10 years ago, Sheri Sangji died following a lab fire

The syringe Sangji was using to transfer tert-butyllithium when the reagent ignited. (Credit: UCLA)

The syringe Sangji was using to transfer tert-butyllithium when the reagent ignited. (Credit: UCLA)

Today is the 10th anniversary of Sheharbano (Sheri) Sangji’s death from injuries sustained in a laboratory fire at the University of California, Los Angeles. From C&EN:

Her death pushed some chemists to try to improve academic lab safety culture to prevent similar accidents at their own institutions and beyond. C&EN asked scientists from all corners of the chemistry community to describe their efforts. Read on for their strategies, including incorporating safety into chemistry education, improving training, and developing resources to help people work in a safer manner.

Yet large-scale, systemic change remains elusive, as demonstrated by grievous incidents in the decade since Sangji’s death. Postdoctoral researcher Meng Xiangjian died in a hydrogen explosion at Tsinghua University in 2015. Graduate student Preston Brown lost three fingers and damaged his eyes in a nickel hydrazine perchlorate explosion at Texas Tech University in 2010. And postdoc Thea Ekins-Coward lost one of her arms in a hydrogen-oxygen gas mixture explosion at the University of Hawaii at Manoa in 2016.

Adding to that list, in early December one researcher was killed and three others were injured in what seems to have been an explosion of a hydrogen-oxygen gas mixture at the Indian Institute of Science’s Laboratory for Hypersonic and Shock Wave Research. A few weeks later, three students died in an explosion involving sewage treatment experiments at Beijing Jiaotong University, according to local news reports.

And those are just the incidents that C&EN knows about that involved deaths or significant permanent injuries. Many others had milder consequences, though they could’ve easily been worse.

To learn more about how to improve laboratory safety culture, particularly in academic research labs, read C&EN’s package.

Author: Jyllian Kemsley

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2 Comments

  1. And every one of these accidents could have been avoided by spending a few minutes with Goggle and researching the safety ramifications of what they were doing.

    When I was an undergrad fifty years ago it was a lot ore difficult without the search engines we have today But I researched as best I could along with picking the brains of the postdocs and faculty before I would embark on a new project.

    I guess that I can thank the influence of my late father who worked with some pretty nasty toxics at the duPont Experimental Station and lat me work one summer with him before going off to college.

    There is really no excuse for most of these accidents.