Student unintentionally makes explosive at University of Bristol

motm-TATP-TWA University of Bristol graduate student inadvertently synthesized approximately 40 g of triacetone triperoxide (TATP) on Friday, prompting building evacuations and a controlled detonation by an explosives team, chemistry professor and Faculty of Science dean Timothy C. Gallagher has confirmed to C&EN. No one was injured in the incident.

The TATP was in solution and not isolated as a solid. When the student realized what had happened, the student handled the situation very responsibly, Gallagher says. Further response by the department, university, and emergency personnel “went like clockwork,” Gallagher adds.

Gallagher says that he is “absolutely convinced” that the preparation of TATP was unintentional rather than deliberate or with malicious intent.

Gallagher and others at the university are working to understand exactly how the student came to make the explosive, especially in such quantity. Once that is done, Gallagher plans to share more details and all lessons learned with the chemistry community. “It’s the right thing to do,” he says.

Chemist commentary: Chemjobber, Reddit

Local news coverage: Epigram (student newspaper), Bristol Post, Sun

Author: Jyllian Kemsley

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  1. Safety in the research laboratory should be of high concern for all of us, active researchers, authors and publishers alike. Regulations are certainly helpful, but common sense and knowledge are indispensable. Authors in particular have the duty to pass the knowledge of possible hazards on to the next generation. A few years ago I was asked to review a paper which inter alia described an oxidation of a thioether with H2O2 in acetone in the presence of KOH. Due to a few shortcomings I suggested the paper should not be accepted, in part because it lacked a proper warning. On the small (micromolar) scale and in the presence of KOH it was probably safe. My concern, however, was that an unsuspecting graduate student might take this prep as a blueprint, scale it up and carry it out in the presence of acid. Indeed, a leading reference (Comprehensive Organic Synthesis Vol. 7, Pergamon, Oxford 1991, Chapter 6.2.2.2.1) states “One of the simplest methods of oxidation of sulfides to sulfoxides is the use of H2O2 in acetone or preferably in methanol” without explaining why methanol should be prefered and without a warning that the use of acetone might be dangerous. The paper was eventually published elsewhere and, much to my dismay, without a warning. Although the standard of safety in the research laboratory today is higher than it was ever before, a few highly tragic incidences still teach us that all of us, authors, reviewers and publishers still have a duty to fulfill.

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