Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Lab Accidents

In the wake of a tragic accident at UCLA, I was thinking about biology labs.  (The particular situation in the UCLA accident is not under discussion here.)

(Note: these things are only funny because nobody got hurt.  Otherwise it would be really, really sad.)

Now, I used to work in a synthetic organic lab.  The two (fortunately, small, no injuries) lab fires that happened while I was there both involved lithium compounds: my boss set the base bath on fire.  Twice.  Yes, he did know better.  He also had an imploded, melted round-bottom flask with molecular sieves embedded in it, fused into a torn-apart heating mantle, entitled "Dumbass Of The Year Award, 1992."  (Lots of heat plus melted glass plus vacuum... you can imagine how that would end badly.)  And there was that one time with the aqua regia... well, turns out you really, really should add the acetone slowly; picture a small, REALLY corrosive volcano emitting metal-rusting fumes. Let's just say, it's a good thing the fume hood clamped down.  Anyhow.

Biologists, on the other hand... I've seen them do a lot of really stupid things.  Strong bases stored in glass!  (They etch glass.)  Oxidizers and reducers stored together, right next to flammable solvents!  (Because then, if they break and mix, it would go whoosh and KABOOM.)  Our idiot tech touching unpolymerized acrylamide with her bare hands!!!  (Neurotoxin.)  Amanitin without gloves!  (Death cap mushroom toxin!)  Phenol everywhere!  (Flammable, toxic, also causes burns, liver failure, and DEATH.)  And don't even get me started on things that get put down the sink,  to say nothing of the Ground Chicken Incident in my former lab.  The plumbers probably burned effigies of us. 

Seriously.  If biology required more than microliters of most of this stuff, biologists would blow themselves up all the time.


  1. Sadly, you might be right. On the other hand, if there were larger volumes involved, maybe the training and care in handling would improve....

  2. As a Chemistry major, biology minor who did Biochem in Grad school, that is so true!


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