Physics explosion injures 3 students, professor

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BYU physics professor Chris Verhaaren stands directly above a jug moments before an adiabatic experiment backfired in Physics 105. Verhaaren and three students reported minor injuries. (Photo courtesy of Kendall Pogue)

An adiabatic experiment backfired in Physics 105, sending professor Chris Verhaaren flying off the table and leaving three students injured on Thursday, Nov. 18.

As part of the experiment, Verhaaren stood above a thick glass jug filled with water that was being pumped with continuous air to build pressure. The goal was to build a cloud, but as Verhaaren was explaining the process of the experiment the jug exploded directly under him. He fell onto then off the table as large shards of glass flew toward the rest of the classroom.

Though few students suffered minor injuries, many were left shaken up. Student Kendall Pogue was sitting in the front row as the events unfolded.

“There were huge chunks of glass, probably the size of my hand, flying toward people. There was actually a chunk of glass flying toward me so I brought my left hand up to shield my face, but a piece of glass cut open my thumb and then hit my head above my eyebrow and on my headline,” Pogue said.

Pogue was grateful the injuries and overall aftermath were not more extensive. But as a safety precaution, police, emergency medical personnel and BYU Incident Management addressed those directly impacted.

“It was not a small explosion — it was a very high-pressure explosion with a very large glass jug. It really was quite terrifying for everyone in the class and I think everyone was a bit traumatized by it,” Pogue said.

Kendall Pogue shows off her injuries. (Photo courtesy of Kendall Pogue)

Student Leah O’Barr was sitting in the back of the class, and as Verhaaren was explaining the process of the experiment a student next to her joked that it was going to explode. Immediately after it did, resulting in screams and then silence as Verhaaren fell to the floor.

“I was a little rattled. I was grateful that I was not in the zone where the glass was so I wasn’t worried for my own safety, but for those couple minutes where it went quiet and we couldn’t see Dr. Verhaaren I thought I actually watched someone die,” O’Barr said.

Professor Scott Bergeson sent a follow-up email to the class, apologizing for the events and updating them on the conditions of Verharren, who was encouraged by the EMTs to go to the emergency room to further address his injuries. The email also outlined resources for counseling services through the university.

Upon reaching out to Verhaaren, it was confirmed that he is “doing okay,” but declined to respond more, as further discussion would need to be directed by Carri Jenkins of University Communications.

Jenkins offered the following statement on the incident:

“During a demonstration in a physics class yesterday a safety incident occurred that is now under review. Three students and a faculty member reported minor injuries that did not require hospitalization. The review now currently in place will help the university to further ensure the health and safety of our students and employees,” Jenkins said.

The deadline for the test in that class has been extended.

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