Wednesday, January 16, 2013

A modest proposal for personalizing lab PPE

Paul at ChemBark put up a great post last night about teaching younger kids to use their PPE and how best to get them to use it well:
I thought we needed to do a better job of making eye protection cool/fun, so first, we ordered them some safety glasses like “real scientists” wear (for general use) in lab. I bought three varieties of glasses from my favorite safety company. Each pair was only about $2—well worth the investment. 
At the next club meeting, we let the students choose what model and color they wanted. (To my surprise, the boys all wanted red frames while the girls opted for the black or clear frames.) Finally, in order to let the kids establish a personal connection to their PPE, we brought some knickknacks to let them personalize their glasses. These included rolls of colored tape and packets of jewel stickers that the kids could use to “bling out” their frames. This model had particularly wide frames that gave the kids a bunch of space to decorate.
I think this is a really interesting idea with a potential application to training actual young scientists (i.e. summer interns or 1st year graduate students). Most university chemistry stockrooms will only have a few  models of different kinds of laboratory glasses. Concerns about fit or comfort (or different shapes of faces) aren't really ever taken into consideration. Why couldn't young scientists get a fitting (or better yet) customization for their own faces for their lab glasses? (They could even maybe build prototypes and get them sent off for actual manufacture.)

That would be a great way for them to take ownership of lab glasses. You could imagine addressing the same problem with regards to lab coats (the small lab coat problem, for example.) Also, you could imagine getting federal dollars (which are already going to purchase PPE that sits on cabinets, etc.) for such a training program.

Better yet, if they had to pick lab glasses/lab coats and approach a variety of artificial-but-potentially-real safety problems (simulated acetone sprays, the shot of benzyl bromide I once took to the face, spilled 500 mL graduated cylinder to the chest etc.), it might get young scientists to see their PPE as their friend and protector, not some imposed burden. Readers, thoughts? 


  1. 3D printing might do the customization part - I think goggles are ideal objects for a 3D printing application. Each department or lab could have a 3D goggle printer connected to a face scanner. When someone need to get a new goggle, just scan and print!

  2. It's probably a small investment to buy fabric pens and stencils for kids (or students) to decorate their lab coats.

  3. Double sided tape and an inkjet printer (paper or film) and you can decorate anything. You do remember my blog's logo on my hardhat, right?

  4. Adding some things to your PPE is going to decrease effectiveness... especially with flammability or reactivity.

  5. I totally wanted to do lab coat badges (like Boy/Girl Scouts) for techniques that you've mastered. That way, the younger students realize that they should work towards having discrete skills.

    1. i need a 'like' button for this.

  6. I put my initials on the lapels of my white lab coat with a Sharpie to make it easy to find when it’s commingled with those of my colleagues, as in this PhD comic.

  7. I had a pair of very beloved safety goggles. In school, these goggles probably saved my eyesight in a bad explosion. After that, I considered them lucky and wore them everywhere until they disappeared from my lab coat pocket at a large heartless pharma company. I suspect a VP used them to walk through the labs to show how connected (s)he was with the people (s)he was going to lay off.

  8. Student writing also offers what published books cannot—direct, immediate connections to life inside your school and community. Teeversand online