Happy Accidents: Glasnost for Broken Glass

Happy Accidents: Glasnost for Broken Glass

Erlenmeyer exploded and broke glasses

Picture of broken glass.

Credit: shutterstock

Happy Accidents: Scientists share their stories of broken lab equipment.

In early March, medicinal chemist Keith Hornberger discovered, Write on X(formerly Twitter), asked about tales of broken laboratory glassware. His son had just broken a cup in high school chemistry class.
“The whole idea was to get people to share some stories that I could share with him and cheer him up a little and make him realize that he’s not alone. Boy, have they arrived?'” Hornberger tells Newscripts.
Becca Mellema, PhD student He responded To this post, she recalls a time when she was working with a group of science teachers at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry where she gave a popular demonstration to a group of children using hydrochloric acid and sugar. Typically, the demonstration process is to pour sugar into a cup, add hydrochloric acid, and watch the black snake-like structure explode. But on this fateful day, Mellema and her colleagues couldn’t find a beaker, so they used an unlucky Erlenmeyer flask to conduct the reaction.
“It’s an exothermic reaction, where the pressure was building and there was heat. It turns out that if you don’t have the neck of a cup big enough, the whole thing explodes,” says Mellema.
Fortunately, Mellema and her colleagues set off the reaction behind a blast shield, so no one was hurt. At the very least, she says, the bottle “went out in a blaze of glory.” She wanted it.”
Jessica Pomerantz, also an author He responded In Hornberger’s article, she recounts that in the first hour of her first day of training at Princeton University’s Plasma Physics Laboratory, her mentor Karl Szathmary took her on a tour of the lab, where she saw “this very complicated piece of glass. He says, ‘Whatever you do, don’t break this. “.”
“In my mind, it was a few moments later. I don’t even think I was doing the actual lab work yet. I think I liked moving my hand and I broke it right away. It just shattered. And that was my start in plasma physics,” Pomerantz tells Newscripts.
But the glassware can be replaced, even if you have to order it in advance and pick it up in person, as was the case with this particular machine. Szathmary “kept me on as his intern, which was very nice, and we got through that very easily,” Pomerantz says.
“We just want to talk about things that went well. But that’s not how research works. Ninety-five percent of research fails. I think we need to normalize talking about that,” Hornberger says. “It was really nice to have Everyone is willing to come together around this and have a little fun with it, too. “I think my son appreciates a little more now that these things would happen, and he wasn’t alone.”

That’s why we become journalists now

Picture of laboratory accidents

Credit: shutterstock

Safety First: Laboratory accidents may have affected the career choices of some C&EN employees.

Hornberger’s post even inspired some C&EN employees to share their stories of chemistry gone awry.
Brianna Barbeau, an associate editor in the Physical Sciences group, remembers breaking a critical piece of tubing on an expensive potentiometer when she was an undergraduate. Her counselor quickly fixed the problem “with a tube of glue he kept in his office along with the antidote for cyanide poisoning,” she says.
Before Craig Bettenhausen, a senior editor in the Business Group, came to C&EN, he was a high school chemistry teacher. He once left sodium metal reacting with water too hot during a classroom demonstration. “The metal mass melted, which then reacted all at once, creating a huge cloud of steam. We had to evacuate the entire school, and six students had to return to their dormitories to shower with sodium hydroxide. It’s a good thing we’re all wearing glasses and gloves!” he says. Bettenhausen taught at A therapeutic boarding school, where many of the students were in juvenile detention or had been expelled from other schools. “The academic director called me after things had calmed down. I thought I had definitely been expelled. No, he was excited that we were doing real experiments. It was the most confidence some These kids have been around for years.
Please send comments and suggestions to newscripts@acs.org.

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