Tell Us Your Very Best Stories From Inside The Lab

Illustration for article titled Tell Us Your Very Best Stories From Inside The Lab

Let's face it: Sometimes the process of doing science is a lot messier (and more fire-prone) than it seems from the outside. Today, we want to hear all your best, most harrowing stories from inside of the lab.


Whether the story is of of a very near miss that you just managed to avoid, or a solution you Macguyver-ed for some not-quite functioning equipment, or something else entirely, we want to hear it. Be sure to include what kind of lab your story takes place in, what you were trying to do, and what (if anything) you gleaned from it.

Image: totojang1977/Shutterstock.

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Dr Emilio Lizardo

I think I've told this one before, but here goes.

Back in college, our advanced organic chemistry class shared lab time with the required Freshman Chem 101 class. There were maybe 10 of us and 100 of them. The prof once had to do some stuff on a day when all the TA's were absent for some reason so he put us in charge. 20 year olds in charge of 18 year olds. Not a great idea, but he mistakenly trusted us for some reason. So we got the Freshman pointed in the right direction on whatever (to us) was a very easy assignment, got our own stuff done while answering a few questions and then it was fun time. I don't remember what I did, but one of my friends decided to make high explosives. The prof came back and checked on the freshman, then on us. Everybody was doing something different which he was really quite pleased about since it showed initiative and that we enjoyed our class. He went down the line asking what we were doing to amuse ourselves. He got to my friend who was smirking and had a beaker full of clear liquid. Prof looks at the reagents and smiles, having some idea of what's going on.

"Watcha got there?" he asks in his Arkansas drawl.

"Nitrated toluene ring."

"How many nitrates?"


During this exchange, one of the freshman had come up to ask him a question. Prof looks at the freshman, points at the beaker, and says "TNT." Freshman gets wide eyes and backs away slowly. Nothing to worry about. It's perfectly stable in solution. It isn;t dangerous till you evaporate off the solvent.

This was also the day I used a fire extinguisher for it's intended purpose for the first and only time in my life.