Physics Exams as Germ Warfare?

Posted By Pamela on Sep 26, 2007 | 2 comments

This week all of my physics classes are taking their first exam. Today my two sections of  Science Foundations for elementary education majors had their exam and tomorrow my science and engineering students have their calculas-based have their first exam. My exams are decidedly evil – they are tough and the average student will need 90% of the time (2 hours) to get them done. I’m sure that many of my students wish me ill while taking my exams.

This time they might get their wish.

While watching my students take their exams today I witnessed a steady stream of sneezing, sniffling, nose blowing, and other signs of students just not being healthy. As they took their exams, without thinking and without malicious thought (I’m hoping), the rubbed their noses and coughed into their hands, and then handled their exams. As I contemplate the stack of exams on my coffee table, I can’t help but think, that stack of papers is breeding a super-bug. And when I grade that stack of exams, I’m going to catch the superbug.

I wonder if Lysol causes ink to run?

There are certain careers where one has to recognize germs are part of life. Teaching is one of those. Theatre ticket collector, any one who handles money, and nurses all fall into the esteemed “constantly exposed to germs” category.

Do germs die at a lower temperature  than paper combusts?

So, I will spend my next several days grading, drinking orange juice, and wondering what happens when you mix the germs of 120 (not their fault) snotty nosed students.
I love my job, except for grading.

Someday, but not this year, we’ll be able to have the students take their exams in a computer room or on required personal laptops, and everything will be digital.

I can’t wait for that day.

In the interim, tomorrow my students will take a paper exam involving a hedgehog and a penguin named Fred.


  1. Will Lysol make the ink run? It depends on the type of ink.

    Will germs die before the paper burns? Yeah, probably. According to Ray Bradbury, at least, paper burns in the low 400 deg F, yet boiling things in water at 212 deg F is considered “sterilizing.” So, I guess you could bake the tests in the oven. Be aware that impurities in the paper may still change color, you don’t know what the ink will do, and that the paper may wrinkle or become brittle as the natural moisture evaporates. You could also irradiate the tests or maybe use a UVC light.

    You could also try wearing gloves or just washing your hands after handling the exams – being careful not to touch your nose, ears, eyes, lips, etc. in the process.

    The paranoid would have a graduate student copy, scan or fax them. It all depends on how much over-engineering you want to do.

    Good luck!

  2. The grad student would then hand the concentrated package of bugs at their next meeting.

    OJ has too much sugar, and not enough pulp. I suggest raw, unprocessed oranges. Better yet, pink grapefruit. Pauling was wrong, though.

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.