While reading a textbook of chemistry, I came upon the statement, 'nitric acid acts upon copper' ... and I determined to see what this meant. Having located some nitric acid, ... I had only to learn what the words 'act upon' meant. ... In the interest of knowledge I was even willing to sacrifice one of the few copper cents then in my possession. I put one of them on the table; opened the bottle marked 'nitric acid', poured some of the liquid on the copper; and prepared to make an observation. But what was this wonderful thing which I beheld? The cent was already changed, and it was no small change either. A greenish blue liquid foamed and fumed over the cent and the table. The air ... became colored dark red. ... How could I stop this? I tried ... by picking up the cent and throwing it out the window ... I learned another fact; nitric acid ... acts upon fingers. The pain led to another unpremeditated experiment. I drew my fingers across my trousers and discovered nitric acid acts upon trousers. ... That was the most impressive experiment I have ever performed. I tell of it even now with interest. It was a revelation to me. Plainly the only way to learn about such remarkable kinds of action is to see the results, to experiment, to work in a laboratory. (Ira Remsen, 1846-1927, in Gutman, 1940)
The laboratory has long been given a central and distinctive role in science education. It has been used to involve students with concrete experiences with concepts and objects. Since the end of the nineteenth century, when schools began to teach science systematically, the laboratory became a distinctive
feature of science education. After the First World War, with the rapid increase of scientific knowledge, the laboratory was used as a means for confirmation and illustration of information learned previously in a lecture or from a textbook.