The Smell of Science!

catToday is the second best day of the semester… today my neighbor is dissecting cats! For the next three days I will be attempting to teach about weather observation and prediction while simultaneously fighting off the headache invariably brought on by the delicate aroma of phenoxyethanol.

This is my Trial by Fire. Having long ago mastered lecturing about sexual reproduction while ignoring giggles, discussing schist formation amidst half-witted puns, and demonstrating dike formation without noticing students collapsing to the ground in silent hilarity, I have but one great challenge left to me as a science educator. Every year I am faced with the challenge of carrying on with class for days while refusing to cave to the never-ending stench of pickled felines. Last semester I achieved my personal best of two days before the headache reduced me to some mindlessly long video on extreme weather. I have high hopes today of making it all the way through the week this time!

Most of you will no doubt argue that the smell of phenoxyethanol isn’t all that bad, but if you’re honest with yourself I think you’ll realize that you only think that because you’ve repressed the memory and replaced it with the one of that magical afternoon spent romping amidst the wild poppy fields of Amsterdam. poppy-fieldThe human nose-brain connection can usually ignore a smell if it has been exposed to it for a longish time; this is how teenagers avoid passing out from their own unshowered funk. However, this particular aroma keeps coming at you until you feel that you can’t possibly stand it another minute and then, unbelievably, it gets worse. If it is possible for a smell to drive a person mad, this would be it.

Other subjects no doubt have their own versions of this Penultimate Test of Human Endurance, but I humbly suggest that Cat Dissection Week is the most heinous of the lot. What is the worst that English can offer… reading the Great Gatsby? Please. The best Math can bring to the table is long divison… amateurs. History might have made a decent offering by providing a lecture on the economies of the Middle Ages, but I understand that their last accomplished lecturer on the subject vowed to shoot himself instead of give that lesson again, so we can hardly count that one anymore.

This year I’ll be attempting visualization and acupuncture therapy in my efforts to ward off the crippling effects of Cat Dissection Week. Mostly I’ll be visualizing that I’m somewhere else while repeatedly jabbing students with paper clips in order to distract me from the horrifying reality of the greenish clouds seeping in under the door and through the vents. Wish me luck!


2 thoughts on “The Smell of Science!

  1. SilverFox

    RW – being a bit of a science geek myself, I couldn’t let this rant go unchallenged. According to my most infallible of technical resources, Wikipedia, “Phenoxyethanol is an organic chemical compound, a glycol ether often used in dermatological products such as skin creams and sunscreen. It is a colorless oily liquid. It is a bactericide. It is also used as a fixative for perfumes, an insect repellent, a topical antiseptic…” Are you sure you aren’t smelling the perfume and/or sunscreen of one of your “closest” students? Or perhaps, you are misnaming some other chemical used in the biology studies – oh, say, formaldahyde? In either event, have you considered using a counteragent? A nice cachet of rosebuds around your thick neck would be special. Then again, if you want to be more macho, you might want to put scented cotton balls up your nose – careful not to lose them. On further reflection, maybe it has been an overutilization of things in the nose that is the root cause of your problem – perhaps those poppies you are so fond of discussing? I’m just saying….


  2. RockWalker

    So you actually posted that the chemical in question is used to preserve organic materials and suspected that because of that it couldn’t be used to preserve organic materials?

    I seriously doubt that any of the scholarly people who posted on the uses of phenoxyethanol thought to determine whether the stuff in their lipstick might also be used as embalming fluid… it’s just not something that occurs to people.

    I will grudgingly admit that I don’t know if phenoxyethanol is the source of the smell or the headache during Cat Dissection Week, but it was one of the first chemicals listed on the MSDS sheet that could be printed as a word without chemical nomenclature or symbols.


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