Friday, 8 March 2013

A Chemistry of Errors

Chemist @clay_owens is having trouble with his students:
As you might expect, this has prompted the hashtag #undergradfail for stories of those endearing questions that inevitably arise. Such as this budding crystallographer:
To balance things out slightly, I thought I'd try to collect some 'grad fails' here.

Naturally, I've had a perfect lab career; ever since I made my first intractable mixture at the age of 7 by boiling milk in the kettle, I've managed not to create any hilarious anecdotes for my colleagues. If you don't count the time I accidentally melted a round-bottomed flask filled with activated molecular sieves and it went right up my manifold. Or the time I put a tap onto a freshly-opened canister of trimethylamine but forgot to add teflon to seal it. Or that time I got a faceful of methanolic ammonia...

Go on - what's the stupidest thing you've done in the lab?


  1. My favourite one I've heard online is of a TA telling an undergrad that filter papers were light-sensitive, and watching them hide it under their labcoat as they took it from the drawer to their fume hood.

    On a personal note, I once spent a week working on a compound. When I finally finished the synthesis, I dropped the rbf containing it, giving me a leg covered in DCM dissolved product. Devastated does not cover it, and I'm sure others have similar stories about much more time-consuming work being similarly panned.

  2. Now that's just cruel! Reminds me of a prank from my navy days*, wherein we would send newbies to find a long weight...

    I think we've all had the "100 hours of my life I'll never see again soaking into my labcoat" moment. A colleague of mine lost a difficult, relatively large-scale yield of a water-sensitive ligand into the Buchi's water bath because someone left the trap switched from vacuum to N2. He was not happy. For my part, I've not quite had this, but I did spend several months last year trying to get decent yield/purity on a compound which it turns out is probably not worth studying anyway. Sigh!

    *(in my mind)

  3. Milk in the kettle? Nearly as bad as the asshole who tried to cook pasta in our JCR kettle, thereby messing it up for the other 400 or so people who also use that kettle... and whoever it was wasn't 7 at the time, presumably.

    I did isolate a nice sample of elemental sulfur the other day, after a thiosulfate reduction...