at by the Doctor for ruining three months of work.
  • Family Matters:
    • In an All Just a Dream episode, Laura dreamed that Steve Urkel built an atomic bomb for his science fair project.
    • Another episode, which played out as a Courtroom Drama, had Steve accused of negligently blowing up the science lab. Of course, he was framed by someone specifically invoking this trope through deliberate sabotage.
  • Life with Boys: A flashback shows Allie somehow causing an explosion in a science class that turns Tess blue.
  • MythBusters pretty much exemplifies this trope. No episode is complete without something exploding (for educational purposes For Science!, of course!). It was so popular, Discovery decided to distill the explosions into a new showSmash Lab. Too bad they forgot that the success of MythBusters is due as much to the people who run it as the experiments themselves.

  • Inverted in the My Chemical Romance video for "I'm Not Okay", since they are shown in chemistry class and none of them manages to cause an explosion (though Gerard does smack himself in the face somehow).

  • In one episode of Yes What, Bottomley switches the labels on Dr. Pym's chemical flasks during a chemistry lesson, causing him to blow up the classroom.

    Video Games 
  • Beavis And Butthead: Played with in Beavis and Butt-Head in Virtual Stupidity. "Are explosions science?" "In your"
  • Bully: You get a minor bang if you fail chemistry. Notably, if you succeed, you get the ability to make firecrackers. Bear in mind that the key ingredient in these, if memory serves, is black powder, isn't it?
  • Escape From St. Mary's: Mrs. Desai knows you're only in the chemistry lab to make bombs.

  • El Goonish Shive briefly subverts this: in a setting rife with magic, weresquirrels, Hammerspace and people who seem unable to hold onto their gender for 24 hours straight, the science teacher is a completely ordinary person who's exasperated by the disrespect the main characters pay to the laws of physics. It should be noted, however, that the first real plotline in the comic was about a science experiment that had come to life and attacked, although when it came back to life a few plotlines later it was retconned to have been an attack by an interdimensional rival instead.
  • Miscellaneous Error features Jack nonchalantly telling his father about his typical school day, which includes blowing up chemistry labs.

    Western Animation 
  • On American Dragon: Jake Long, Jake and Spud blow up the Huntsclan Academy lab while trying to brew a potion of dragon slaying.
  • In Avatar: The Last Airbender the teaching of fire-benders seems to involve lots of flame and explosions. But then.... they're fire-benders.
  • Camp Lazlo: In "Sweet Dream Baby" the Jelly Beans manage to put their cabin into orbit with something they mixed up in a store bought chemistry kit.
  • The Bully does this for fun in Fantastic Mr. Fox; his partner is not amused.
  • In the Foghorn Leghorn cartoon "Little Boy Boo", Egghead Jr. is mixing chemicals with his chemistry set. Foggy thinks he's making soda pop and shakes the tube to make it fizz. It promptly explodes.
  • On The Powerpuff Girls (1998), Past!Utonium randomly mixed chemicals while goofing around in science class and accidentally set the school on fire.
  • The Simpsons:
    • "Bart the Genius": Bart causes a classroom to fill up with green goo by mixing chemicals.
    • "She Of Little Faith" had an entire beginning where Homer teaches Bart and Milhouse how to launch a model rocket — with explosive results.
  • Taz-Mania: In "The Thing That Ate the Outback", Taz creates the eponymous thing with a mail-order chemistry kit.
  • Nothing explodes, but the general spirit is the same; the first lesson given by Professor Hank McCoy of X-Men: Evolution, knowing the general mindset of his high-school-age students, is how to make a Stink Bomb.

    Real Life 
  • Possible in some demonstrations in high schools, such as placing an alkali metal in water. Metals that react more energetically can shatter the container if too much is placed in it.
  • A good example is demonstrated HERE, at 19:20 in, in a public demonstration by The Royal Institution.
  • Happens every so often in chemistry research labs, as can be seen on research chemists' blogs.
  • Read this discussion. Go on, it's fun. You may have to scroll down a bit to get to the actual school pyrotechnics.
  • Nitrogen Triiodide. Freakin' NI3. Staple of mischievous chemistry students and show-off professors across the world. Rather powerful crystalline explosive, sensitive enough to go off when a big fly lands on it. However, unlike most unstable stuff, it may be handled more or less safely upon mixing and is primed only when it dries up. Hence the popularity.
    • R.W.Wood's biography (which in itself is twice more entertaining than 9/10 of "Mad Scientist" fiction, and half again weirder) specifically mentions his nitrogen-iodine experiments. He was already pyro-savvy, so he split it into several little piles... and when he tested first dried pinch, its explosion scattering a good spoonful of almost-ready touch-sensitive explosive crystals through the entire room...
    • Once in Soviet times, students in Voronezh University ladies' dormitory were quite annoyed by their porter due to her habit of night patrols. Enter the... Chemistry students and enigmatic faint smell of ammonia rising from the corridor's floor. The next morning, she was found sitting atop her stool with boots. This little experience apparently taught her something valuable about wisdom of not sharing one's insomnia with everyone around and about peaceful coexistence with bunch of crazy students in general.
  • The university Missouri S&T actually offers a minor in explosives. And they're not kidding. Seeing as how they were originally Missouri School of Mining and Engineering, or something like that, its hardly surprising.
    • They now also offer a Masters!
    • And a summer camp!
    • The New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology also has an explosives division. These guys are quite infamous around the town for setting off explosions that would probably cause air raid alarms if they were anywhere else. Shockwaves powerful enough to rattle windows are not unheard of, to the great amusement of the university's students. Fun fact: when the Mythbusters need to set off a truly large explosion, this is where they go to do it.
    • Colorado School of Mines offers an explosives minor as well.
  • Purdue University professor George H. Goble won the 1996 Ig Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his world record of lighting a barbecue in 3 seconds. He did this by dumping a 3 gallon bucket of liquid oxygen on 60 pounds of coals; the resulting fireball reached 10,000 degrees Fahrenheit. For those curious to see what the fuss is about, here is a video, and photos and an interview.
  • Training in US Army ROTC falls under a series of courses entitled "Military Science". By the time they graduate, a cadet will have worked with AT4s, Claymore mines, frag grenades and field artillery.
  • The entire point of Thomas Gray's Mad Science.
  • John D. Clark's book Ignition! is a subversion — as a longtime researcher in liquid rocket fuels, he hoped to teach future researchers to avoid explosions by mentioning what could go wrong (Teflon "eroding like sugar in hot water" when they tried chlorine trifluoride, for one) Of course, it may have had the opposite effect.
  • A classic chemistry experiment is corroding a penny using hydrochloric acid to separate the zinc from the copper and measure its composition. One day, a substitute teacher decides to do this experiment but sees they're out of hydrochloric acid. Figuring any strong acid will work, the teacher decides to substitute nitric acid. Another strong acid would have subbed in just finenote , but nitric acid doesn't work because nitrate is a stronger oxidizing agent than protons are, so instead of producing hydrogen as a byproduct, it produced poisonous NO2. The school had to be evacuated.
  • A middle-school science teacher attempted to demonstrate methods of identifying a metal by the color of flames when whiskers of the metals were ignited. They did this at their desk, over a pile of paperwork. The fire chief was less than amused.
  • One chemistry lecturer would turn up to a particular lecture carrying 3 balloons and pick a guinea pig student to light them with a long taper. One contained pure oxygen, one pure hydrogen and one, a random mix of oxygen and hydrogen. Not so much fire, but explosions loud enough that other people in the building had called bomb squads in the past.
  • In a strange blend of this and religion, in The '40s and The '50s, there was a prominent preacher and professor who used gloves that zapped lightning during his sermons, mostly as a response to the whole Science versus Religion debate.