Monday, September 15, 2008

mission accomplished

I successfully did not blow up the chemistry lab today. Which is no small feat, let me tell you.

We use, on an everyday basis, two quartz tube furnaces that go up to 1100°C. We normally use them with Ar or dilute H2/Ar mixtures. I've used them so much that I kind of forget that 1100°C is nice and toasty warm. I've never tried to roast a marshmellow, but I bet you I could.

Anyway, I set up a run today with 20% H2/Ar as the carrier gas. High concentrations of H2 + 1100 degrees of scorching heat + large cylinders of compressed gas is *probably* completely safe and sound, if properly set up. The biggest risk is static electricity, which can accumulate on the surfaces of insulators like quartz or tygon tubing. We got around that by using Cu tubing for the most part, grounded to metal monkey bars, and cooling our outlet vent.

It did have the potential to go completely and horribly wrong if it did in fact malfunction. Which, I guess, describes about 85% of all the experimenting I do around here. But, it's an interesting thought- if you were the student responsible for causing the serious injury or death of someone through your research, would you want to stay in Chemistry? If not, what would you do?


Jons said...

I think if it was a permanent sort of injury -- like they were paralyzed -- or death I would probably have reservations about returning to the lab.

I mean it would be pretty hard to not feel horribly guilty, even if it was a random sort of accident over which you had no control. Not just that but I would probably be on edge about messing up again.

I'm sure my chemistry skillz would translate into mixology well, so I'd become a bartender. My martinis would be awesome, analytically awesome.

Joel Kelly said...

Heh, I could do with an analytically awesome martini right about now. I'll have a gin martini with a twist of 0.1 M citric acid, please.

I would like to say I'd try my hand at a safer version of Chemistry, like theoretical, but unfortunately there's just something cool about working with explosive, caustic and/or flammable materials that makes me happy. Or at least until I burn my eyebrows off.

katiedid said...

I think it's one of the reasons I'm shying away from Chemistry actually. I know I can be a scatterbrain sometimes, like today when I'm all foggy-brained with a cold, and I would hate to cause harm to myself or others because of that. I kind of like my eyes and limbs.

So extra kudos to all you Chemists out there!

Joel Kelly said...

Man, I'm the biggest clutz there is. And I still have all my fingers and toes! I'd much rather be in the lab than doing something like construction or carpentry. Don't get scared off of Chemistry!

Will said...

I too work with 1000C+ degree quartz tube furnaces, but we don't use any carriers gases, just closed tube, or vacuum conditions, so I don't really worry.

As for your question, assuming it was serious, I would most likely leave the department whether or not I was asked to, but I'd probably stick with chemistry.

bri said...

hm, i'm gonna say I would go into the culinary field. But then again, I'm not a chemist and most of my "experiments" usually just involve some kind of new lighting...which doesn't really have the capacity to be quite so dangerous.