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Unforgettable reagent moments

Derek Lowe at In the Pipeline asked his readers this week, “What reagents will you never foget?” The responses are, well, attention-grabbing. Here are a few:

Worked in a stockroom as an undergrad back in the day. One of the faculty gave me a bunch of stuff to “dispose” of & said it was all good to put down the drain.

One solution was a cyanide and another was an acid. I’ll not forget that funny, not together unpleasant smell. Nor the feeling of my knees buckling.

Phosphorous Oxychloride

I was decomposing about 500 ml of used Phosphorous Oxychloride by dripping it slowly from a sep funnel into a large beaker of ice.

After talking with my lab partner for a bit, I noticed that the ice had completely melted and the POCl3 was sitting under the water layer un-decomposed.

Forecasting the inevitable eruption, the only thing I could do was close the hood door and pray.

Quite a mess when it went off…

As a metallurgist I generally have a pretty boring view of chemistry. At 900C pretty much all organic chemistry is just a low grade source of carbon. What is memorable is the once every few years that I have to etch an aluminum sample with hydrofluoric acid. No accidents, but it sure inspires care and rigid following of safety protocols.

The other memorable chemistry is mixing up Nital solutions (4% nitric acid in Ethyl Alcohol). A lab partner added alcohol to the nitric acid once, which generated an impressive volume of orange fumes that etched every exposed steel surface in the lab. My memorable encounter is just getting a few drops of nitric acid on my arm, It stings and leaves a stain that takes a couple weeks to fade.

Go check out Derek’s post for more!

1 Comment

  • Dec 14th 201308:12
    by chloralhydrate

    … POCl3… I’ve fond memories of that as well…
    Being from Central Europe (former east block), we have a little different system, when it comes to training – I started working on projects in research lab in my first semester of UG studies. One of the first reactions, I had to perform was a gigantic Vilsmeier-Haack: 1/2 l of POCl3 in DMF… To decompose it, I’ve used 13 l (one bucket of) icy water. But I still ended up with with a 10 l flask covered with a thick layer of viscous goo… So I decided to wash the stuff out with some icy water. I felt how the contents started boilingh immediately after the addition…

    I tossed the flask in our only (not so working) fume cupboard. Loud blast occured, and white fumes were ejected from the cupboard… Coughing, and with terror in eyes, I looked around. PhD student, that was my mentor looked on me calmly, and sayed: “Don’t worry. This has happened to everybody, that did this reaction…”

    Used to be interesting times… Next week after that I managed to make all the lab cry with vacuum rectification of ethyl bromoacetate (on the bench, as the apparatus won’t fit into the fume cupboard). All of this was viewed as “normal”. Now it makes good stories for my west-european colleagues :)

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