This blog is my attempt to reconnect with the world of chemistry. I have a PhD in Inorganic Chemistry and make a living doing research for a large company in Michigan. As times have changed, that company has changed its focus and I no longer have as much chance to do the basic, fundamental research which I most enjoy. Through this blog, I am hoping to recapture the magic which I felt during my graduate (and undergraduate) days in college. Expect topics on chemistry and alchemy along with some non-chemistry related items which I think might be interesting.

"The chymists are a strange class of mortals, impelled by an almost insane impulse to seek their pleasure among smoke and vapour, soot and flame, poisons and poverty; yet among all these evils I seem to live so sweetly that may I die if I would change places with the Persian King."

Johann Joachim Becher (phlogistonist)
Acta Laboratorii Chymica Monacensis, seu Physica Subterranea, (1669).

Thursday, May 1, 2008

The Value of Good Eyeware

When I first read this article discussing lab accidents, I couldn’t help but feel lucky that I have never been really hurt in the lab. I’ve only been involved in one serious accident – an accident which only occurred because of a momentary lapse in vigilance. I try to remember that incident every time I feel like taking a shortcut with regards to safety. Then I read this blog post which discusses the hazards of diazomethane and it reminded me so much of my “incident” that I decided to describe what happened.

I was preparing some molybdenum compound whose name I cannot recall using some reagents which I no longer remember. (The experiment was such a flop, I apparently never recorded the details anywhere) The only thing I recall is that one of the reagents was an organic azide (or something very similar). I knew about its tendency to explode and so I was very careful for 99.9% of the synthesis. I followed the prep to the letter, using inert atmosphere techniques, and dutifully wore my safety goggles throughout. After filtering the final product, which should have been very inert, I was disappointed to see only a thin layer of reddish brown material on the frit. I took the glassware apart and tried to get a closer look, but there was so little material left on the frit that seeing it was difficult with smudged goggles. Since the reaction was over and no one else was doing anything close to my bench, I foolishly removed my goggles for a better look. Bending down so that my eyes were level with the frit, about a foot or 2 away, I used a spatula to scrape the material away from the frit. The only warning was the appearance of a spark followed immediately by the detonation. Except for a minor abrasion to one of my corneas, I was totally unscathed. The glassware, however, was another story. The top 6 inches of the glass frit had been totally obliterated. No pieces were ever found, but the benchtop was covered with fine glass powder. To say I was lucky would be a huge understatement. I still don’t understand how I wasn’t blinded.

Since we’re on the topic of eye injuries, one of my former bosses was hit in the eye back when he was an organic grad student. He decided to take the bus over to a doctor to get it checked out. Apparently he had damaged the cornea, since the fluid in his eye was slowly leaking out. Ewwww! Not only was his vision in that eye getting blurry during the bus ride (which would have been freaking me out), but his fellow passengers were also treated to watching his eyeball slowly collapsing during the trip. That would have kept me off the bus for weeks.


Chemgeek said...

That is scary. I bet you and most other bench chemists could tell dozens of stories in which eyeware has most likely saved their vision.

About a year ago I had some boiling nitric acid splatter in my face. That hurt, but my safety glasses saved my vision.

Chemist Ken said...

Every time I think about what could have happened, I start sweating. I was really, really lucky.

David Bradley said...

The old guy who used to look after the stores in my Department (this is pre-health and safety and very pre-COSSH used to wander in and out of the benches sloshing ether and acetone from Winchesters into gaping flasks...while smoking! No one ever said a word, and he retired unharmed. Quite amazing really. It would have only taken the tiniest of mishaps to have sent us all to that great laboratory in the sky.