The cover story “How the Internet Changed Chemistry” (C&EN, Aug. 10/17, page 10) and the lab explosion at the University of California, Berkeley (C&EN, Aug. 24, page 36), may be related phenomena.
After hiring a college student who had never used a handsaw, I am concerned the current generation of students, while extremely computer-savvy, has been raised in sterile urban or suburban environments, handled chemicals in microscale organic lab, and is missing a lot of practical knowledge of materials that was once taken for granted.
The UC Berkeley explosion, involving 1 g of a diazonium perchlorate compound, is hard to fathom when the first thing you learn about diazonium salts is that they are generally explosive in the solid state and are handled in solution at low temperatures. The explosive nature of organic perchlorates is legendary, or at least it was when I was in school. No one who had set off cherry bombs as a youngster would consider isolating an entire gram of either class of chemical.
The recent fatality at UC Los Angeles, mentioned in the article, gave me the same impression. I inferred that the California chemist failed to follow written instructions and then attempted to extinguish a minor tert-butyllithium fire by emptying a beaker of hexanes on herself.
I think that the remedy for this situation is more time in the library, not more bureaucracy. The photo of the professor and the university “safety executive” working together reminds me of a quip my father once made, that knowledge did not result from the exchange of ignorance.
G. David MendenhallI don't have much to say in reply to former Professor Mendenhall's ignorance. Suffice it to say that I know that not all people of his imputed age and maturity are prone to such ignorant generalizations.
Let me correct the falsehoods that Dr. Mendenhall attempts to enter into the record:
- In the Sheri Sangji case, there were no "written instructions" to her on that day, nor had any member of the Harran laboratory trained her in the use of t-butyllithium in a written format.
- I object to the description of possibly up to 60 mL of t-butyllithium being spilled on one's self as a "minor" fire.
- There is no evidence that she attempted to extinguish the fire by using the beaker of hexanes.