Thank You, Roy G. Biv

Test tubes and other recipients in chemistry lab

Photo by Horia Varlan. Used under Creative Commons CC BY 2.0 license. No changes were made.

My high school chemistry lab violated the laws of time. Two periods of chemistry class lasted years. Every day, I expected to walk out of the lab and find that the school had crumbled around us, swept away by the eons that had passed while we were in that class.

I enjoy science. Chemistry could have been an enjoyable class. It should have been an enjoyable class.

It was not an enjoyable class.

The teacher had a way of droning on and on…. and on. He also had a remarkable talent for making students feel particularly stupid. He would ask very pointed questions — often off topic — and would get a smug, yet gleeful, look on his face when the poor kid didn’t get it right.

The room had two long lab tables with black countertops and cheap built-in storage underneath. Each table had stations with sinks and burners. We sat at desks that were attached to the lab tables. I sat about 4 seats back.

One day, the teacher was droning on and on…. and on… about something. I may or may not have been talking to the kid sitting across from me. Suddenly, there was the shortest of pauses in the droning, followed by a much louder, “And we all know the colors of the spectrum in order, don’t we, Amy?”

Suddenly, every pair of eyes in the class were on me.

Some part of my brain must have been paying attention to the droning. Without missing a beat, I looked up and responded, “Red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet.”

My chemistry teacher didn’t quite know how to react, especially since it wasn’t a topic even close to what we had covered in class. All he could muster was, “Yes. Very good,” and returned to his droning.

The bell rang at the end of the first period and the class got up for our 4-minute respite before the second epoch of chemistry class. As I was walking out to get a drink of water, the teacher pulled me aside.

“How did you know the order?” he asked me in a rather puzzled tone.

“My dad taught me ‘Roy G. Biv’ – the name is the colors in order.”

My teacher shook his head. “Wow, I didn’t think anyone remembered Roy G. Biv.”

My dad remembered and he taught me. On that day in my junior year of high school, I was very thankful for Roy G. Biv.

Rainbow in northern Michigan

Roy G. Biv in action. Northern Michigan, October 2014. Photo by Amy Crow.

14 thoughts on “Thank You, Roy G. Biv

    1. Chris Nicholson

      Every time I bring a collection of seashells from the ocean beach or rocks from the shore of L. Michigan or Superior. Roy G. Biv arranges them in stripes across the picnic table and I almost get shivers in my spine from the beauty.

  1. Chris Nicholson

    My chemistry teacher was a gentleman of the old school. He graduated from one of the Quaker Academies in Indiana which offered high school plus education to young Quakers and others before high schools were organized in small towns. (Fairmount Academy–closed in 1920s because public high school had been established in Grant County.) He taught in a tweed suit with a vest. He was very clear and very kind. We did our own lab work but he loved to do demonstrations, especially of experiments that were a bit too dangerous for us or for which the chemicals were too expensive for us all to have them. Freezing hot dogs in liquid oxygen and reminding us that the same thing would occur to our fingers if we got them that cold.

    One day his rubber apron didn’t cover him completely enough. He wasn’t hurt but his tweed trousers were! He replied calmly ” Chemistry teachers just have to buy suits that come with two pairs of trousers. About 10 years later I was teaching a chemistry class myself!

    Chris Nicholson

  2. Dana Leeds, The Enthusiastic Genealogist

    I thought ‘everyone’ knew Roy G Biv, but I know we were taught it in our school and I taught it to my daughter. This brought back memories of my high school chemistry teacher, too. We did labs, but what we all probably remember the most was the monster-sized notebook we had to create. We had to do thousands of chemical equations and put them in a 3-ring notebook for a major grade. I think the notebook was 2-inches high. Most students got together and worked on pieces of it and swapped answers, though I felt this was cheating and wouldn’t participate. The week before they were due, we pulled some all-nighters trying to complete this crazy assignment

    1. Amy Johnson Crow Post author

      I hated doing those equations! Glad I didn’t have to do quite as many as you did!

  3. Elaine Davis

    What a wonderful story! I could see it happening. Unfortunately none of my science teachers made an impression on me, good or bad. The teachers I remember taught history…and I became a nurse!

    1. Amy Johnson Crow Post author

      Isn’t it funny the way that works? I barely remember any of my history teachers, but now I’m a genealogist. Go figure :)

  4. Celia Lewis

    Oh the memories this brought up! We learned Roy G. Biv back in elementary school, doing art classes (back in the late 1940s). So easy to remember – and of course, to this day I can see Roy standing beside every rainbow in the sky!!
    As for Chemistry teachers – I absolutely loved chemistry. The chemistry table of elements was a marvel to me – so elegant, so organized, so logical (unlike my nasty chaotic life at home). Our chem teacher was a Mr. Evans, who had a Masters in Science – unlike most of our teachers who had passed “Normal School” [to become teachers]. He was very knowledgeable, rather aloof (probably shy), and taught us fairly but with high standards for all of us.
    History? I dropped it as fast as I could in High School, and now know more history than I thought I would enjoy, doing genealogy. Go figure, indeed!

  5. Claudia Boorman

    I had forgotten about Roy G Biv, so thanks for the reminder on that. And I am impressed you had such a good memory and were able to give him such a quick retort. Usually such gems come to me later after it’s too late to respond!

    Teachers, both the good and the bad, sure do make an impact on us, don’t they? Sorry that your Chemistry teacher seems to have been so insecure in himself that he had to take advantage of his power to bully and belittle the students in his charge. People with those personality traits have no place in front of a classroom, in my opinion.

    Fortunately for me, my chemistry teacher in both grades 11 and 12 was a real inspiration. I realize now that he was quite young, perhaps even just out of University. He set the bar really high at the outset, which really weeded out those who didn’t want to do the work or weren’t really interested in the subject. It also got him into trouble with the administration when kids complained to their parents about the amount and difficulty of homework and his tough marking practices. Some of their parents passed their concerns onto the principal. Thankfully he kept his principles, as he really did care about his students education and wanted them to enjoy the subject as much as he obviously did.

    My favorite part (and why many of us came back for more) was his wonderfully dry sense of humour and his amazing ability to bring chemistry to life. He was a gifted cartoonist and would spend a lot of time quickly drawing a series of colourful chalk drawings on the board to illustrate the structure of atoms and chemical compounds, complete with personalities. And when 2 particles got close or collided, watch out! Written and verbal sound effects ensued with overlays of “pow!” and “BOOM!” etc. surrounded by jagged edged circles and radiating lines (shades of the old Batman TV series with Adam West here) complete with sidekicks (catalysts), bad guys, destruction and winners. All this really caught our attention, was highly entertaining, and really aided our retention. It also inspired us to spend more time on our chemistry homework than on other subjects, just to see if we could get a perfect 10/10 on our latest lab report – a very hard thing to achieve.

    He also took time to coach some of us for scholarship examinations. I remember him with great fondness, even though I did not pursue a career in chemistry.

    1. Amy Johnson Crow Post author

      Wow, what an incredible teacher you had! The best teachers, in my opinion, are the ones who instill and foster a sense of curiosity in their students. It’s curiosity that helps us grow as people.

    1. Amy Johnson Crow Post author

      That sounds like something I’d do! Hmmm, which side of the family are the BIVs…. ? :)


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