Off to lab safety training!

This morning is the mandatory lab safety training new graduate students have to go through. I probably shouldn’t be excited, since I heard this is actually just a boring lecture. But we do get to use a fire extinguisher at the end, so I’m holding out for that bit of excitement.

But we all know the cool part about working in laboratories is the potential for disaster, right? I mean, who didn’t go to chemistry lab secretly wishing something would explode? Be honest.

What’s your best lab disaster story?

Mine actually happened when I was teaching, rather than as a student. We were using Bunsen burners and the rubber tubing connecting the Bunsen burner to the gas source caught on fire. The professor, other TA, and I all just sort of stared at it dumbfounded for a couple seconds before one of us thought to just turn off the gas. Molten rubber is not a nice smell.


  1. Richardmarshall1 says

    Eppendorf tube, small chunk of dry ice, absent mindedness. Result: one plastic bullet, shattered storage jar, extremely aggrevated lab supervisor.

  2. says

    I can’t remember what exactly it was I did, but somehow I screwed up the directions, and we had to do our ENTIRE experiment all over. I mixed up the petri dishes or something. My lab partners were wonderfully understanding, but I was so embarrassed! In lamenting it to my boss later, she told me she accidentally dropped a container full of fruit flies in her genetics lab. She said there were fruit flies in their lab for the entire semester! I am clumsy, so I have broken my share of beakers, too. :( Oh, well, what better place to be an awkward nerd than in a science lab? :)So there you go, 2 for the price of 1.

  3. Shawn says

    I once let methane loaded soap / detergent travel back down the gas pipes because we hadn’t released the primary valve to let the gas flow, and by the time we had the soap was already deep into the pipe system. So we used a vacuum pump and a Erlenmeyer flask to attempt to get the soap out of the gas lines. The air quickly began to fill with Methane and apparently the rust and damage was already long since done. I went back to my High School a couple of years ago to discover that the gas Line apparently still doesn’t work in the Chemistry Lab, while not proud of myself, I do have the satisfaction of knowing that there is another gas line in the same classroom down for a different reason… SO I’m not the only one.

  4. says

    Hardly as glamorous: I have a flat-glass cooking top on my stove, and I recently left the handle of a vinyl cooking spoon a little too close to the burner. Molten vinyl is equally cringe-inducing.

  5. says

    I was working with Rubidium, a metal that ignites when exposed to oxygen and explodes when exposed to water. I was throwing away some dirt etc. from an experiment with a dustpan. Apparently there were some flecks of rubidium hidden in the dirt, and when I knocked them into the garbage, they became like glowing embers and landed on some paper towels, starting a small fire. Luckily it was contained and burned itself out prett quickly, but I did get a very mean look from the post-doc.

  6. says

    I was the lab assistant for the community college chemistry department. Part of my job was to ensure all the students had the equipment they needed. One student came into the supply room and asked for an addition mercury thermometer. When I queried what happened to the previous one he said it had broke. That wasn’t uncommon but I need to ensure the mercury was cleaned up properly. When I entered the lab I found a five foot wide splattering of mercury. After evacuating the lab I found scorch marks on the lab table radiating outward from the students Bunsen burner. He apparently tried to measure the temperature of fire.

  7. says

    I can’t remember what the experiment was, but after using a bunsen burner on a crucible for at least 5 to 10 minutes, I turn the bunsen burner off and with tongs bring the crucible down to the counter. Two seconds later, I take the lid off with hand and put it down. My lab partner and teacher look at it strangely and I say “what are looking at me…Owwwww!” My thumb and index finger were in pain for the rest of the day, which sucked because it was writing hand.

  8. Vicky says

    My sophomore year chemistry teacher set off a fire alarm. Everyone had to evacuate……because he lit a gummy bear on fire.

  9. Kelebra42 says

    Was doing an experiment in secondary school involving concentrate sodium hydroxide [i think] and i spilled like a litre all over my table and the floor. Table officially de-lacquered and teacher pretty pissed.And though it didn’t happen to me an idiot in my biology class decide to put cobalt chloride paper in his mouth. Teacher flipped and sent him to the nurse, he’s never lived it down.

  10. Paul says

    This reminds me of the first rule of organic chemistry: Cold glass looks the same as hot glass. In organic chem lab at Purdue, we had to pay for equipment if it broke. As a poor college student, I did not want to have to pay for anything. I remember heating a crucible with lid and when lifting it the lid fell off. It bounced once on the lab desk and was headed toward the floor. I triumphantly caught it before it hit the floor and realized a split second later I was holding a searing hot ceramic lid. I dropped it onto the lab desk and it did not break. I had a nice circular reminder of the first rule of organic chemistry on my hand for the next few weeks.

  11. says

    Not me (really), but someone I was in undergrad chemistry labs with got to a step in a practical that required the addition of ’40 cm^3 of bromine solution’. Bromine is one of the very few elements that’s liquid under normal conditions so it wasn’t immediately apparent to him that he’d missed the step a page or so earlier that described making up the rather dilute solution needed to keep the reaction to a sensible rate. He got a facefull of bromine, a dunk under the safety shower, and a trip to hospital. He was OK, but the crappy plastic lab specs that everyone loved to hate probably saved at least one of eyes, if not both of them.Post-grad was a whole different matter, and our major health and safety concern was making sure the university laser safety officer never saw the inside of the lab.On a side note, don’t try cooling beer bottles with liquid nitrogen; they don’t like it.

  12. says

    My high school chemistry teacher was doing some experiment that involved gases in a water bottle. Turns out there was a propulsion effect and she lost her grip on the bottle and watched as it hit the guy in front of me in the head. Very funny. Another teacher lit his mark books on fire in an experiment gone awry.

  13. says

    Heating a test tube with a bunsen burner, used a wooden clamp stand which caught fire. I got a metal stand but forgot the rubber grips on the clamp stand which also caught fire.Forgot to put anti-bumping granules in, threw them in half way through and exploded my experiment, lol.Didn’t turn on the Air flow cabinet and made the asthmatic girl faint, chloroform is our friend.First day of school, first science class turned on gas tap to bunsen burner then went and stood in line to light the splint to light the burner. I lit it long before I got back to my desk.And many, many more….. good times.

  14. El Zilcho says

    In my second year organic chemistry class, a student at the bench next to mine set a litre of ether right next to a bunsen burner. It effing exploded, but no one was injured, luckily.

  15. Agent12784 says

    Well, there was the time that I spilled liquid nitrogen on my foot… while wearing sandals. Physics lab is a little more… lax when it comes to lab safety (ok, 9/10 times, we do nothing dangerous or messy…). It was pretty cool.

  16. Ryanlangford says

    does working on cars and bikes count…? More fires than I could count, cars suddenly dropping in drive or reverse and slamming into walls and going out into the street. Wrenches left on a crank and then forgetting about it and it goes flying across the shop and embedding in the wall….pretty fun stuff :)

  17. Dg says

    Freshmen chemistry. First lab of the class. We were working with hydrochloric acid and the supply we were given had been made at a higher molar strength than our experiment called for. (10 times stronger)We were told to dilute the solution and continue from there. The TA instructed us to add water to the acid to dilute it. A number of us were fairly sure that you were supposed to add acid to water and not the reverse, but the TA was very insistent that we add water to the acid.We drew straws, and one of us bundled up in 3-4 layers of protective gear and tentatively began to add the water, at which point the professor arrived and shouted for us to stop.

  18. edje says

    There was a leaky squeeze bottle of methanol nearby on the bench sitting in the middle of a puddle of methanol. I was plating out bacterial transformations, and while flame-sterilizing my cell spreader, some burning ethanol dripped into the methanol, starting it on fire. This caused more methanol to start spurting out of the bottle adding to the fire. The other grad student in the lab swatted the fire with a notebook to try to put it out. This succeeded in pushing the flaming methanol into a styrofoam cooler sitting on the bench, which then burst into flames about 2 feet high. These flames than lit some papers that were taped to the shelves above the bench and started spreading towards all the chemicals in plastic bottles on the shelf. All of this happened in the span of about 10 seconds. Some quick work with a fire extinguisher put out the whole mess and then triggered the fire alarm, requiring the whole building be evacuated after the fire was already out.

  19. says

    This one didn’t happen *to* me, but it happened next to me. When I was in high school chemistry, we were doing some lab using (I believe) potassium. I don’t know exactly how, but I would imagine that it was somewhat like the story above about Rubidium, the lab group next to me somehow managed to send some potassium down the drain of the lab sink. Next thing you know, I heard this loud *WHOOMPH* and the lab bench literally jumped and you could see some flames coming out of the drain the potassium went down and steam coming up from the drains of the other sinks in the lab. Scared the living daylights out of me, but in retrospect, there was something really awesome about that little accident. That day I learned that the drains of all of the lab sinks were connected and that my former-Catholic-monk chemistry teacher had quite a foul mouth when the occasion called for it.A slightly more embarrassing, though significantly less explosion-y lab disaster I had was when I was reaching across the lab bench for something in my college chem lab and knocked over some guy’s just-titrated solution with my boobs. He was really nice about it and wasn’t mad at all, but to this day, I still feel awful about it.

  20. Edward says

    When I was a little kid I had a chemistry set. I thought the experiments provided with the set were not interesting (i.e. explosive) enough so I tried my own experiments. One of these rusted my equipment; it turned out I was making chlorine gas.My 8th grade science teacher almost set the ceiling on fire when he dropped too much sodium in a beaker of water.

  21. says

    I had a really funny professor. He had a wooden leg and were always slightly absent minded. It seemed like the good students (yes, I was a good student) were the only thing that kept him sane. I heard that when my year left he went a little nuts, and then retired. He had a demonstration on how metane gas rise up, being lighter than air or water. For this he used a bowl of soap and water with a hose pumping metane into the water. The metane rose up and were consealed into soapbubbles… OF DOOM. He demonstrated a few times and then as a big bubble rose from the bowl he took out a lighter and in mid-air he lit it below the bubble which burt in bright flames and set fire to the roof. The best chemistry teacher EVER. He also let me make H2CO3 cannons. We were going to have a lesson on the carbonates et.c. The same roof that caught fire got a few more dents that day… Good times…Oh! And we made black powder and sparklers. I failed to get the metal-fuel mass onto a stick, so I just put a bunch of it into a paper cup I folded. Wow, it burned. I miss those times… And I miss that teacher. He was cool.

  22. says

    A classic less dramatic, more deliberate version: Pour some liquid nitrogen down your sink, and plug it firmly. Wait for the rapidly expanding gas to find a way out up everyone else’s sink. Then try to look innocent :-)

  23. says

    Well there was that time in skool physics lab when we were all crowded around the master who was standing on his little ebonite stool, connected to the Van de Graaff generator* and about to do a demo when I touched him on the back of the neck**.He was never quite the same after that.*not to be confused with the British Rock group (they’re spelled different)** complete accident****** honest!

  24. says

    I know you knew this was coming….Spilled ~250 ml of concentrated sulphuric acid. And when I say “spilled,” I mean I tipped the beaker and it shattered, sending acid and glass and acid-covered-glass flying. I managed to avoid all the glass and I THOUGHT I had avoided the acid too… until I looked down and saw most of the right leg of my jeans soaked with acid. At right about the moment I realized that this was VERY BAD, it got all the way through the pants and started burning… a lot. Someone else in the lab shoved me under the safety shower (and was kind enough to save the ipod in my pocket from death by drowning). At some point during the shower, I brushed my leg with my hand… and most of that pant leg just pulled away, like it was just blue tissue paper. I then tried to remove all the destroyed denim from my leg, and proceeded to pull away a few pieces of skin (dyed blue by the jeans) from my leg. That didn’t hurt–it was more like removing peeling skin from a sunburn–but it was gross. Unfortunately, the center of the burn ( about 1 inch x 3 inches) did hurt because it was pretty bad.In the end, this little disaster resulted in:-ruining my favorite pair of jeans (the entire front of the right thigh was just gone)-covering a brand new pair of boots (which probably saved my feet)-walking through the biology building with a tiny towel wrapped around my waist to attempt to hide my half-nakedness-going outside soaking wet. in west lafayette. in february.-hospital visit via ambulance, not because it was necessary but because workers comp required it-several weeks of a thigh wrapped heavily in bandages, complete with lots of mess and pain (and vicodin for the first few days, thankfully)-going to grad school interviews with a seeping wound that needed bandages changed regularly-an infected burn, because the first ER doctor said it didn’t look quite bad enough to require antibiotics-a second trip to the ER, to get antibiotics for the infection that at that point involved a fever and a slightly swollen burn (which was stretching the new scar tissue. which hurt.)-a decent sized scar-safety meetings for my lab and the collaborator’s lab where the accident happened-lots of embarassment-paperwork that I am still dealing with months later. I don’t even work there anymore!

  25. Chrissy says

    We were in micro lab, and I was finding the pre-lab lecture to be very interesting and I was completely immersed in what the professor was saying. One of the other girls at my bench, however, did not find the lecture to be as engaging as I did and started playing with the bench nozzle. She turned it too hard and it came on with what seemed like a deafening WHOOOOOSH, scaring all of us to death. I’m incredibly jumpy to begin with, so I practically fell off my stool and screamed. Not exactly an accident, but definitely embarrassing.

  26. says

    I was checking a power supply. I took the leads of a 500 ohm voltmeter and placed them accross a 5000 Kvolt power supply. There was a load sound like an explosion BOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMThe mockup of the power supply shut down due to the overload, the voltmeter’s needle was jumping back and forth across its scale, and I pissed my pants

  27. says

    First year at college. Chemistry practice for biologists. Me and all my guy friends working in the same table. Xylol bottles in front of us. One of my guys has the bottle in the hands. The PhD student giving the class describes the chemical reaction he expects us to replicate, and gives the following warning: “Do NOT try to smell the xylol!” My guy friend opens the bottle and asks “Really?” and inhales it. He was high and red-eyed until next morning. He survived the practice under our strict supervision.Next year, the guys and me doing microbiology practice. The same guy doing mischief fills a Petri dish with alcohol and suddenly wants to find out how long it can burn. He puts in fire, but the flame is too big, he gets a panic attack and throws the hole thing in the washing pole. Flames get bigger. He manages to open the water (not very clever, I know), but with our help he manages to control the situation before the teaching guy notices anything.Ok, these situations were not a kind of accident, but they were tremendously funny, somehow… Better college memmories ever!

  28. Bogus says

    Pumped electrochroming rig bust, covering me in chromic acid, so I ran to the shower and stripped off. Ambulance took me to hospital, where I realised I had NO clothes at all. It was two hours before my second date with my the person who is now my wife.

  29. says

    i don’t remember how but i do remember boiling sulfuric acid shooting up out of the distilling equipment of the girl who stood next to me in o-chem lab. my shirt was never the same.i also remember someone not covering their caffeine when we were crystallizing it and caffeine vapors leaching into the air.

  30. says

    There’s the perhaps apocryphal story of someone triggering the safety shower for fun/to see what it does/because they tried to lean on the pull handle and flooding the entire floor. I’ve heard that at a couple of different schools, so it may have happened multiple times, or not at all.The worst thing that happened to me was pretty dull. During freshman chem lab I was mixing hydrochloric acid and calcium carbonate to isolate CO2 and determine its mass, I got in a hurry and just started pouring in the acid. Suddenly the bubbling went overboard and a greenish yellow liquid started shooting through my gas collection tube along with visible and invisible vapours pouring out of the whole thing. I dumped everything in the sink and turned on the water full blast, then started over. This was when I fell in love with science, as well as college. In high school I got in trouble every time I set something inappropriate, like magnesium strips, on fire. In college I just reported the failure in my lab report and completed the lab from a fresh start. I think I made chlorine gas though.

  31. says

    I was a disaster in my high school chemistry class. Not only did I make the rookie mistake of adding water to hydrochloric acid in a very small test tube that I was holding in my hand like Gus but I also managed to give myself a pretty nasty shock when we did that experiment to show whether or not a liquid is an electrolyte. When the teacher says not to touch the prongs sticking out of the light bulb, she really means it. It’s a wonder I made it through my chemistry degree without killing myself.The only disasters I have had on the job is getting citric acid in my eyes (more than once) and accidentally getting a buzz after I spilled pure caffeine on my arm while making some ginger ale.

  32. says

    I once folded up a big bunch of paper planes. Now for some reason my teacher had left a massive amount of bunsen burners on. When he left the room I started throwing them through the flames.Not one caught fire! Disaster!

  33. bnaji says

    Back when I was in high school I wanted to perform the thermite reaction in a Chemistry demo to get freshman interested in science. I did the reaction twice in tests but my teacher wouldn’t let me demo it because when I showed her how ‘safe’ it was and how ‘good’ my technique was, I got droplets of iron all over the floor. :)Basically, I put a magnesium strip in the thermite mixture and another magnesium strip taped onto a meter stick. The whole thing was in the hood and the idea was to light the magnesium on the meter stick, touch it to the magnesium in the thermite and close the hood. We all know how brightly magnesium burns and I couldn’t see what I was doing so I ended up sticking the burning magnesium straight into the thermite. Cue laughter. :)

  34. says

    I almost shut down a milk production pipeline of a dairy company that controls around 30% of the world’s dairy exports when I was working at a lab that’s contracted to do QC for the company. It’s because everyday we had a deadline to meet, the faster we can detect a problem, the further upstream the problematic milk can be discarded. Once the milk is mixed into other milk, the whole batch needs to be discarded… so imagine if you didn’t see the last batch of samples to test sitting in the deep recess of the fridge until it’s very late.Not a very spectacular failure, but stressful nontheless. BTW, the place is a soulless production-line style lab.

  35. nevare says

    chem prac in high school with Potassium chlorate and bunsen burners smoked out building and had to evacuate the whole block of class rooms

  36. hcbowman says

    I was trying to figure out why I was getting AC hum in the output of a power amplifier with a tube final. Poke poke poke with my oscilloscope probe until the back of my hand hit the B+ rail. Another person in the lab said there was a pretty blue flash when I independently discovered manned flight.

  37. Mollari says

    Well, in 8th grade I put both sides of a metal clip into electric socket, by this short-circuiting the supply of half the school. I, of course, didn’t hold it in my bare hands, but rather put it using a sweatherIn grad-school I was studying in a rocket lab. Yes, we had few *big* explosions. Sometimes one of our engines set the wood behind the lab (some 50 meters) on fire. Sometimes there was small gas explosion. One time we had a Hamas rocket motor that we tried to test. It wasn’t designed very good. It was a very hard and loud boom. We had to reeuqip the bunker.

  38. Mollari says

    (Oh, and we didn’t have fire extinguishers. The reason? They would’ve been useless in a case of.

  39. violin_chic_05 says

    As a student teacher last year, I witnessed an almost disaster when watching my mentor teacher. She was doing a demo, and I can’t for the life of me think of what reaction it was. She had students help while doing the demo. Students had to put some solid chemical in a little bit of water in an Erlenmeyer flask with a spout. They corked the reaction to allow gas to form inside. The spout was then lit on fire to create a loud pop as the cork flew off the top when the gas all ignited. Well, one student was trying it, and the gas wouldn’t ignite for some reason. There wasn’t enough gas or the gas had all escaped by the time the student lit the spout on fire. So my mentor told the student to just go empty the contents into the waste container in the hood. She didn’t realize that the spout still had a flame on it. So as the student got to the hood and took off the cork, all of the gas that was in the flask came out, hitting the flame, and caused a large burst of flame to shoot up, almost in the student’s face. He was scared out of his pants, but then thought it was the coolest thing ever, of course. Me and my mentor were trying to figure out what happened. Lesson of that day: never open a container of flammable gas when there is even a tiny spark of a flame nearby.

  40. violin_chic_05 says

    I was in an organic lab in college, and some student left a mercury thermometer unattended, in something rather hot. It ended up breaking, spilling mercury all over the one side of the lab. I’ve never seen a professor look so concerned

  41. says

    High school chemistry: It was “identify the acid” day (with the pipets and all that). Teacher (who had a reputation for being a bit out there) warns us that the acid could be absolutely anything, so treat it seriously.There’s one big beaker of the Mystery Acid that everyone has to pour from. I walk over, grab the top, pull the stopper…And somehow the bottom slides out and I end up wearing Mystery Acid.Turn to the teacher and ask “OK, so what *is* this stuff?”Luckily for me, it’s diluted vinegar, so other than smelling like fish and chips for the day, no harm done. After class, he pulls me aside and says he was going to use something stronger (too many years, can’t remember which specifically) but changed his mind at the last minute…

  42. NotThatGreg says

    In high school I got a clamp with no cork lining to hold the test tube, so I dampened a folded paper towel and used that. Once flame was applied, the part of the paper towel sticking out began to dry out. As an experienced campfire pyro, I knew that part would catch fire and burn out in a few seconds, and the rest under the clamp would stay damp long enough to finish the job (did you know you can boil water in a paper cup, sitting in embers? the bottom edge burns off the cup, but the paper won’t burn if it’s in contact with water). But I didn’t count on the student next to me, “Agg! it’s on fire!”. “Yes, it’s only a little fire, it’s going out now. Calm down.” “It’s on fire!!”. “Ssh.” “Agg!”Yeah, good times. We also had these ceramic sinks, with jet-like ‘nozzle’ faucets, so tubes could be attached. Often the valves were sticky. We all learned that you never put the glassware under the tap until after you had wrenched opened the valve, and then gently closed it again. Otherwise the water would burst out and just blast that sucker right out of your hand, smashing it into the sink.

  43. says

    I’d like to know why my good for nothing high school chemistry teacher thought it was a good idea to use our mouths to suck up sodium hydroxide using pipettes. #things that make you go HMMM.Why yes, yes I did get a good mouthful of the stuff. Blech.

  44. says

    No-one from my comprehensive school will ever make that mistake, our chem teacher had scars all over his face and hands from doing it the wrong way and it was always the first thing he told every class.

  45. Doggles says

    I used to be in charge of dry solvents for my lab (organic chemistry university research lab in the UK). To dry the solvents out we used to heat at reflux over sodium wire / benzophenone. Standard stuff, but quite dangerous. A press was used to extrude sodium wire for this purpose. After use, the steel extrusion die from the press was soaked in IPA to slowly destroy residual sodium metal in a controlled manner… unless of course you’ve inadvertently left a load of mineral oil all over it, which stops the IPA getting to the sodium… I came back to this the next day and set about rinsing it under the tap, the tapwater pushed the oil out of the way and hit a lump of sodium metal at which point the die exploded with a sound like a gunshot (later inspection showed that the quarter-inch metal die had spilt down one side, such was the force of the blast – yikes). Fortunately, I had thick gloves on, and the blast blew the die forwards out of my hand and into the sink… where it promptly ignited several litres of alcohol that had just been poured away. The sink erupted into a wall of flame. Fortunately I got to learn the important lesson of how quickly air/moisture sensitive metals can get out of control with only a slight loss of eyebrow and the task of rewriting the standard operating procedure as punishment.

  46. Doggles says

    Ooh – and lithium aluminium hydride goes “woooof” when it ignites too – had a little bag of that set fire and melt a plastic pot all over my magnetic stirrer once…

  47. Doggles says

    Oh yeah, and a word to the wise folks – if you’re making salts of nitro compounds, don’t isolate them as dry powders – a friend of mine took out a whole fumehood and part of a wall with that one…

  48. Doggles says

    Oh and of course there’s the whole “don’t mix your waste up” thing too – communal waste pots are a very bad idea, because you can mix up things that shouldn’t be mixed and then they sit there for a while and become angry… this is doubly bad because you won’t end up killing just yourself, in fact you’ll probably take out some poor unsuspecting lab tech whose job it is to take your waste away…

  49. Doggles says

    Chlorinating agents such as phosphorus oxychloride or thionyl chloride can be quite bad too, because you need to be aware that you need to destroy them in a controlled manner at a slightly elevated temperature (40degC or so in aqueous sodium hydroxide should do the trick but keep them below 60degC). This can seem counter intuitive because the usual way to destroy reactive / water sensitive stuff is to pour it carefully onto ice, but in the case of these bad boys, the lower temperature is not enough to destroy them, and as you pour them in they just sit there and build up, then when the decomposition reaction does start up, the heat that it generates turns the whole thing into a runaway train, and the temperature shoots way up and heads into explosion territory…

  50. Doggles says

    …and finally – alkyllithiums are very commonly used and usually not a problem (I use them all the time), but if you come up against tert-butyllithium, take care as it can be extremely explodey. There was an incident not too long ago in a university lab where a researcher very sadly lost her life when a large syring full of this stuff took off. As I understand it she was using one of those glass gas-tight syringes to draw the stuff up – these syringes don’t usually have a back-stop, and the plunger accidentally was pulled up and all the way out of the barrel – the t-BuLi went all over her and caught fire.

  51. Doggles says

    …and FINALLY finally (apols for the multiple-post-thread-monopolising…) I suppose it’s better to end on a comedy note:About 10 years ago, in the first week of my new job, I spilled some nitric acid. No harm done I thought, changed my lab coat and reported and mopped up the spill, then went straight off to my “getting to know you” meeting with the head of my section. Turns out that I had actually unknowingly dropped a fair bit of the acid on my shoes and trousers. Don’t know what the dye in my trousers was, but it reacted with the nitric and went from dark brown to a rather attractive bright salmon pink. I don’t see how the boss could have failed to see the bright pink splash pattern down the front of his new employee’s trousers, but he didn’t mention it at the time…

  52. Doggles says

    the “and” here follows on from a story about me setting fire to a sodium press and a large portion of my lab, but that seems to have disappeared somehow, ho hum – be careful with metal reagents folks…

  53. Ana says

    Hum…I do have my share of stories to tell. Like on my very first week in Chemistry colledge, when decided I could try and fill a test tube from a 5-gallon bottle of pyridine, outside the Hotte and with no help. Of course I took a bath…and had trouble breathing for the rest of the day. Later I found out that, were I a guy, I would probably have become infertile.Another that I remember (this time not caused by me) was when we were doing a reaction with cyanide. We were so excited/nervous about it, no one even thought about the dangers of the other reagents…that is until a colleague of mine remembered to pour down the drain his excess of benzyl bromide…(for all the non-nerd readers, it’s one of the strongest tear-gases used in war)

  54. Ana says

    One of the first things I learned in Chemistry labs was NEVER to wash away acid with water. Once i was distilling a reaction in 98% sulfuric acid, and then somehow thought I could just take the container off from the fire by myself. I basically dropped it and splattered boiling concentrated acid ALL OVER my hands. The lab assistant wanted me to put them under the faucet, but my teacher saved me in time with solid bicarbonate. I didn’t even get burned. =)

  55. NotThatGreg says

    Or a 500 Volt Ohmmeter?In our elec eng lab we had those boxes with two terminals and rotary switches to select any resistance values, there were 6 switches to allow setting resistance up to 999,999.Some wag put a label on one that said “Danger! One million ohms!”

  56. JM says

    Caught a gorgeous praying mantis in the parking lot and brought it in as a pet. We kept it in a large glass jar with a screen wire top. We decided it might be hungry and, in any case, a hoot to watch hunt and eat its prey. Someone brought in some brown cockroaches to put in with it. And it is fun to watch the mantis hunt. We were right that the screen would keep the cockroaches in, too, but they must have laid eggs. Sad ending has the lab being sprayed and the praying mantis dead.

  57. says

    55 gallon barrel of Botulism + autoclave – pressure release valves = a job which OSHA health and safety standards were routinely ignored.

  58. Rollingforest says

    After working on a chemistry lab experiment all class, I accidently dropped and broke the beaker. But by a twist of fate, most of the solution landed in another container so we were amazingly still able to go on as if it had never happened.

  59. says

    Yea, that would have been the better thing to do. Later, the PI of the lab asked us why we hadn’t done it. One of his lab techs replied “do we even have that in the lab?” They didn’t.

  60. Jonbehrndt says

    Electronics Class-Discharging a 100V, 10,000uF cap-with a screwdriver…BANG!Where did the tip go?

  61. A-M says

    I don’t know what happened, but when I was about 12/13, my science teacher mixed the wrong two things together and it emitted a lot of pale, smelly smoke and we had to evacuate the lab very quickly. Then we had to evacuate the whole school. For a day! Awesome! He did not remain my science teacher for very long…

  62. Maggie says

    I’m not sure what went wrong, or if it was just something that should have been done under a fume hood, but we were mixing something with something else, I think in a crucible, and it resulted in a lot of yellowish smoke that made my lungs hurt and gave me a sore throat and painful nasal cavity for a couple weeks. This was in 8th grade or so.

  63. Ryan says

    My guy friend opens the bottle and asks “Really?” and inhales it. He was high and red-eyed until next morning. He survived the practice under our strict supervision.

  64. Chris says

    Well, my worst experience is pretty tame compared to most of the ones heare:). High school chemistry, I learnt the hard way not to let your absent-minded lab partner fill up the burette you’re holding for a titration. Happily, the hydrochloric acid I got all over my hands was pretty dilute, so it just stung a bit while I very quickly emptied and put down the burette and washed my hands.

  65. Peter B says

    Ah, those were the fun days.How NOT to make sodium amalgam. Use a 4×1 inch diameter screw top glass container. Add large pea size blobs of sodium and mercury. Nothing happens. Put lid on. Shake to get through the oil covered sodium. See yellow flash….Oh yes add conc sulfuric acid to water. Do it in a 5 gallon glass water bottle. For safety put it in the sink is case something bad happened. It got real hot. Take bottle outside top cool on the porch. April showers and soft glass. This was well before HasMat. Ten min later I got a hose to wash the liquid down the drain. Unaware students walking through part of acid. I only tell this now because the statue of limitations has passed….Software is so much safer until you starting doing control systems….

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