Omission of experimental step was cause of explosion at Texas Tech

An undergraduate researcher was injured at Texas Tech University on March 10, when a “vial exploded while the student was collecting a dry precipitate powder with a metal spatula,” according to the Texas Tech “lessons learned” report about the incident.

The student and others in the lab were all wearing appropriate personal protective equipment, and the student suffered only superficial injuries, the report says.

“The cause of the accident is believed to be an omission of a hydrochloric acid precipitation step during the recreation of a synthesis reaction taken from literature,” the report says. “This allowed the unintentional formation of a diazonium salt that exploded during collection for further analysis.”

Texas Tech’s recommended actions to prevent something similar from happening in the future:

  • Researchers working on synthesis reactions with anticipated energetic products or intermediates need to be cautious of products created during the reaction series. As part of a regular hazard analysis conducted at the outset of experimental work, researchers should review and update their Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) to incorporate the possible hazard(s) of intermediate products. In this case, the intermediate product should have been identified as energetic on the basis of the reaction series being run.
  • All work with potentially energetic materials should be performed with plastic tools to reduce the possibility of friction and static discharge creating an initiating spark.

The University of California, Berkeley, also had a metal spatula versus diazonium compound explosion last year, although in that case the graduate student involved in the incident knew he was working with a diazonium perchlorate. He was also not wearing appropriate eye protection, and porcelain funnel fragments lacerated one of his corneas.

Author: Jyllian Kemsley

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2 Comments

  1. [Name calling removed by administrator] Plastic tools decrease chance of friction initiation, but increase probability of static initiation. You need conductive plastic spatulas for primary explosive work. Metal is fine only if whatever else is being involved is not hard. So glass is a nono, while a plastic buchner is ok while using a metal spatula.

  2. @a111111111111: Thanks for the comment, but please note that I’ve removed the name-calling. We try to keep things respectful around here.