STEM Education Poetry

On All Cylinders

With cylinder’s use (graduated),
A volume can be calculated…
Keep eye on meniscus;
Report results; discuss
The findings from lab extricated.

This Twitter limerick was posted on 5 April 2021.  It (and, indeed, the next few as well) will pose some interesting challenges!  During this “week” of poems from April 2021, my goal was to take introductory chemistry lab routines and summarize them poetically. While it was fun to turn those everyday tasks into some brief, lyrical descriptions, I am less confident in my ability to expand on them here!  However, as I saw with this post, I still have much to learn regarding background information and etymology for even the most typical of lab routines.  

“With cylinder’s use (graduated), /
A volume can be calculated…”

A graduated cylinder is a common tool in an introductory chemistry student’s lab drawer. As the name suggests, this piece of glassware is cylindrical in shape, and the “graduations” marked on it are indicators of the volumes that can easily be measured with that specific cylinder.  Typically, a student’s lab drawer will contain several of these cylinders, spanning a range of possible volumes to be measured.

“Keep eye on meniscus; /
Report results; discuss /
The findings from lab extricated.”

These last three lines sum up the purpose of using a graduated cylinder: measuring a given volume. To do this, a student carefully examines the reading in a graduated cylinder, looking for where the meniscus, the curve created by the liquid in the cylinder, hits the pertinent line on the side of the cylinder.  

(It is always intriguing in writing even these brief essays to come back to the etymologies of some of these terms.  Meniscus is from the Greek for “crescent,” the descriptiveness of which word presumably accounts for its varied presence in multiple disciplinary settings.)

This poem grew out of some idle pondering of a rhyme for an unusual chemistry term, as many of these do.  To make “discuss” plausible as a rhyme for the final two syllables of “meniscus,” this poem describes a common goal in a lab setting. In reporting on the volume measured for a given liquid, a student would “discuss / [t]he findings from lab extricated”: the data they obtained in lab by using their graduated cylinder to complete the week’s procedure.