Building laboratory safety skills critical to undergraduate education
Jun13

Building laboratory safety skills critical to undergraduate education

From this week's issue of C&EN, a letter on laboratory safety education: I read Rudy Baum’s editorial “Educating Ph.D. Chemists” with interest, especially the discussion about safety culture in academia versus that in industry and government laboratories (C&EN, March 28, page 3). We continue to hear about a weak safety culture in academia. After many years’ experience working as a research chemist and as a health and safety manager in government, I believe the gap in the knowledge of chemistry graduates is a result of the inadequacy of the safety education process for chemistry un der graduates. Building a safety-conscious culture requires constant reinforcement of safety in all laboratory processes. If academic institutions would incorporate safety throughout the entire undergraduate curriculum, bringing up safety at each and every laboratory session over the four years of study, then they would begin to build stronger safety cultures. This in turn requires that faculty and staff become strong leaders and proponents of safety, not just in words but by their actions, demonstrating that safety is a critical and important component of all chemistry. Realizing that many would not know what an undergraduate student should learn about safety, Dave Finster and I wrote an undergraduate textbook, “Laboratory Safety for Chemistry Students.” [Jyllian notes: C&EN previewed the book a year ago.] Using this or some other resource to provide lessons in safety for each laboratory session will over time build the kind of safety culture that is needed in academia. This not only serves undergraduates who go on with their undergraduate degrees to become secondary school teachers and chemists working in industry, but it can also prepare graduate students to safely carry out their research in academic labs. Skills in laboratory safety should be essential and critical elements in the undergraduate process. The reason that safety is a critical skill is that if you don’t follow safety principles and practices, you or others can be injured or even killed. This cannot be said of other areas of chemistry study. Current educational efforts do not adequately teach the knowledge needed to develop strong laboratory safety skills. There are many ways to incorporate safety throughout the curriculum, including prelab assignments, lectures, homework assignments, etc. Academia needs to develop a strategy to teach strong laboratory safety skills to its undergraduate students. Robert H. Hill Jr. Stone Mountain, Ga. I've covered several schools' approaches to undergraduate laboratory safety training over the last year. Anyone else doing something interesting with their lab curricula? Who's tried using Hill & Finster's book and how did it...

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Celebrating IYC with a Children’s Book
May23

Celebrating IYC with a Children’s Book

In celebration of the International Year of Chemistry, South African children’s author Ginny Stone has written a children’s book about chemistry. In "Sibo Mixes Things Up," the main character--a young girl named Sibo--has made a huge mess and has to clean it up before her mother finds out. Her friend Lennie comes to the rescue and helps clean up the mess with a chemical “magic potion.” Sibo becomes curious about chemicals and wants to learn more about them. So her teacher invites a guest to come talk to her class about chemistry and how it helps them in their everyday life. The book is the 10th in a series of Sibo books by Stone. "Chemistry only gets introduced to kids in Grade 6 or 7 in South Africa and I figured there is no earthly reason for them not to know about it when they are younger," she says. Stone debuted the book during SciFest Africa, South Africa's national science festival, which was held this year on May 4-10 in Grahamstown, South Africa. For more information about the book, visit: www.sibo.co.za/sibo_2_011.htm Photo by Ginny...

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IYC Weekly Round-up, 5/14-5/20
May20

IYC Weekly Round-up, 5/14-5/20

Here are some of the IYC happenings from the last week: Today, May 20, is World Metrology Day. Go forth, and celebrate. Be sure the check out the Peeps chemistry diorama Linda Wang wrote about earlier this week. ACS President Nancy Jackson made her first of two appearances on the "The Best of Our Knowledge" radio program. More than 800 students participated in hands-on activities during the two-day Malaysian Chemistry Carnival. Impossible2possible launched its running expedition of Bolivia's Salar de Uyuni, the largest salt flat in the world, where four youth ambassadors will also participate in chemistry experiments that will be broadcast live to participating schools and posted on the i2P website. Part of Philosophically Disturbed's Chemistry365 series, Magdeline Lum's post about capillary action includes this mesmerizingly beautiful...

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Kids Grasp Water’s Importance
May12

Kids Grasp Water’s Importance

Posted on behalf of Charles Michael Drain, chemistry professor at Hunter College of the City University of New York As part of the celebration of the International Year of Chemistry, graduate student Jacopo Samson from Hunter College of the City University of New York and I participated in the “pH of the Planet” experiment with over 250 seventh grade students from Readington Middle School in Hunterdon County, N. J. During the last week of April, the students brought in water samples from wells, lakes, rivers, and streams. After viewing a National Geographic video about water on YouTube and discussing the properties of water, students worked in pairs to observe the turbidity and use indicators to determine the pH of 3-4 samples. Seventh grade science teachers Gerry Slattery and Chip Shepherd helped plan the experiment and worked with students when they had questions. A couple of students then tabulated the data and determined the average for each water source. Both the students and I were impressed that their averages matched well with what we determined using a calibrated pH electrode. The tabulated data is being uploaded to a database along with pH values of local water sources determined by students from every part of the planet. “I didn’t realize how many people don’t have access to clean water and how important pH is,” seventh grader Zach...

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Salmonella outbreak linked to laboratories
May10

Salmonella outbreak linked to laboratories

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention has traced Salmonella Typhimurium infections to exposure in clinical and teaching laboratories, according to an April 28 report. The strain involved in the illnesses is one that is commercially available for use in microbiology labs. The outbreak identified by CDC involves 73 people from 35 states, with the biggest number (six) from Pennsylvania. Of those 73, 44 had contact with a microbiology laboratory in the week before they became ill. Salmonella causes diarrhea, fever, and abdominal cramps, and usually lasts 4-7 days. Notably, what happened in the lab didn't stay in the lab: "several children who live in households with a person who works or studies in a microbiology laboratory have become ill with the outbreak strain," the CDC report says. In some of those cases, Nature reports, the laboratory worker didn't get ill--he or she just passed it on to household members. One person died from the outbreak but CDC doesn't say who it was; 10 others were hospitalized. The CDC report contains some reminders of good microbiology lab practices. Change "bacteria" to "chemicals" and it's good advice for chemists, too: Be aware that bacteria used in microbiology laboratories can make you or others who live in your household sick, especially young children, even if they have never visited the laboratory. It is possible for bacteria to be brought into the home through contaminated lab coats, pens, notebooks and other items that are used in the microbiology laboratory. Persons working with infectious agents, including Salmonella bacteria, must be aware of potential hazards, and must be trained and proficient in biosafety practices and techniques required for handling such agents safely, including: Wash hands frequently while working in and immediately after leaving the microbiology laboratory and follow proper hand washing practices. This is especially important to do before preparing food or baby bottles, before eating and before contact with young children. Do not bring food, drinks or personal items like car keys, cell phones and mp3 players into the laboratory. These items may become contaminated if you touch them while working or if you place them on work surfaces. Do not bring pens, notebooks, and other items used inside of the microbiology laboratory into your home. Wear a lab coat or other protective uniform over personal clothing when working in a microbiology laboratory; leave it in the laboratory when you are finished. Remove protective clothing before leaving for non-laboratory areas (e.g., cafeteria, library, or administrative offices). Dispose of protective clothing appropriately or deposit it for laundering by the institution. Take it out of the laboratory only to clean it. If you work with...

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Making a Case for the Overqualified
Apr06

Making a Case for the Overqualified

You think I’m qualified for the job? I’m delighted you think so! When do I start? What’s that? You said overqualified? Really, now, that’s quite a compliment. You’re making me blush. I’m sorry – am I missing something? You say “overqualified” like it’s a bad thing. Oh…I see. I’ll just show myself out, then. In my current combined job search and self-discovery vision quest, I’ve been met on different fronts with the recurring theme that a wealth of experience may, in fact, be a detriment. There is no shortage of “expert” advice, online or otherwise, suggesting that you should hide or neglect to mention years of education and/or employment. If your light is too bright  or its spectrum contains too many wavelengths for the position, hide it under the nearest bushel. Okay, honestly, I do get it – target your resume and cover letter toward a specific position. Focus I understand. However, I can’t completely evade the feeling that this gamesmanship of playing hide-and-seek and cherry-picking facts seems disingenuous at best, dishonest at worst. It’s somewhat against the grain of how one is trained to think as a scientist. Even if one hasn’t been met with this particular o-word per se, it lies not too far beneath concerns that are more openly stated. Prospective employers are worried that so-called overqualified candidates might jump ship at the first opportunity for a better position elsewhere. They’re concerned that after going through the interview process, they won’t be able to seal the deal because their budget can’t meet the candidate’s salary requirements. They fear their new hire may soon be bored. This sort of thinking is, well, a bit risk-averse, shall we say. A recent post by Amy Gallo on the Harvard Business Review blog makes a case for taking such a risk. A challenge is posed: “When making hiring decisions, visionary leaders don't just focus on the current needs, but on the future.” So, will the final hiring decision for the position you desire be made by such a visionary leader? Does the future lurch and loom darkly before them, or will they embrace the challenges ahead? I think it's safe to say that most people would prefer to work for someone in the latter category. A perceived benefit for a hiring manager to adopt this mindset is driven home: "Hiring overqualified candidates can help you achieve much higher productivity, grow, and achieve opportunities that you may not even be thinking about pursuing right now." There are other less obvious benefits too: these employees can mentor others, challenge peers to exceed current expectations, and bring in areas of expertise that are...

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