April 2019 Limerick Project

Procedural Drama

“In chem lab, take measure for measure,
Lest errors comedic displeasure.
It can seem much ado;
Tempests sometimes ensue.
All that ends well, remember for lecture.”

The April 23 limerick was posted on William Shakespeare’s birthday; it joined a long list of “#HappyBirthdayShakespeare” hashtags in my Twitter timeline, all of these saluting different plays and sonnets.  For my own part, I wrote a brief acknowledgement of some of the major themes of chemistry labs, alluding to one title from Shakespeare’s bibliography per line.

“In chem lab, take measure for measure,/
Lest errors comedic displeasure.” 
In an introductory chemistry laboratory course, students are often reminded of the necessity of taking multiple measurements of whatever quantities are of interest: by doing so, they can complete more accurate calculations, and they can better understand potential sources of error in their experiments.  In the limerick’s lines, these big ideas borrow their phrasing from the titles of Measure for Measure and The Comedy of Errors, prompting students to keep good records and take multiple measurements, to avoid errors’ creating too much havoc.  (Errors of the comedic variety can be particularly frustrating!)  

“It can seem much ado; / Tempests sometimes ensue.”  
This emphasis on detail, repetition, and record-keeping can be frustrating to a new chemistry student.  Labs generally require three or more hours per week of procedural work, along with significant data analysis afterwards, to complete any necessary reports.  This longer time (relative to a traditional lecture course) provides the flexibility necessary to adjust to real-world difficulties as they arise.  Thus, using two more titles–  Much Ado About Nothing and The Tempest— the poem sums up two more characteristics: that labs initially seem focused on minutiae and that the occasional (seeming) disaster may sometimes strike.            

“All that ends well, remember for lecture.”
Lab experiments can bring to life the concepts discussed in lecture and, ideally, provide a memorable look at a previously abstract concept.  These parallels can be useful as students are studying for their exams, which are held in the lecture component of their chemistry classwork. The allusion to All’s Well That Ends Well sums up this hoped-for synergy, in the final line of the limerick.