Memories of explosions

lab explosion by KOMUnews

How Much is the PI To Blame?
[Via In the Pipeline]

Chemjobber has a post up on the responsibility of the professor in the Texas Tech explosion case. I have to agree with him: if you’re going to get grant money to have your group work on energetic materials, you have…


I did my postdoc in a chemistry lab developing the chemistry for synthesizing DNA. My war story deals with a graduate student being shown how to distill something noxious – probably did by hydrazine involved. Anyway, the postdoc was showing him proper procedure, contrary to how the postdic usually did it. This involved using a blast shield between the distillation apparatus in the hood and the closed hood sash.

After getting the heating mantle up to the right temperature, the postdoc explained how they could not let the flask go to dryness. Then the two them went to lunch.

You can guess what happened. Luckily I was in another room but a graduate student was not so lucky when the flask did go to dryness. The explosion shot the blast shield into the sash, pushing both well into the room. The poor graduate who was not even involved in that project had hearing loss for several days.

One reason I am glad I did not work in a chem lab as a career. The other reason was the discovery of a 2 kilogram bottle of picric acid on a lab shelf – which no longer had a protective layer of water on top. A shelf that was about 10 feet from my workspace. I carefully walked out of the room – I still get chills that I moved the bottle out of the way while I was looking for something else before I noticed what it was – and notified the proper people.

I did not go back until the bottle had been removed.

One thought on “Memories of explosions

  1. I know nothing more about college chemistry labs than what I have read in this post and comments, but if this is how chemists are being taught these days, it explains why police labs are so bad!

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