Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Why best practice literature is essential to chemistry

Q: So what is the prognosis on your hands so far?
A: The right hand is pretty good. And the left hand is missing 3 fingers, but they say that's looking pretty good.

Q: How's your vision?
A: It's fine. It's certainly not as good as it was before. But it's certainly good enough to do everyday things. So I don't need to spot eagles from, uh... you know.

Q: Are you right or left handed?
A: I was left handed. I'll have to be right handed now.

-from the transcript of an interview of the Texas Tech lab explosion victim.  
Jyllian Kemsley has outdone herself again with a great analysis of an incident at Texas Tech University, where a graduate student made 100 times the recommended amount of a highly explosive material, nickel hydrazine perchlorate. When it exploded, he was severely injured.

While the sheer recklessness of the incident is pretty remarkable (as Paul Bracher points out), something that I find frustrating is the lack of training provided to the students by their research advisers. US government labs have been performing energetic materials research for many, many years -- there has got to be a wealth of literature available about how to safely handle potentially explosive materials.

When confronted with potentially hazardous operations, researchers should be constantly asking themselves: is this the best practice? What do people much more experienced and knowledgeable than I think of what I'm doing? What does the literature say about what I'm doing? Do I think this is the safest or best way of doing this? There's no reason for more fingers to be lost.

1 comment:

  1. I like how in the beginning of the interview, the student asks whether the process is punitive. When the EH&S people say no, he goes on as if everything's OK.


    You don'tt think it can be used against you in a court proceeding? Argh. Take a lesson from Bengu...get a lawyer.


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