Scars from a lab explosion

I’m finishing up a cover story for C&EN, so in lieu of a round-up today I’m just going to point to a post by Corrie Kuniyoshi on the Chemistry Grad Student & Postdoc Blog. Kuniyoshi got her PhD from UCLA in 2005 and now works for ACS on education programs:

Lab Tales: How A Chemistry Lab Experiment/Explosion Changed My Life

Whenever I see the name t-butyl lithium it makes me feel a little nauseous. It isn’t just because of how the mention of this chemical has been circulated in the media lately (Google t-butyl lithium in the news), and it isn’t just because as an organic chemists I know about the potential dangers of this extremely pyrophoric base. It is rather because I have several inches of permanent scar tissue on my arm and a smaller scar on my face to remind me how chemical burns can have a lasting impact.

Other than my dissertation, my most prized possession that I took from the lab is an old pair of safety goggles I wore that night. It has a big white splotch where there was back-splash from the explosion just over the lens that was protecting my right eye.

(h/t Chemjobber)

Author: Jyllian Kemsley

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  1. I too bear scars from a laboratory accident. In my case, the accident occured because I scaled up a reaction where epichlorohydrin was one of the primary reactants, without understanding that simple nitrile laboratory gloves are insufficient for use with this compound. Though I did not observe any exposure at the time, that evening at home my hands began to ache and by morning I had blisters over most of my fingers, and on a spot on my wrist just above where the gloves ended. These were treated as second degree burns. Though they healed after a month or so, I permanantly lack pigmentation in the burned areas.

    Moral of the story: check glove compatibility before working with any new compounds

  2. I have a small scar on each hand from when I put the lid on a cracked NMR tube. The tube fractured almost lengthwise giving a glass shard in each hand, which each of my hands proceeded to drive into the opposing hand.

    after doing experimental chemistry for the last 15 years, 99% of my accidents (where there was actually an injury) have been stabbing myself with glass or needles.

  3. In his book, The Periodic Table, Primo Levi discussed the mark of the chemist, a scar from accidentally sticking glass tubing into the hand while assembling apparatus using corks or rubber stoppers. Martyn Poliakoff has a video about it.

  4. I have chemically and thermally burnt twice with scars to prove it from bromoacetic acid and tert-butylcatechol after lab suppliers put both these low melting solids in standard lab bottles. The fused masses had to be warmed up to get the stuff out.

  5. that dude needs a haircut