Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Duck of Sabotage: still quacking in my home

Quack! I'm still here!
In March, I initiated a project to elicit stories of chemistry laboratory sabotage. In return for the best (or the worst) true story of sabotage, I promised this fine ceramic duck with 100 most excellent Chemjobber business cards and the finest hard candies of the land filling its back. The rules are in the original post; shortly afterward, I published stories from the early leaders.

I haven't had anyone e-mail me with stories for the contest or follow-up to claim the prize, even though I did have a few private stories of sabotage sent my way to assure me that 'it really does happen.' For the record, I believe that it does. [Heck, the Sezen doping is a prime example.] I still think, though, that it's a lot rarer than people might imagine.

I did want to highlight a blog comment from Heather Ames herself (the plucky grad student who caught a postdoc on video putting ethanol into her lab samples):
Can I have the duck? Ok, that might be unfair to the people who have dealt with this without getting favorable publicity. 
One point I do want to make is that, this happens, people do get caught, but generally they get fired (or warned) without other consequences. It takes a lot to make a prosecutable case, because if evidence is collected without warrants and confessions not acquired by police, you can't present them in court.
So, for now, the Duck of Sabotage still lives in my home. Again, if you have a story of chemistry laboratory sabotage to tell, the comments are open or you can e-mail me at chemjobber -at- gmaildotcom.


  1. Unrelated to sabotage, but relevant to the new picture of the duck:

  2. It really is tasty stuff. Just a little goes a long way, though.

  3. That dude is in desperate need of a Code Red.

  4. From Chembark's blogpost on the Sezen Files, Part 2:

    "It was at this time that one astute labmate noticed that the reactions only produced an appreciable quantity of product when Sezen had access to the laboratory in private. Operating on the assumption that she might have been tampering with the reactions, the labmate set up dual copies of a run-of-the-mill example of Sezen’s chemistry, the conversion of imidazole to phenylimidazole.

    At least, that is what the labmate told Sezen. What he actually did was to set up one reaction with imidazole as the starting material and the other with N-methylimidazole. The next day, when the reactions were worked up, the product expected of (plain) imidazole was present in both flasks. The methyl label had vanished from the other substrate…a result that could only be explained by sabotage."

    The grad student who set up this "sabotage the saboteur Sezen" experiment definitely deserves the duck.

  5. A post-doc in my lab once relayed a story about how he "sabotaged" his NMR solvents with TFA to discourage/prevent others from borrowing them, or "stealing from him" as he called it. He kept these solvents at convenient eye level, while hiding his good solvents in a drawer. It's not like he was paying for the reagents, so I don't know why he cared so much, but it was low move in my book.

  6. CJ, the bottle of Siracha and "graminate" counter nicely accentuate the yellow hue of the duck. I think it makes a nice conversation piece. Have you ever dressed it in seasonal/holiday attire?

  7. Sadly, no. I confess that the DoS does not spend a great deal of time on our kitchen counter, but resides elsewhere in our humble abode.

  8. Heather Ames has
    a)a story backed up with evidence
    b)asked for the duck
    so, come on, just give her the duck already!

  9. You know, that's pretty compelling logic. But the point of the duck was to draw out these stories from chemists*, so I think I'll keep it around for now.

    *You know the stories I'm talking about: "So-and-so famous group's students lock their hoods at night", "this prominent European group's students do intra-group reaction sabotage", etc., etc.


looks like Blogger doesn't work with anonymous comments from Chrome browsers at the moment - works in Microsoft Edge, or from Chrome with a Blogger account - sorry! CJ 3/21/20