Worst thing you've seen in a lab

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Worst thing you've seen in a lab

Postby piwakawaka42 » Wed Mar 21, 2012 6:23 am UTC

I'm doing chemistry at uni, and while most people are pretty good, there are some right idiots in the labs at times. The worst I've seen was when my friend had to stop someone from lighting a Bunsen burner in the fume hood THAT WAS USED FOR STORING AND WORKING WITH ORGANIC SOLVENTS! (2nd year organic/inorganic lab). What's the dumbest Darwin award attempts you other bench science/engineering award types have seen?-note that we're not talking unfortunate accidents, but out-and-out stupidity here.
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Re: Worst thing you've seen in a lab

Postby ahammel » Wed Mar 21, 2012 2:42 pm UTC

In my first uni chem lab I had hydrochloric acid spilled on me in three independent incidents. Oh, freshmen...
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Re: Worst thing you've seen in a lab

Postby Tass » Wed Mar 21, 2012 6:39 pm UTC

ahammel wrote:In my first uni chem lab I had hydrochloric acid spilled on me in three independent incidents. Oh, freshmen...


Hydrochloric acid is nothing, it is never more than 35%. I had concentrated sulphuric acid burn a big hole in my jeans once. Fortunately skin is more resistant and it didn't leave permanent scarring.

(Que the hard core chemists who has been in contact with the really nasty kinds of stuff.)

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Re: Worst thing you've seen in a lab

Postby screen317 » Wed Mar 21, 2012 6:51 pm UTC

A grad student spilled 32P all over a bench. Geiger counter went crazy.

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Re: Worst thing you've seen in a lab

Postby eSOANEM » Wed Mar 21, 2012 6:52 pm UTC

I have a few from my A level Chemistry set.

We'd just been taught some basic reactions of alcohols and were doing a practical oxidising a primary alcohol to its acid so we had a flask connected to a condenser to let the reaction mixture reflux and some guy leaves the plastic funnel in the top of the condenser and starts heating it. He was rather surprised when the teacher got annoyed at the fact that there was a funnel now molded onto the top of this condenser. :roll:

Another time we were oxidising something else in a test tube an some guy thinks it's a good idea to point the boiling test tube towards someone else sending boiling dichromate solution spitting at his head.

The only other one is when we were doing a reaction involving fairly high quantities of concentrated HCl which involved one of the gases in the air as a reactant lowering the pressure inside. To keep the pressure ok and to ensure there was enough of the gas for the reaction to run its course we had to let more air in every so often. One guy forget causing the flask to implode and the acid to spill all over the desk with lovely white fumes. That's the only time I've ever been evacuated from a chemistry lab.
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Re: Worst thing you've seen in a lab

Postby Scow » Wed Mar 21, 2012 7:03 pm UTC

Nasty stuff? Ask and you shall receive. I submit this story for your consideration.

About 6 months ago, one of the new graduate students in my research group was working with a cylinder of N2O4. He called me in a panic because he released a bunch of it in the lab. Apparently, N2O4 had condensed in the lines connecting the cylinder to the system he was working on and he failed to pump them out. A call to poison control ensued. Thankfully, he was not injured as N2O4 has a disturbingly low LD50. He learned a number of important lessons that night.

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Re: Worst thing you've seen in a lab

Postby ++$_ » Thu Mar 22, 2012 1:54 am UTC

Surely any gaseous N2O4 would quickly decompose to NO2 in the warm lab? (Or is it the other way around?)

That said, NO2 is not friendly either, and if I had a leak of either thing, I would NOT sit around trying to recall the equilibrium constant to decide if I need to call someone.

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Re: Worst thing you've seen in a lab

Postby The EGE » Thu Mar 22, 2012 4:58 am UTC

I managed to quite literally melt an op-amp a month back. It's amazing how bad a burnt piece of plastic can smell.
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Re: Worst thing you've seen in a lab

Postby eSOANEM » Thu Mar 22, 2012 7:50 am UTC

Oh, on the subject of EE-related stuff. One of my friends managed to set fire to a resistor several times. Another one managed to accidentally melt almost a dozen transistors in a row before realising they'd forgotten a base-protection resistor. Worst of all, at lunchtime in the lab, some kids decided it'd be a good idea to connect a few of the supplies together and draw so ~120V sparks off.
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Re: Worst thing you've seen in a lab

Postby Ingolifs » Thu Mar 22, 2012 9:56 am UTC

I was next to a dichloromthane still when it exploded. The guy doing the distillation forgot to open the tap tothe argon line to relieve pressure, and it basically exploded from overpressure with the sound of 1000 balloons popping at once. Glass was sprayed everywhere, a hole was punched in the ceiling tiles and my ears were ringing, but no one was hurt.

Also witnessed a bottle of Lithium aluminium hydride spontaneously combust. The flames were pink and orange at the same time. Seen my fair share of sodium fires too.
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Re: Worst thing you've seen in a lab

Postby Dr. Diaphanous » Thu Mar 22, 2012 3:18 pm UTC

Apparently someone in my old school tried to heat ethanol with a Bunsen burner. Unfortunately it turned out to be ethanal, which has a boiling point of about room temperature and is rather flammable. :shock: I wasn't there though so I don't know how many people were immolated.
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Re: Worst thing you've seen in a lab

Postby eSOANEM » Thu Mar 22, 2012 6:35 pm UTC

eSOANEM wrote:some kids decided it'd be a good idea to connect a few of the supplies together and draw so ~120V sparks off.


This happened again this lunchtime except this time the sparks were from 6 30V supplies so ~180V and being drawn from a capacitor with a rating of 63V. Yup, definitely an absolute maximum there.
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Re: Worst thing you've seen in a lab

Postby Minerva » Fri Mar 23, 2012 5:23 am UTC

piwakawaka42 wrote:I'm doing chemistry at uni, and while most people are pretty good, there are some right idiots in the labs at times. The worst I've seen was when my friend had to stop someone from lighting a Bunsen burner in the fume hood THAT WAS USED FOR STORING AND WORKING WITH ORGANIC SOLVENTS! (2nd year organic/inorganic lab). What's the dumbest Darwin award attempts you other bench science/engineering award types have seen?-note that we're not talking unfortunate accidents, but out-and-out stupidity here.


As far as I'm concerned, a Bunsen burner is something that belongs in a schoolkids' laboratory, and maybe in a microbiologist's laboratory, but it has absolutely no place in a serious organic lab. It's too dangerous to have an ignition source like that, and there's nothing you really would need it for that you couldn't do with a safer heat source like a mantle.

Scow wrote:About 6 months ago, one of the new graduate students in my research group was working with a cylinder of N2O4. He called me in a panic because he released a bunch of it in the lab. Apparently, N2O4 had condensed in the lines connecting the cylinder to the system he was working on and he failed to pump them out. A call to poison control ensued. Thankfully, he was not injured as N2O4 has a disturbingly low LD50. He learned a number of important lessons that night.


Bloody hell. What sort of lab synthesis requires a cylinder of N2O4? Usually the only time you ever see a large cylinder of N2O4 is when you're loading it into something like this (note the appropriate PPE): http://spacespin.org/article.php/venus_ ... eparations

And yes, it is in equilibrium with NO2 and if you let it out of the cylinder you will see that it turns into a big angry red cloud of NO2. For example: http://jesskitchens.smugmug.com/History ... 32&k=N3Eza

Ingolifs wrote:I was next to a dichloromthane still when it exploded. The guy doing the distillation forgot to open the tap tothe argon line to relieve pressure, and it basically exploded from overpressure with the sound of 1000 balloons popping at once. Glass was sprayed everywhere, a hole was punched in the ceiling tiles and my ears were ringing, but no one was hurt.


That much DCM vapor will probably addle your brain a bit. But at least it wasn't a flammable solvent.
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Re: Worst thing you've seen in a lab

Postby Argency » Fri Mar 23, 2012 7:46 am UTC

At my high school we had a few instances of dangerous oversights on behalf of staff members.
-> One teacher decided to impress his grade eight class by filling a giant burette with hydrogen gas, turning the tap on and lighting a match. Unfortunately he'd filled it to significantly higher than one atmosphere of pressure so it shot out the window like a rocket and shattered in a huge plume of flame on the opposite building. Needless to say there was no more learning to be had that day.
-> Another staff member who later became known as Brother Balls (he was a clergyman as well as a teacher) was reproducing the apocryphal Galileo/Leaning Tower of Pisa experiment by dropping a bowling ball and a lead slug from the top of the tallest school building. The entire physics faculty turned out to watch him drop these two objects through six floors of open windows (these particular windows were the sort that open outwards by swinging on a hinge at the top). Again, it took them hours to get the students under control and nobody got anything done for the rest of the day.
-> Finally, we had a school open day once a year which parents and grandparents of students were invited. Due to a labeling error, one poor teacher managed to fill a classroom full of geriatrics with acrid, choking white smoke. The fire alarm went off and the whole class came tumbling out of the building, coughing, with tears streaming down their faces, only to come face to face with the headmaster who was taking the school board of directors on a tour. Nobody was really trying to accomplish anything that day but I think it's fair to say that everyone's education was actually set back by that incident.
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Re: Worst thing you've seen in a lab

Postby eligitine » Fri Mar 23, 2012 3:38 pm UTC

I had an incident in my 9'th grade 'geo-science' class where the teacher was showing us how sodium burned in water. She had a huge 2lb block of it and would shave off a little bit to drop it in a big clear pot. She got called outside by campus security, and some dumb student desided to go up and drop the whole block in. I dived underneath my desk, and got strange looks for about a half second before the whole side of the room exploded in fire and smoke. The room was unusable for a month after that.
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Re: Worst thing you've seen in a lab

Postby Protofibril » Fri Mar 23, 2012 3:40 pm UTC

I was cleaving some peptide I had synthesized off the resin (solid-phase synthesis) in trifluoroacetic acid with agitation from an air line. Unfortunately, part way through the cleavage, the air line popped off the flask and the TFA started pouring out along with my precious peptide (~30 hours of work). My first thought was to try and save my research, so I stoppered the flask with my hand. I managed to reorient the flask so it wouldn't expel solvent, but my hand was already covered in TFA... Needless to say, I lost the top couple layers of skin on that hand.

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Re: Worst thing you've seen in a lab

Postby Scow » Fri Mar 23, 2012 4:10 pm UTC

Minerva wrote:Bloody hell. What sort of lab synthesis requires a cylinder of N2O4? Usually the only time you ever see a large cylinder of N2O4 is when you're loading it into something like this (note the appropriate PPE): http://spacespin.org/article.php/venus_ ... eparations


We are not a synthetic chemistry research group. The cylinder is for gas phase diagnostics and gas/surface interations research. These experiments need a large, very stable, and very pure continuous source of feedgas, or the spectroscopy goes all to hell. Your point is well made though. A cylinder of N2O4 requires an incredible amount of respect from the people who work with it.

Protofibril wrote:My first thought was to try and save my research, so I stoppered the flask with my hand. I managed to reorient the flask so it wouldn't expel solvent, but my hand was already covered in TFA... Needless to say, I lost the top couple layers of skin on that hand.


Now that is dedication. I would have said, "screw it...time for a beer."

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Re: Worst thing you've seen in a lab

Postby Scyrus » Fri Mar 23, 2012 6:30 pm UTC

Over 30 unlabeled test tubes and erlenmeyers (not empty of crouse).

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Re: Worst thing you've seen in a lab

Postby WarDaft » Sat Mar 24, 2012 3:20 am UTC

I haven't been in a lab much at all, so the worst thing I've seen has to be the professor distilling alcohol with the lab equipment. Right out in the open, at the front of the class. In high school.
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Re: Worst thing you've seen in a lab

Postby ikrase » Sat Mar 24, 2012 5:35 am UTC

I once had to stop somebody I knew from trying to make a stupidly large quantity of explosive. He was such a pyro, and was getting ready to go off the deep end. That guy was smart, but completely reckless and didn't even have the vaguest sense that what he wanted to make could blow him up. Fortunately, I don't think he actually knew how to succeed.

I once made red fuming nitric acid.
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Re: Worst thing you've seen in a lab

Postby PM 2Ring » Sat Mar 24, 2012 6:17 am UTC

The EGE wrote:I managed to quite literally melt an op-amp a month back. It's amazing how bad a burnt piece of plastic can smell.

Burnt plastic smells like a bunch of roses compared to a burnt selenium rectifier. :)

This thread needs a link to Derek Lowe's Things I Won't Work With.

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Re: Worst thing you've seen in a lab

Postby RollingHead » Sun Mar 25, 2012 5:36 pm UTC

In high school I had a substitute chiemistry teacher who clearly had no idea what she was doing. One time we were supposed to measure the temperature of boiling oil (I forget the larger point of the experiment, it was about two years ago) and she made us put the beaker on a bunsen burner and the mercury thermometer inside the beaker. I tried to tell her that our regular teacher would have used an electric burner on which the temperature could be set and not let the thermometer touch the bottom of the glass, but she didn't listen. When I informed her that the thermometer had broken she blamed us students, but at least she had the sense to call the lab assistant for help.

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Re: Worst thing you've seen in a lab

Postby Charlie! » Mon Mar 26, 2012 1:43 am UTC

eligitine wrote:I had an incident in my 9'th grade 'geo-science' class where the teacher was showing us how sodium burned in water. She had a huge 2lb block of it and would shave off a little bit to drop it in a big clear pot. She got called outside by campus security, and some dumb student desided to go up and drop the whole block in. I dived underneath my desk

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Re: Worst thing you've seen in a lab

Postby JWalker » Mon Mar 26, 2012 3:11 am UTC

I used to work in a lab that did a lot of research with high voltage field emission. That in itself is not so bad, but they were underfunded and didn't have proper safety in the way of grounding or insulation on their experiments. Essentially the walls of the lab would become charged and turning off the light would be enough to give you a high voltage shock. Not to mention the random uncontrolled high voltage arcs that could hit you. I have quite a few permanent tattoos from those arcs. They hurt a lot, and I hope they didn't do any permanent physical damage.

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Re: Worst thing you've seen in a lab

Postby gorcee » Mon Mar 26, 2012 3:16 am UTC

eligitine wrote:I had an incident in my 9'th grade 'geo-science' class where the teacher was showing us how sodium burned in water. She had a huge 2lb block of it and would shave off a little bit to drop it in a big clear pot. She got called outside by campus security, and some dumb student desided to go up and drop the whole block in. I dived underneath my desk, and got strange looks for about a half second before the whole side of the room exploded in fire and smoke. The room was unusable for a month after that.


Probably the only saving grace was insufficient water to do some more serious damage.

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Re: Worst thing you've seen in a lab

Postby algorerhythms » Fri Mar 30, 2012 3:04 am UTC

WarDaft wrote:I haven't been in a lab much at all, so the worst thing I've seen has to be the professor distilling alcohol with the lab equipment. Right out in the open, at the front of the class. In high school.

That really isn't that bad. In fact, back when I was in high school, one of our assigned chemistry lab projects was to distil alcohol. Now if he was drinking it out of the lab equipment, that would be a completely different story.

As for the worst thing I've seen in a lab, there have been quite a few, but the one that sticks out in my mind most is the time we were cleaning some pieces of vacuum equipment and putting the cesium-contaminated q-tips into a trash can, which spontaneously combusted.
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Re: Worst thing you've seen in a lab

Postby Dopefish » Fri Mar 30, 2012 3:27 am UTC

Some folks at the end of my lab bench in my first year chem lab liked to end every experiment by taking all of the chemicals used that day into one beaker, and heat that resulting mixture on a hot plate (this is while the TA's were typically busy giving end-of-lab quizes).

Thankfully nothing obviously bad resulted (no explosions or face melting smoke), but I do remember at least once the mixture turned completely black (having been made up of largely clear/translucent stuff initially). It's possible the chemicals available to us on any given day were intentionally chosen to not have any potentially terrible reactions possible, but combined with the heating it seems like a really terrible idea.

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Re: Worst thing you've seen in a lab

Postby PossibleSloth » Fri Mar 30, 2012 5:48 am UTC

I once found a small puddle of mercury while cleaning out a heat block. When I asked about it, it turned out that a postdoc had broken a thermometer a few weeks before and hadn't told anyone.

Dopefish wrote:Some folks at the end of my lab bench in my first year chem lab liked to end every experiment by taking all of the chemicals used that day into one beaker, and heat that resulting mixture on a hot plate (this is while the TA's were typically busy giving end-of-lab quizes).


That's possibly the most irresponsible thing I've ever heard :?

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Re: Worst thing you've seen in a lab

Postby eSOANEM » Fri Mar 30, 2012 6:49 am UTC

Dopefish wrote:Some folks at the end of my lab bench in my first year chem lab liked to end every experiment by taking all of the chemicals used that day into one beaker, and heat that resulting mixture on a hot plate (this is while the TA's were typically busy giving end-of-lab quizes).


Heating aside, this is my school's policy. At the end of the organic practicals we have to empty all our glassware into some waste bottles which sit in the fume cupboard. In theory it's meant to be split between halogenated and non-halogenated compounds but in practice the labels are hard to read so people often put stuff in the wrong one. Worse, because the glass is very dark, you can't easily see through to see the level so they often get filled until they overflow.

One time, after this happened, someone managed to get the lid on so tightly, with such a little air gap, that when it was opened, it broke the glass and ~4l of waste went everywhere.
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Re: Worst thing you've seen in a lab

Postby Scyrus » Fri Mar 30, 2012 12:38 pm UTC

Someone pouring distilled water into a highly concentrated solution of nitric acid.

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Re: Worst thing you've seen in a lab

Postby Odd_nonposter » Fri Mar 30, 2012 6:04 pm UTC

PM 2Ring wrote:
The EGE wrote:I managed to quite literally melt an op-amp a month back. It's amazing how bad a burnt piece of plastic can smell.

Burnt plastic smells like a bunch of roses compared to a burnt selenium rectifier. :)

This thread needs a link to Derek Lowe's Things I Won't Work With.


I think How Not to Do it is more fitting of the "lab idiocy" theme we've got going here.
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Re: Worst thing you've seen in a lab

Postby Karantalsis » Mon Apr 02, 2012 11:12 am UTC

Hmm. Someone areosolised HIV once. That was not so good.

I've also seen a large spill of purified bacterial toxin, spilt by a university professor. He left the room rather than clean up and didn't alert anyone. That was pretty danagerous.

I opened my freezer once and found someone had filled it with polio samples... without telling me. Or labelling them properly. Or racking them. In glass tubes. Precariously balanced.

Oh I once found a load of old mercury bottles just lying around. Also an old style AUC with a mercury resevoir open to the air.

Unvented rooms with THF and other such solvents jus thanging about in unsealed containers for HPLC. They were uncomfortable to work in.

Fortunately nothing at my current workplace.

Never thought about all that at once before.

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Re: Worst thing you've seen in a lab

Postby Alexius » Mon Apr 02, 2012 2:56 pm UTC

Minerva wrote:As far as I'm concerned, a Bunsen burner is something that belongs in a schoolkids' laboratory, and maybe in a microbiologist's laboratory, but it has absolutely no place in a serious organic lab. It's too dangerous to have an ignition source like that, and there's nothing you really would need it for that you couldn't do with a safer heat source like a mantle.

I know this is an old-ish post, but my second- and third-year university organic labs each had one fumehood with a couple of Bunsens and no chemicals in it. We used them for making melting point tubes and TLC spotters.

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Re: Worst thing you've seen in a lab

Postby førtito » Tue Apr 03, 2012 12:15 pm UTC

We had a course in which we used to get old Computers running again by taking parts of several and making one of it. One day the teacher came with a new Computer and that was owned by one of his pupils and told us that "this one was not working". We opened it, supplied it with power and no part at all had any electricity.
So the teacher decided to open the power supply unit of the Computer in order to "just have a look" at it. We saw a fuse that interrupted the power supply. Everytime we re-established the supply (sure we did unplug it first) the fuse just went off to interrupt supply again. The teacher concluded: "In order to see what is wrong with this computer we have to bypass it" referring to the fuse. I thought "WTF" and tried to get him from doing it as it "might be dangerous". He just insisted and went getting some Aluminium to bypass the fuse. During that time everyone in the room was just smiling at me and saying "This could get interesting" :mrgreen:

Teacher came back with the words "I did attach some oil to the Aluminium for it may be a better conductor". He bypassed the fuse and plugged the Computer to the net. Out of pure safty everyone else in the room kept a distance of about 5 meters or more.
It gave a loud "BANG" two condensators blew up with nice mushroom like clouds in grey and brown and the teacher (must have suffered a psychic shock) concluded the lesson with his unforgettable words:
"Ok get out of this room!" and when finally everybody was out "...and don't tell anyone about that incident"

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Re: Worst thing you've seen in a lab

Postby mbrigdan » Sat Apr 07, 2012 5:11 am UTC

Someone I know in a high school chem lab opened the stock bottle of ~14M ammonia outside the fume hood. That's a smell I'm sure the class won't forget very soon.
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Re: Worst thing you've seen in a lab

Postby selfassembled » Sat Apr 07, 2012 5:35 pm UTC

When one of the grad students took a mouse we had trained for 4 months into surgery and killed it during prep. The surgery was to implant a probe into its brain, so one must first anchor the head by slipping to ear bars into a ridge somewhere next to the eardrum. He slipped the ear bars right through til they met in the middle...

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Re: Worst thing you've seen in a lab

Postby The Geoff » Sun Apr 08, 2012 2:24 pm UTC

algorerhythms wrote:
WarDaft wrote:I haven't been in a lab much at all, so the worst thing I've seen has to be the professor distilling alcohol with the lab equipment. Right out in the open, at the front of the class. In high school.

That really isn't that bad. In fact, back when I was in high school, one of our assigned chemistry lab projects was to distil alcohol. Now if he was drinking it out of the lab equipment, that would be a completely different story.

As for the worst thing I've seen in a lab, there have been quite a few, but the one that sticks out in my mind most is the time we were cleaning some pieces of vacuum equipment and putting the cesium-contaminated q-tips into a trash can, which spontaneously combusted.


We distilled alcohol as part of our high school chemistry classes - the school had to apply for a Home Office (UK) license to do it. We even got to try a few mils just to prove it had worked - rum fermented from sugar. We were 17 at the time - the legal age for purchasing alcohol is 18 in the UK, but there's no limitation on making and consuming your own. (Top Tip: if you get distillation wrong it either poisons you or goes bang)

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Re: Worst thing you've seen in a lab

Postby eligitine » Tue Apr 10, 2012 3:00 pm UTC

Just yesterday I had a very interesting experience in the compsci lab I TA for. A student decided that it would be a great idea to figure out how high he could spin up a 22cm fan before it in his words, "exploded." He upped the voltage, getting the fan to start to whine, but decided it wasn't enough. He took a compressor nozzle and started to spray into it, making it go even faster. A high pitched whine whine was echoing throughout the lab, and the professor came up to said student, and said something along the lines of, "What the hell are you doing? This isn't safe," but in much less work friendly terms. The fan at this moment shattered, spraying shrapnel into the desktop beside the student, and the student's hand, arm and face. The ambulance showed up a few minutes later, and from what I heard, he had mainly superficial puncture wounds. They are no longer in the class.
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epigrad
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Re: Worst thing you've seen in a lab

Postby epigrad » Thu Apr 12, 2012 5:02 am UTC

Minced embryonic chicks.

"Worst" not "Most dangerous".

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Gear
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Re: Worst thing you've seen in a lab

Postby Gear » Thu Apr 12, 2012 3:02 pm UTC

Unfortunately common, if not hugely horrific (until, of course, they drop the beaker on the floor): "Oh, lemme just pick up this beaker of boiling oil/chemicals/water with my bare hands. Tongs are for wimps without asbestos hands."

Also (fortunately stopped before execution), "Hey, I wonder what happens if you put an unstoppered vial of mercury over this Bunsen burner?"
“What fun is it being cool if you can't wear a sombrero?”
~Calvin and Hobbes


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