Worst thing you've seen in a lab

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Re: Worst thing you've seen in a lab

Postby Izawwlgood » Fri Sep 20, 2013 3:56 pm UTC

How much formaldehyde was added, because... I mean, it's an irritant, but I dunno about evacuating an entire department. Set up a fan or put it near the hood and you're golden. I routinely handle 4% formaldehyde solutions without gloves, which isn't *great*, but will at worst give me a rash.

Stupid grad student cleaned off an 8,000 dollar objective last night by rubbing it on her shirt. I hates her.
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Re: Worst thing you've seen in a lab

Postby davidstarlingm » Fri Sep 20, 2013 7:23 pm UTC

We had some really expensive lenses for the lasers in some research we were doing. My lab partner started to pick one up with his fingers directly on the surface and the professor quickly said, "Wait, no, don't touch them with your fingers!" Unfortunately, my lab partner did not speak very much English, and so he planted his index finger right in the middle of the lens with a curious look.

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Re: Worst thing you've seen in a lab

Postby Quercus » Fri Sep 20, 2013 8:06 pm UTC

How much formaldehyde was added, because... I mean, it's an irritant, but I dunno about evacuating an entire department. Set up a fan or put it near the hood and you're golden. I routinely handle 4% formaldehyde solutions without gloves, which isn't *great*, but will at worst give me a rash.


Hmmm, unless they screwed up the recipe I think the friend who told me this may have been exaggerating - I looked it up (never done it myself - qPCR is much quicker, and more quantitative, than a northern blot if you don't need size information), and a formaldehyde gel usually only has about 5% formaldehyde, so evacuating the department seems a little excessive. Mea culpa.

Edit: I guess it's also possible that health and safety overreacted, they have a tendency to do that sometimes :wink:

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Re: Worst thing you've seen in a lab

Postby Jorpho » Sat Sep 21, 2013 3:40 am UTC

Quercus wrote:Someone in my undergraduate plant sciences class (which was awesome), decided that it would be a good idea to let undergraduates play with 32P. I have never seen radioactive contamination in so many unlikely places. There was a rule for that practical class - both you and your notes were checked with a geiger counter before leaving the lab. If you were "hot" you earned a trip to the safety shower (no-one was that stupid in my year), if your notes were "hot" they got put in the radioactive waste bin and you failed the class because you didn't have any notes, that happened to two people.
Good $deity. How could anyone have thought that would be a good idea!?

If you transform or immortalise the cells so that you can grow them continuously (which can happen just from the process of culturing them on occasion) and then accidentally expose yourself to them, well, hello cancer.
Gee, I thought that was something relatively difficult. I mean, that's part of the reason they're still using HeLa cells, isn't it?

Izawwlgood wrote:Stupid grad student cleaned off an 8,000 dollar objective last night by rubbing it on her shirt. I hates her.
Was it one of the fancy ones with the oil coating?

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Re: Worst thing you've seen in a lab

Postby Angua » Sat Sep 21, 2013 9:00 am UTC

Jorpho wrote:
If you transform or immortalise the cells so that you can grow them continuously (which can happen just from the process of culturing them on occasion) and then accidentally expose yourself to them, well, hello cancer.
Gee, I thought that was something relatively difficult. I mean, that's part of the reason they're still using HeLa cells, isn't it?

You're not going to get cancer from cells that you're working with, unless they happen to have come from you in the first place. Your immune system would just wipe them out.
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Re: Worst thing you've seen in a lab

Postby Carlington » Sat Sep 21, 2013 9:31 am UTC

Quercus wrote:Edit: Actually, I have just recalled, the worst thing I have seen is someone culturing their own cells.

Quercus' post begins by mentioning that they were culturing their own cells. Not to snark at you Angua, I realise that you only saw the bit that Jorpho quoted.
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Re: Worst thing you've seen in a lab

Postby Angua » Sat Sep 21, 2013 10:30 am UTC

Fair enough. I couldn't find it on the last page.
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Re: Worst thing you've seen in a lab

Postby Quercus » Sat Sep 21, 2013 11:09 am UTC

If you transform or immortalise the cells so that you can grow them continuously (which can happen just from the process of culturing them on occasion) and then accidentally expose yourself to them, well, hello cancer.
Gee, I thought that was something relatively difficult. I mean, that's part of the reason they're still using HeLa cells, isn't it?


Well, I did say "on occasion" - it's not something that happens every day, but I know that it's possible to grow out immortal T cell lines just by repeatedly stimulating them to proliferate. Most will die, but a few may develop mutations that allow them to survive, these then take over the culture. This can also happen with other cell types - 3T3, a common mouse fibroblast cell line, arose spontaneously from cultured mouse embryo tissue. If you do something like transform the cells with SV40 large T antigen or adenovirus E1 (effectively mimicking infection with a tumour virus) you can deliberately immortalize lots of different cell types, but that can be hard because some cell types are very resistant to the insertion of foreign DNA (mainly this is part of the cells' antiviral defences) - a common human cell line, HEK 293, was made like this. I would say that immortalization of your own cultured cells followed by re-exposure is a low risk, but hell, the consequences are not good at all. If you need to work with human samples, just find somebody else in the department who also needs to and swap samples with them (after gaining the appropriate ethics committee approval of course :wink: ).

AFAIK the main reason that people use HeLa so much is they are a) damn easy to grow (hell, even undergrads can do it) and b) very widely used and available, so your experiments are easily reproducible and comparable to others work. HeLa were derived from a pre-existing (cervical) tumour, so they were already immortalized when isolated. HeLa actually grow so vigorously that quite a few other cell lines have been contaminated with them and the original cell line out-competed! Sometimes the researcher doesn't even notice, which can really screw up a project. There are even companies that offer genetic testing so you can be sure your cell line is still what it says on the vial. See here for a rather scary (for a lab biologist) list of know mis-identified cell lines http://www.lgcstandards-atcc.org/Produc ... Lines.aspx

The reason that HeLa cells grow so well in culture is mainly because they have been selected for this over many years (i.e. cells that grow better out-compete those that don't), especially since successful cryopreservation of cells in liquid nitrogen was only established about 20 years after HeLa was isolated and the cells have therefore been grown continuously all that time (the trick for cryopreservation is to freeze slowly to let liquid osmotically leave the cell as the surrounding medium freezes and add a cryoprotectant like glycerol or DMSO to prevent ice crystals from puncturing the cell membrane). This means that HeLa are not physiologically normal cells at all - not even physiologically normal cancer cells, they are good for basic cell biology, and for extracting cell components from for biochemistry, but for anything else there are much better choices. People have established huge numbers of cell lines - the american type culture collection (http://www.atcc.org) has almost 4000 for sale, and there are many more that aren't available commercially.

Quercus wrote:
Someone in my undergraduate plant sciences class (which was awesome), decided that it would be a good idea to let undergraduates play with 32P. I have never seen radioactive contamination in so many unlikely places. There was a rule for that practical class - both you and your notes were checked with a geiger counter before leaving the lab. If you were "hot" you earned a trip to the safety shower (no-one was that stupid in my year), if your notes were "hot" they got put in the radioactive waste bin and you failed the class because you didn't have any notes, that happened to two people.

Good $deity. How could anyone have thought that would be a good idea!


Crap, it wasn't 32P, damn memory, it was 35S - which is somewhat less bad and the staff were very careful about not letting the contamination leave the laboratory. I know that I'm starting to look like a complete fraudster but that really was just a brainfart.

I have a feeling the whole point of that practical was to say "I know you all think you're god's gift to science, but look how sloppy you actually are - you had better tighten up before you work with anything truly dangerous".

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Re: Worst thing you've seen in a lab

Postby Quercus » Tue Sep 24, 2013 4:23 pm UTC

Okay, I feel like I'm monopolising this thread now, but I have recalled the one truly bad thing I have seen. It was when I was working for a small commercial lab and we basically had only one serious competitor, and this was run by a branch of the local government administration. When the director of this lab died people started noticing some rather weird things, like rooms stacked full of unopened equipment, and financial irregularities to the tune of several million dollars. It turns out that the director had for some reason acquired huge quantities of surplus equipment and materials which he simply stacked in storerooms (the reason for this is still unknown, after all, no-one could ask him at that point).

They rather quickly shut the entire lab down and liquidated all the assets. The auction company they used to do this didn't know the first thing about our field and so we got some rather interesting bargains out of it - we got a brand new 7 place analytical balance for less that 1/10 of it's market value, 100kg of F1 class stainless steel calibration weights for less than the scrap value of the steel (we didn't really need them - we used one or two for doorstops and sent the rest to the scrap merchant for a small profit!). We got a 200kg balance which could read to 0.1mg practically for free - we used it for weighing parcels! We bought so much cheap stuff that day - it was like Christmas for us, but crazy that no-one noticed what this guy was doing.

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Re: Worst thing you've seen in a lab

Postby Moose Anus » Mon Sep 30, 2013 6:48 pm UTC

Quercus wrote:Okay, I feel like I'm monopolising this thread now, but I have recalled the one truly bad thing I have seen. It was when I was working for a small commercial lab and we basically had only one serious competitor, and this was run by a branch of the local government administration. When the director of this lab died people started noticing some rather weird things, like rooms stacked full of unopened equipment, and financial irregularities to the tune of several million dollars. It turns out that the director had for some reason acquired huge quantities of surplus equipment and materials which he simply stacked in storerooms (the reason for this is still unknown, after all, no-one could ask him at that point).

They rather quickly shut the entire lab down and liquidated all the assets. The auction company they used to do this didn't know the first thing about our field and so we got some rather interesting bargains out of it - we got a brand new 7 place analytical balance for less that 1/10 of it's market value, 100kg of F1 class stainless steel calibration weights for less than the scrap value of the steel (we didn't really need them - we used one or two for doorstops and sent the rest to the scrap merchant for a small profit!). We got a 200kg balance which could read to 0.1mg practically for free - we used it for weighing parcels! We bought so much cheap stuff that day - it was like Christmas for us, but crazy that no-one noticed what this guy was doing.
Sounds like he was planning to take over the world with an accurately weighed scheme.
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Re: Worst thing you've seen in a lab

Postby Cronos51101 » Mon Oct 21, 2013 2:59 pm UTC

Well, this one was an ME lab. We were running an experiment through our weir tank. Flow through an open channel if I recall... It involved shifting a large plastic tub (maybe 75 gallons) up against the flow plate to collect the discharging water for a measured amount of time. After that, we had a chain hoist with a load cell attached to get the weight. Pick it up, read the weight, put it down and dump it. Pretty typical. Well of course one student went ahead and set the full tub down on the edge of our very aged plexiglass weir tank and BANG! Broke part of the side panel right off. Tank held,I don't know, something like 800 gallons of water which did what came naturally and poured out everywhere. I suppose it was fortunate we were on the ground floor, but we had these covered up utility runs that went around the perimeter of the room, with electrical conduits and network lines, which were more than happy to accept most of the water. In hind sight it may well have been the funniest thing I've seen in a lab.
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Re: Worst thing you've seen in a lab

Postby Tomlidich the second » Wed Oct 23, 2013 5:36 pm UTC

i know this is technically a COMPUTER lab, but:

first of all, your sandwich and coffee should not be in this room at all, there is at least 60,000 dollars of equipment opened up on the bench right now.
but when you go and set your cup of coffee ON the machine im currently working on, you crossed a line. are you serious?!?!
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Re: Worst thing you've seen in a lab

Postby Quercus » Mon Oct 28, 2013 12:53 pm UTC

Tomlidich the second wrote:i know this is technically a COMPUTER lab, but:

first of all, your sandwich and coffee should not be in this room at all, there is at least 60,000 dollars of equipment opened up on the bench right now.
but when you go and set your cup of coffee ON the machine im currently working on, you crossed a line. are you serious?!?!


Reminds me of our flow cytometry facility, where loads of stuff always ends up on top of the notice that reads "do not place anything here as the red laser is easily misaligned". People also have a habit of patting that machine affectionately when they are talking about it. Guess what, that also misaligns the laser.

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Re: Worst thing you've seen in a lab

Postby Izawwlgood » Mon Oct 28, 2013 8:38 pm UTC

Quercus wrote:
Tomlidich the second wrote:i know this is technically a COMPUTER lab, but:

first of all, your sandwich and coffee should not be in this room at all, there is at least 60,000 dollars of equipment opened up on the bench right now.
but when you go and set your cup of coffee ON the machine im currently working on, you crossed a line. are you serious?!?!


Reminds me of our flow cytometry facility, where loads of stuff always ends up on top of the notice that reads "do not place anything here as the red laser is easily misaligned". People also have a habit of patting that machine affectionately when they are talking about it. Guess what, that also misaligns the laser.

Heh, our microscope is on a 10 inch thick floating steel laser table. There are big comfy pads on a separate rail for leaning on while you manipulate the microscope. I can't tell you how often someone has come in to chat, and just thrown an elbow up on the table or the cameras.
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Re: Worst thing you've seen in a lab

Postby Tomlidich the second » Mon Oct 28, 2013 10:45 pm UTC

Izawwlgood wrote:
Quercus wrote:
Tomlidich the second wrote:i know this is technically a COMPUTER lab, but:

first of all, your sandwich and coffee should not be in this room at all, there is at least 60,000 dollars of equipment opened up on the bench right now.
but when you go and set your cup of coffee ON the machine im currently working on, you crossed a line. are you serious?!?!


Reminds me of our flow cytometry facility, where loads of stuff always ends up on top of the notice that reads "do not place anything here as the red laser is easily misaligned". People also have a habit of patting that machine affectionately when they are talking about it. Guess what, that also misaligns the laser.

Heh, our microscope is on a 10 inch thick floating steel laser table. There are big comfy pads on a separate rail for leaning on while you manipulate the microscope. I can't tell you how often someone has come in to chat, and just thrown an elbow up on the table or the cameras.

had some idiot walk up behind me while i was working on a rack, and leaned his arm against it to watch. naturally, he puts his hand on the equipment that is not bolted down, shoving it out the back of the rack, and on the floor. took out the network for a good ten minutes while i got it picked up and running again. his boss was not happy with him.

this, oddly, was one of our chemical manufacturing clients, in an active lab environement (their server room is inside a room within the labs)
you would think these people would be used to NOT sticking their fingers in places they don't belong.
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Re: Worst thing you've seen in a lab

Postby PossibleSloth » Tue Oct 29, 2013 9:10 pm UTC

One of my colleagues told me this story about a professor he worked with. The professor's lab had been putting all their waste solvents in metal drums and storing them in one corner of the lab. For years. One day, someone from the University's safety office noticed what by this point amounted to several hundred gallons of acetone, methanol and the like and told him he needed to get rid of it. After some checking, the professor found out it was going to be extremely expensive to dispose of it properly.

Long story short, someone walked in on the professor pouring 20 gallon drums of solvent down the lab sink in the middle of the night.

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Re: Worst thing you've seen in a lab

Postby Tomlidich the second » Tue Oct 29, 2013 10:49 pm UTC

PossibleSloth wrote:One of my colleagues told me this story about a professor he worked with. The professor's lab had been putting all their waste solvents in metal drums and storing them in one corner of the lab. For years. One day, someone from the University's safety office noticed what by this point amounted to several hundred gallons of acetone, methanol and the like and told him he needed to get rid of it. After some checking, the professor found out it was going to be extremely expensive to dispose of it properly.

Long story short, someone walked in on the professor pouring 20 gallon drums of solvent down the lab sink in the middle of the night.

exaclty how many felonies does this net you in your area?
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Re: Worst thing you've seen in a lab

Postby PM 2Ring » Wed Oct 30, 2013 9:14 am UTC

That reminds me of this article from Derek Lowe's blog:

How Not to Do It: More Diethyl Ether (Now With Extra Hardware)
March 8, 2007

Man, have things changed since I was in grad school. We used to pour all kinds of horrible things down the drain - mind you, this was a good twenty years ago. But you can't do that now, can you?

A respected University of Washington pharmacology professor became a felon Wednesday when he acknowledged dumping a flammable substance down a laboratory sink and then trying to conceal his actions.

Daniel Storm, 62, pleaded guilty in federal court to violating the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act by flushing about four liters of the solvent ethyl ether. He faces a maximum five years in prison and a $250,000 fine when sentenced June 18, although prosecutors have recommended probation under the terms of a plea agreement.


Spoiler:
Well, everywhere I've worked, the safety officers have tried to put the fear of RCRA ("rick-rah") into us, and by gosh, it looks like they may have had a point. Turns out that Prof. Storm's lab had several elderly containers of ether which turned up in a lab inspection, and he decided to get out of paying the $15,000 hazardous waste disposal bill. So he decided to take matters into his own hands.

And how: he went after the metal ether cans with an ax, which means that he was lucky not to blow himself up. (A stray spark from the metal could have done the trick, and who knows how much peroxide was in the stuff, for that matter). Why the Monty Python lumberjack routine? Well, the lids were too tight, and according to Prof. Strong, the ax just happened to be handy. (How many times have the police heard that old excuse, eh?) Yep, you can't pour ether down the sink like we used to, and you can't chop open the stuff with an ax like we. . .well, actually, we never used to do that. No one ever has, most likely.

What really ripped it was when he went on to fake paperwork from a nonexistant waste disposal company to make it look as if the ether had been properly hauled away. No, if you haven't clicked on that link yet, you'll have to take my word that I'm not making this up as I go along. But you get the impression that Professor Strong sure was. Makes you wonder if he had been exposed to too many fumes. A spokeswoman for the school says that she's unware of any similar incidents there, and I'll bet she's telling the truth. No, I've seen some stupid things done with diethyl ether, but this one threatens to retire the trophy.

See link for some interesting comments.

Pouring ether down the drain was naughty; trying to cover it up was evil. But attacking old ether drums with an axe was positively crazy! :)

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Re: Worst thing you've seen in a lab

Postby Izawwlgood » Wed Oct 30, 2013 12:06 pm UTC

TIL improper disposal of chemicals carries a fine and penalty on par with manslaughter.

My organic chemistry fu is weak now, but isn't mixing alcohols and acids bad news because it can form ethers?
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Re: Worst thing you've seen in a lab

Postby ahammel » Wed Oct 30, 2013 1:59 pm UTC

I had a prof who liked to reminisce amount the good old days when they would a) smoke in the lab, b) pour their VOCs down the sink, and c) throw their cigarette ends down the sink after the VOCs, sometimes resulting in a small pyrotechnics display.
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Re: Worst thing you've seen in a lab

Postby Quizatzhaderac » Wed Oct 30, 2013 2:56 pm UTC

Tomlidich the second wrote:this, oddly, was one of our chemical manufacturing clients, in an active lab environement (their server room is inside a room within the labs)
you would think these people would be used to NOT sticking their fingers in places they don't belong.
There's no chemicals in there, so the server rooms is a nice place to relax the guards you need for real science .</sarcasm>

Maybe you should try making them all wear antistatic wrist straps at all times when in the server room. Any actual risk of them damaging stuff with static is beside the point; the reminder that it is a place where they can screw things up will keep them grounded. (sorry). Plus, since they're physically tethered, you'll know where they are.
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Re: Worst thing you've seen in a lab

Postby Suzaku » Wed Oct 30, 2013 3:00 pm UTC

The real question is why one of the uninitiated was in the machine room at all :P
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Re: Worst thing you've seen in a lab

Postby paulisa » Wed Oct 30, 2013 3:59 pm UTC

ahammel wrote:I had a prof who liked to reminisce amount the good old days when they would a) smoke in the lab, b) pour their VOCs down the sink, and c) throw their cigarette ends down the sink after the VOCs, sometimes resulting in a small pyrotechnics display.


Romour has it that there exists a photo of an organic chemistry prof holding a 5L separating funnel in his hands and a burning cigarette in his mouth. Possibly this is apocryphal.
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Re: Worst thing you've seen in a lab

Postby (╯°□°)╯︵ ┻━┻ » Wed Oct 30, 2013 4:09 pm UTC

PM 2Ring wrote:That reminds me of this article from Derek Lowe's blog:

How Not to Do It: More Diethyl Ether (Now With Extra Hardware)
March 8, 2007

Man, have things changed since I was in grad school. We used to pour all kinds of horrible things down the drain - mind you, this was a good twenty years ago. But you can't do that now, can you?

A respected University of Washington pharmacology professor became a felon Wednesday when he acknowledged dumping a flammable substance down a laboratory sink and then trying to conceal his actions.

Daniel Storm, 62, pleaded guilty in federal court to violating the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act by flushing about four liters of the solvent ethyl ether. He faces a maximum five years in prison and a $250,000 fine when sentenced June 18, although prosecutors have recommended probation under the terms of a plea agreement.


Spoiler:
Well, everywhere I've worked, the safety officers have tried to put the fear of RCRA ("rick-rah") into us, and by gosh, it looks like they may have had a point. Turns out that Prof. Storm's lab had several elderly containers of ether which turned up in a lab inspection, and he decided to get out of paying the $15,000 hazardous waste disposal bill. So he decided to take matters into his own hands.

And how: he went after the metal ether cans with an ax, which means that he was lucky not to blow himself up. (A stray spark from the metal could have done the trick, and who knows how much peroxide was in the stuff, for that matter). Why the Monty Python lumberjack routine? Well, the lids were too tight, and according to Prof. Strong, the ax just happened to be handy. (How many times have the police heard that old excuse, eh?) Yep, you can't pour ether down the sink like we used to, and you can't chop open the stuff with an ax like we. . .well, actually, we never used to do that. No one ever has, most likely.

What really ripped it was when he went on to fake paperwork from a nonexistant waste disposal company to make it look as if the ether had been properly hauled away. No, if you haven't clicked on that link yet, you'll have to take my word that I'm not making this up as I go along. But you get the impression that Professor Strong sure was. Makes you wonder if he had been exposed to too many fumes. A spokeswoman for the school says that she's unware of any similar incidents there, and I'll bet she's telling the truth. No, I've seen some stupid things done with diethyl ether, but this one threatens to retire the trophy.

See link for some interesting comments.

Pouring ether down the drain was naughty; trying to cover it up was evil. But attacking old ether drums with an axe was positively crazy! :)



Anybody meets a professor (in the US) who's got a problem with disposing of haz mat and is going to do something really ill advised, send me a PM and I'll hook that person up with a reasonable service. Not kidding. I find this crap terrifying.
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Re: Worst thing you've seen in a lab

Postby oxoiron » Wed Oct 30, 2013 5:54 pm UTC

I had a colleague who claimed that in the '80s he used to blend his organic waste with gasoline and burn it in his car. Seeing how he operated even a few years ago, I don't doubt him.
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Re: Worst thing you've seen in a lab

Postby Sprocket » Wed Oct 30, 2013 6:04 pm UTC

It does creep me out a bit when I walk by those giant canister of various gasses in hallways at MIT, and sometimes they are just sitting there, hooked up to nothing, hissing, with no one in sight.
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Re: Worst thing you've seen in a lab

Postby Cronos51101 » Wed Oct 30, 2013 6:16 pm UTC

Sprocket wrote:It does creep me out a bit when I walk by those giant canister of various gasses in hallways at MIT, and sometimes they are just sitting there, hooked up to nothing, hissing, with no one in sight.

The big shiny ones with lots of valves and fittings at the top are usually self refrigerating tanks (I don't think that's what they're actually called). They blow off gas automatically to cool themselves to keep the internal pressure down. You can't store them too long though, they kind of empty themselves...
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Re: Worst thing you've seen in a lab

Postby Izawwlgood » Wed Oct 30, 2013 6:21 pm UTC

LN2 tanks do this. It's nothing to be alarmed by.
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Re: Worst thing you've seen in a lab

Postby LucasBrown » Thu Oct 31, 2013 2:21 am UTC

Unless you're in an unventilated room. That's just asking for suffocation.

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Re: Worst thing you've seen in a lab

Postby PM 2Ring » Thu Oct 31, 2013 11:50 am UTC

Izawwlgood wrote:My organic chemistry fu is weak now, but isn't mixing alcohols and acids bad news because it can form ethers?

You're may be thinking of esters.

OTOH, ethers can be formed through dehydration of an alcohol, generally using a strong acid like sulfuric. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ether#Synthesis

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Re: Worst thing you've seen in a lab

Postby Quercus » Fri Nov 01, 2013 5:12 pm UTC

Tomlidich the second wrote:
this, oddly, was one of our chemical manufacturing clients, in an active lab environement (their server room is inside a room within the labs)
you would think these people would be used to NOT sticking their fingers in places they don't belong.


A dangerous assumption to make - the number of times I see someone scratching their face with gloves on terrifies me. This is the reason I try to open doors in lab areas with my (lab coat covered) elbow, god knows how many people have touched the door handles with god knows what on their gloves.

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Re: Worst thing you've seen in a lab

Postby Quizatzhaderac » Fri Nov 01, 2013 5:33 pm UTC

All that rusty chrome can be a little disconcerting.
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Re: Worst thing you've seen in a lab

Postby Izawwlgood » Fri Nov 01, 2013 5:39 pm UTC

PM 2Ring wrote:
Izawwlgood wrote:My organic chemistry fu is weak now, but isn't mixing alcohols and acids bad news because it can form ethers?

You're may be thinking of esters.

OTOH, ethers can be formed through dehydration of an alcohol, generally using a strong acid like sulfuric. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ether#Synthesis

There is an acid dehydration of alcohols to ether, but it requires heat... Maybe that's what I was thinking about. Thanks!

Quercus wrote: dangerous assumption to make - the number of times I see someone scratching their face with gloves on terrifies me. This is the reason I try to open doors in lab areas with my (lab coat covered) elbow, god knows how many people have touched the door handles with god knows what on their gloves.
It depends on the lab space; most of why I wear gloves is to protect my samples, not myself. The most dangerous thing on the entire floor is low concentration formaldehyde and some radioactivity you shouldn't eat around.
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Re: Worst thing you've seen in a lab

Postby Quercus » Mon Nov 04, 2013 11:05 am UTC

Izawwlgood wrote:
Quercus wrote: dangerous assumption to make - the number of times I see someone scratching their face with gloves on terrifies me. This is the reason I try to open doors in lab areas with my (lab coat covered) elbow, god knows how many people have touched the door handles with god knows what on their gloves.
It depends on the lab space; most of why I wear gloves is to protect my samples, not myself. The most dangerous thing on the entire floor is low concentration formaldehyde and some radioactivity you shouldn't eat around.


To be honest that's true most of the time in our lab space too - gloves are worn to keep either RNAses, skin oils or microbes off the samples, but occasionally somebody uses some nasty chemical or biological toxin as an inhibitor of a specific cellular process - a little bit of potassium cyanide here, a little bit of tetanus toxin there. Phenol is also fairly ubiquitous for old-fashioned Trizol RNA preps and phenol-chloroform DNA precipitation and it's actually fairly nasty but not very well respected as people use it so often. I think the "most of the time it's fine, occasionally it isn't" is actually quite dangerous sometimes, as people become complacent. That white powder round the balance - probably agarose, except when it's sodium azide; that little drop of "oil" in the fume cupboard, probably just oil, except when it's conc. H2SO4. In my undergrad department (again, not much around that's very dangerous) we had an organic waste bottle explode in a fume cupboard with an open sash (luckily at 2 am with no-one around) because most people there didn't know enough chemistry to be able to work out what should be mixed together and what shouldn't.

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Re: Worst thing you've seen in a lab

Postby Quizatzhaderac » Mon Nov 04, 2013 4:05 pm UTC

If I was a harsh chem professor, I would spray my students gloved fingertips with pepper spray.

That'd make them careful of what they touch.
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Re: Worst thing you've seen in a lab

Postby Quercus » Mon Nov 04, 2013 4:35 pm UTC

Quizatzhaderac wrote:If I was a harsh chem professor, I would spray my students gloved fingertips with pepper spray.

That'd make them careful of what they touch.


I can do you one better than that - I have a vial of pure, 100% capsaicin powder in the fridge behind me right now (you need about 1% to repel a bear) :twisted:.

It turns out that it's an activator of a particular class of calcium channels, which I at one time suspected were involved in the process I was studying, TL,DR version of that section of my lab book: they are not involved, at all.

I made that stuff up in DMSO (which for the uninitiated is highly skin permeable and can quickly disseminate systemically, carrying whatever is dissolved in it along for the ride). I always wondered what the all-over, inside and out chilli burn would feel like if I had spilled the concentrated stock on me (I was exceedingly careful not to do that).

Disclaimer for anybody taking this a bit too seriously: I have no intention of exposing anyone to capsaicin, that would be mean.

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Re: Worst thing you've seen in a lab

Postby PM 2Ring » Tue Nov 05, 2013 1:37 am UTC

Quizatzhaderac wrote:If I was a harsh chem professor, I would spray my students gloved fingertips with pepper spray.

That'd make them careful of what they touch.

:)

One of my high school chem teachers used to say: In the lab, everything is toxic, corrosive and explosive (or at least inflammable) until proven otherwise. Safe handling of materials should be automatic, not something that you need to consciously think about. If you need to think about it, one day you may not think fast enough...


Quercus wrote:I have a vial of pure, 100% capsaicin powder [...] I made that stuff up in DMSO

Holy shit!

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Re: Worst thing you've seen in a lab

Postby Izawwlgood » Tue Nov 05, 2013 2:06 am UTC

Quercus wrote:I can do you one better than that - I have a vial of pure, 100% capsaicin powder in the fridge behind me right now (you need about 1% to repel a bear) :twisted:.
FWIW, I find it a little creepy and weird that you'd be bragging about that.
Quercus wrote:It turns out that it's an activator of a particular class of calcium channels, which I at one time suspected were involved in the process I was studying, TL,DR version of that section of my lab book: they are not involved, at all.
There's a professor here who studies Trp channels, so, yes, this is a thing.
Quercus wrote:I made that stuff up in DMSO
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Re: Worst thing you've seen in a lab

Postby Quercus » Tue Nov 05, 2013 11:44 am UTC

Izawwlgood wrote:
Quercus wrote:I can do you one better than that - I have a vial of pure, 100% capsaicin powder in the fridge behind me right now (you need about 1% to repel a bear) :twisted:.
FWIW, I find it a little creepy and weird that you'd be bragging about that.


See the disclaimer - don't worry, it's just twisted scientist humor.

PM 2Ring wrote:
Quercus wrote:I have a vial of pure, 100% capsaicin powder [...] I made that stuff up in DMSO

Holy shit!


Well, the most concentrated I ever had the DMSO stock was 10mM, which given the molecular weight was about 0.3% w/v, so not fantastic, but probably not lethal. Of course that's only an educated guess - I don't think anyone has EVER been exposed to capsaicin in DMSO before so the toxicity information is a little scarce. I also only had about 50 microliters of that stock at any point. Like I say I was very careful with it.

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Re: Worst thing you've seen in a lab

Postby Izawwlgood » Tue Nov 05, 2013 1:04 pm UTC

Quercus wrote:See the disclaimer - don't worry, it's just twisted scientist humor.
I find people making jokes about using the chemicals we work with for harm to be not funny. I'm just saying.

For example, why didn't you dispose of it?
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