STEM Education Poetry

Dramatic Technique

“Procedure today: use the crucible!  
Obtain sample’s make-up, deducible
Through tasks gravimetric 
And steps arithmetic;
Key data emerge, thus computable.”  

The 6 April 2021 limerick addressed another common laboratory technique: the use of a crucible, which can have applications both qualitative and quantitative in the chemistry lab.  

“Procedure today: use the crucible!”  

Crucibles are containers that can be heated to very high temperatures; as such, they are useful in a wide variety of chemistry settings.  In introductory chemistry, they typically inform some of the most interesting questions during lab check-in, as they aren’t as familiar and/or repetitive as some of the other materials in a lab drawer, such as flasks, beakers, or graduated cylinders.  

While the composition of crucibles can vary in industry and other settings, in the intro lab, crucibles are typically small ceramic dishes.  The main idea is that, when a crucible containing a sample of interest is heated, the sample will be affected by the heat (decomposing or otherwise reacting), while the crucible itself will be unaltered.  (In popular culture, the name is likely most familiar from Arthur Miller’s 1953 dramatic work, giving this essay its title.)  

“Obtain sample’s make-up, deducible /
Through tasks gravimetric /
And steps arithmetic; /
Key data emerge, thus computable.”  

One common use of the crucible is in a technique called gravimetric analysis.  By heating a reaction product to high temperatures in a crucible, it is possible to fully dry the product and obtain its exact mass (“tasks gravimetric”).  Through the use of that exact mass and the principles of reaction stoichiometry (“steps arithmetic”), a chemist can also determine the percent composition of a component ion, or analyte, in the pertinent starting material: “the sample’s make-up [is] deducible.”  

While this limerick emerged out of contemplating some rhymes (one more accurate than the other!) for “crucible,” it was a fun challenge to align the poem structure with a reasonable summary of the experiment.