Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Lab pranks?

For the last 3 weeks I've been working on making 10 g of an Iridium photocatalyst to ship out. It was requested to be at least 95% purity. Between learning to balance that, TAing organic chem, office hours, and my own classes, it's been a rough start. Today I finally finished the photocatalyst and between all the other stuff, prepped an NMR sample with 1,3,5-trimethoxybenzene to be used to check purity (which we actually ran after already shipping it btw). 
After getting back from office hours and class, I could see my lab mate wasn't too happy. He had the proton spectrum open and was telling me, "Man, this is not looking good. Dr. (Adviser) was looking for you and wanted to ask how things looked." About that time our PI came out of his office and asked how it went. My lab mate mumbled that it didn't look any better than 90%. I started panicking and slowly told him what I'd just heard. After a minute of telling me it was unacceptable and that maybe he shouldn't have written a previous letter of rec for me, both of them started laughing. 
My lab mate had chosen a really old/crude NMR of his, and then proceeded to open my actual spectrum. It was apparently ~99.27% pure, which we do without ever running any column.
First of all, maybe I am getting humorless in my old age, but I can't imagine ever thinking this would be a funny prank.

Do you all have any good lab pranks that you pulled? My labmates were all about rigging up hood sashes to do goofy things to people who had been on vacation for a while, i.e. you'd push your hood sash up for the first time in a week and it would pop a balloon or dump a cup of water on you or some such nonsense.

Readers, got any stories to share?  

45 comments:

  1. I heard a story from an old-timer about how his chemistry professor liked to sneak up behind students in a teaching lab, and pour ether in their pocket! I'm guessing the guy who told me this story was an undergrad around the 1940s.

    A favorite prank of mine from undergrad was to fill glass vials with LN2, cap them tightly, and set them on the ledge outside the window. They took about a minute to go off, and sounded like a shotgun blast. My advisor would always come into the lab wanting to know what the explosion was!

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  2. During my fourth year of graduate school, the desk closest to my hood opened up, so one morning I moved all my stuff to use that space. The new space was further into the lab, so when my advisor came into the lab that afternoon, he thought that I had up and left and came rushing through the rest of the lab. He and I had a good laugh out of that (He had an excellent sense of humor).

    He also told me about a prank played in a lab he worked in decades previously. They were working with FOOF, which has a distinctive red color, and is a serious explosive hazard. One of the researchers used food coloring to make a mock solution and waited until a colleague came over, then pretended to be doing something really stupid with the 'FOOF'. The poor colleague dived under the lab bench in fear of the expected explosion...

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  3. In the lab I did undergrad research in, people swiping other people's equipment, solvents etc. was a problem. I was tired of my deuterochloroform being consumed, so to the dregs of one bottle I added a little bit of all the other volatile solvents on my bench. It was tempting to add acid, DMSO, DMF etc. but I didn't want to be destructive. I then just left it on my bench and waited.

    A while later a grad student came in all frustrated that his NMR looked like shit. Then he had a {record scratch} moment, and said, "wait... what's in that deuterochloroform bottle on your bench?"

    Me: "Oh, a little bit of... (recites long list of solvents)"

    I savor his chagrin to this day.

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    1. ..I did more or less the same except that the person was stealing my Benzene. Yes during those days it was an acceptable solvent for silica column purification! In my plot, I filled up a bottle with water and little benzene at the top. The talk of the lab after few days was some stupid fellow used water to purify his sample. The culprit was was confronted and in private I warned him not to pilfer my solvents!

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  4. I had a coworker who was more afraid of roaches than would be expected of a 20-something grad student. For April Fool's Day we got a lot of plastic roaches, took them into the glovebox, and hid them in empty vials, under the fridge, on the shleves, in the rotovap, etc. He was momentarily startled but was amused.

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  5. This isn't a lab prank necessarily, but it happened to me in grad school. I had a rolling chair for my desk. While I was away on vacation and right before I started writing my dissertation, my labmates removed all five of the wheels from the chair and hid them around the lab. One I found in an antechamber, another in the actual glovebox, another 2 in various drawers in the lab, and of course, no one could remember where they hid the fifth wheel. So, for the remainder of my time there, I had to carefully balance the chair while I sat in it. Occasionally, I would be so focused on writing, I would forget about the chair, lose my balance, and end up on the floor. It was the prank that kept on pranking. Fun times. Come to think of it, I don't know if we ever found that 5th wheel.

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    1. were you in the jacobsen group? I've heard that story before, i think...

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  6. As a grad student I had coordinated with the science stores to file a pretend, but official-looking order for a head-to-toe Fischer Scientific fire battling suit. I did this while the boss was away, so he'd return with an order slip and confirmation letter in his mailbox. He returned, and weeks went by and he never mentioned anything. Until a large box showed up on my bench from Fischer with a gas mask (borrowed from the safety officer) and some folded tin foil to make it look like the suit.

    Across the order slip inside the box, written in bold, "Asshole."

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    1. This didn't happen to be at the University of Victoria by any chance...?

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  7. How are you quantifying NMR at hundreths of a percent for purity? I've always been told NMR isn't that sensitive on the lower field instruments (~500 MHz and less). Even with an internal standard, my company (when quantifying purity by NMR) reports purity in whole integers with +/- 1 % SD on a 400 MHz NMR.

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    1. I thought it was +/- 2%.

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    2. Yeah there's no way that they could ascertain 2d.p of a percent purity from an NMR.. Perhaps they had also run elemental analysis/whatever you do with iridium complexes to get that figure.

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    3. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless AssayAugust 30, 2017 at 2:59 PM

      Knowing how "rigorous" the field of fauxtoredox is, I'll bet that OP just crunched the NMR integration and called it a day

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    4. You are all not up to date regarding the development of quantitative analyses based on NMR-assays. With proper control of acquisition and processing parameters and good integration routines, +/- 0.1% is no problem when you have control of the impurity profile. I refer you to the book "NMR Spectroscopy in Drug Development and Analysis" (Holzgrabe, Wawer, Diehl)

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    5. Anon 3:38, not to be pedantic, but they are reporting 0.01% of an inorganic compound. Either way, if you refer to the reddit post where they are questioned on this, it becomes clear they did not perform anything beyond integrating a 1H NMR spiked with an internal standard.

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  8. In grad school, if anyone was in the glovebox, myself and another kid would shock you with those anti-static guns a bunch of times until you finally pulled your arms out of the glovebox.

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    1. What does that achieve?

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  9. In grad school, one of the post-docs put a final natural product he had taken a couple of years to synthesize on the community high vacuum pump. Soon after he walks away to his lab, there is a loud shattering of glass and the distinctive gurgling of the vacuum pump pulling air from the atmosphere. The frantic post-doc comes running around the corner to see one of his colleagues holding a hammer, a clean broken flask and an opened vacuum line. The natural product was fine and the valve to its round bottom was temporarily closed. One of the most evil things I've ever witnessed.

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  10. small chunk of dry-ice in a plastic centrifuge tube. dropped in the lab-coat pocket of an unsuspecting first year. loud BANG about 30 seconds later.

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  11. During grad school I had a coworker who was taking a really long time to write his paper and SI for a total synthesis he had jut finished. He asked me to read over an early draft so I had him send me an electronic copy to look over. For April Fool's day I made a mock journal article fully formatted to the journal he was submitting to with the same molecule being synthesized using his strategy by another group with random authors (changing the yields and formatting a little from his draft). I printed it out and handed it to him and will never forget the look on his face when he thought that he had been "scooped"

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    1. You worked pretty hard for that one. Tet. Lett's 2 page format made for easy "scooping" pranking back in the day. Using Seymour Butts and other made up names as authors also went over the head of most non-native English speakers and added to the fun. Since then the Simpsons have added exponentially to the list of fake author names. The only hard thing was keeping the disappointed co-worker from running to the PI's office before the prank was revealed to the victim.

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  12. A classic prank in the lab I did my postdoc with, was to wait until a first year grad student had just finished a particularly grueling column and left their tediously purified compound in a round bottom flask on the rotavap. While the person left the lab for whatever reason, we took the flask out and put an empty one floating in the rotavap water bath with the appropriate amount of water inside the flask (of course). I still smile when I think of all those sad faces when they came back to lab....

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    1. I've extracted a full rotovap bath at least 2 times in my life.

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  13. Here is a prank that was done to my old colleague at a research institute in Prague. Please note that it wasn't done by me (because I believe messing with someone's else experiments should be strictly off limits.)

    My colleague was disarmingly naive - a mind of a child within a bodybuilders physique. He was asking his colleagues elementary questions all the time. One day he needed to prepare a simple carbohydrate derivate (a glycoside, I think) and he found a nice solid old German procedure from 1912. So he was following the procedure and he was asking his other chemists in the lab about drying his final product "to the constant weight" as specified in the procedure. So his good friends explained to him he needs to put his material on a pre-weighted petri dish into a desiccator, and keep it there until the weight stops decreasing, which will indicate when it is finally dry.

    The early next morning they opened his desiccator, stole a small amount of his product (and kept it separate), my colleague weighted the petri dish with the product, and put it back. Before the end of the day, they stole another small portion, my colleague was disappointed - the material was apparently still dry.

    This went on and on, for several days actually, when his good friends finally tired of the prank and returned everything they stole back to his Petri dish. His confused reaction when he weighted it and found out it "gained weight" back to the original number after few days was priceless.

    There is a sad postscript to this story. Few years later, when I was already in US (and I actually ended up working in the lab with that prankster who was stealing his product in the story), we learned that our colleague turned violent and ended up permanently in a mental hospital

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  14. One lab-mate was working with an alkyl iodide that would discolor as it decomposed. He left the compound on the rotovap for a bit and another friend took his flask off the rotovap and replaced it with a flask filled with Coke Zero. Panic ensued. The key to a good joke of that sort, in my opinion, is telling your friend about the joke before they waste any time trying to purify Coke Zero.

    Along the same lines as the liquid N2 in a plastic centrifuge tube, a tiny piece of dry ice in a pipet bulb (tied off with copper wire) can inflate those things remarkably. If the copper wire is twisted so that the sharp ends are pointing towards the slowly inflating balloon...

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  15. What kind of grad school is this? A grad student prepares 10g! of iridium catalysts and ships them.. Where is the original research here? What is he/she learning here?

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  16. A favorite of mine is to clean out a rotovap receiving flask, fill with water, and add a goldfish. Just make sure you're in lab early the next morning to witness the confusion!

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  17. Put dry ice in a latex glove. Tie it off, and toss it under their desk while they are writing. Eventually, the growing object under their desk will hit their legs and get their attention.... If it doesn't pop and startle them first.

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  18. Thought a colleague of mine was fabricating results, so I switched one of the reagents in my flask without telling her. Somehow the product from the *original* reagent ended up in there. What a riot! The PI had to retract eight papers based on her work! Think she ended up in Turkey or something. I still chuckle over that one.

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    1. Dude, is it you writing completely unhinged comments about Sames in the comment section of In the Pipeline? Why don't you get your own blog to vent your grievances; if it is a good story I am sure people will read it.

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    2. It was just a joke...

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    3. she ended up a faculty member as well:

      http://www.gtu.edu.tr/en/personel/356/5411256/display.aspx

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    4. There were wholesale firings of academics after the failed army mutiny in Turkey. Anyone know if she was effected?

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  19. While I was a postdoc, I had a labmate who would download porn onto people's computers while they were working in lab. Not funny at all, but he thought it was a prank.

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    1. unwanted prank: a chemistry colleague who also doubled as IT support guy thought he would please our dirty joke-loving boss and he installed a screensaver on his PC, with skeletons demonstrating various copulating positions. This was in early 90s. He did not expect that our boss would get an important visitor, a prominent professor at major university, and the screensaver would kick in just as the two were sitting at his desk. Apparently the visitor was scandalized, turned red in his face and left the room.

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    2. Sometime in the 1990s, a kid in my advisor's group operated a porn website off a lab computer. Campus IT noticed that a computer in my advisor's lab was chewing up 10% of the entire university's bandwidth. It was before my time, but I heard it caused an enormous shitstorm!

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    3. Where I was, someone in another group printed out some salacious material late at night on his group's computers for personal use. Apparently he forgot to pick up the last sheet or two, and one of the early risers found it. She was...not pleased. I don't think his advisor was happy either.

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    4. A much less horrendous version: in my old lab one guy would think of the worst, most embarrassingly specific porn he could imagine, then whenever his colleague left his laptop open, type the words into the search bar - but NOT press enter. And leave the laptop open for all to see.

      That could be pretty funny; I wouldn't say the above comments were okay though!

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    5. That reminds me of a story from my old university. Each group would have a guy (usually a grad student) responsible for IT. Said guy would be in touch with the higher up IT guys from university. So one day, a complaint of central IT comes in: "Can you check who is hooked up to that IP in your group? That persons consumes an awful lot of porn". Turned out it was a visiting professor.

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  20. One time I was running a Pd/C hydrogenation on large scale (~2L flask). The product was stable under the reaction conditions and I had other scale-up work to do, so I let the reaction stir for quite some time in my hood. Only after starting the work-up and emptying the flask weeks later did I learn that one of my co-workers had drawn crude pictures on the flask in black sharpie that remained hidden by the black reaction mixture. He had a lot of patience waiting for me to work the reaction up.

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    1. this is pretty good, I think it does not qualify as messing with your reaction, which is where I would draw the line

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  21. I'm surprised there has not been mention of the old "switch out the flask of beautiful crystals for one of charred sugar routine."
    We all know what happens when someone in the lab gets a yield of gorgeous crystals; they go around and show EVERYBODY. When they put them on the pump and go to lunch simply replace with a flask containing black tar (burned glucose, etc). Gets em every time!

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  22. Prank between theoreticians: a former labmate aliased "emacs" to "vi" on my desktop.

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  23. Here's a harmless one. We used to confiscate lab mates high vacuum pumps and replace them with little army figures with a sign "vacuum pump". Our pumps worked on an external switch so when the researcher would come in and try to turn it on to nothing they'd have to find the army man.

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  24. The radiosynthesis lab at the first company I worked had a leaky roof. The chemists working there couldn't get it fixed, so in frustration ordered a canoe from a catalog. It was delivered.

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