Thursday, January 22, 2009

Lab Safety - Ignore at your own peril

Once again, a life was needlessly lost because of poor safety procedures in the lab.

Researcher Dies After Lab Fire

UCLA research assistant burned in incident with tert-butyl lithium
By Jyllian Kemsley

A research assistant in the University of California, Los Angeles, department of chemistry and biochemistry died on Jan. 16 from injuries sustained in a laboratory fire that occurred in December, the university has confirmed.

UCLA officials declined to provide C&EN with specific details of the incident, pending an investigation. But according to a Dec. 30, 2008, e-mail to C&EN from department chair Albert J. Courey, university investigators believe that on Dec. 29, Sheharbano Sangji, 22, was drawing tert-butyl lithium (t-BuLi) from a bottle into a syringe when the plunger came out of the syringe barrel. The chemical, which ignites spontaneously in air, splashed onto Sangji's clothes and set them on fire. Sangji was burned on her hands, arms, and upper torso, for a total of 40% of her body. After initial treatment at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, she was transferred to the Grossman Burn Center in Sherman Oaks, Calif., where she died.

An unconfirmed description of the accident was posted on Jan. 7 to the ACS Division of Chemical Health & Safety e-mail list by Debbie M. Decker, a member of the division and a UC Davis chemical safety officer. It says that Sangji was wearing safety glasses, a sweater made of synthetic material, nitrile gloves, and no lab coat and that the t-BuLi ignited her sweater and gloves.

Synthetic materials such as polyester are "analogous to solid gasoline," says Neal Langerman, the founder of the company Advanced Chemical Safety and a consultant to the ACS Committee on Chemical Safety. "Once it ignites, it burns just like a hydrocarbon, so it really is inappropriate lab apparel by itself." A lab coat might have prevented the sweater from igniting and reduced the extent of Sangji's injuries, he says, although he emphasizes that he is speculating. Fire-resistant gloves are also available, Langerman says, although they are bulky and reduce dexterity, which can also lead to accidents. "That problem hasn't been adequately solved," he adds.

Sangji graduated from Pomona College in May 2008. She was working at UCLA while applying to law school, says her former adviser at Pomona, chemistry professor Daniel J. O'Leary, who is now at Bowdoin College. Sangji spent three years working on peptide chemistry in O'Leary's lab. "She was just a wonderful person," O'Leary says. "Many, many people are mourning her loss."

When asked whether he is reconsidering safety procedures in his lab at Bowdoin, O'Leary says, "Just about every organic chemist works with hazardous and dangerous things. This can only serve as a wake-up call to redouble efforts to be safe."

The incident remains under investigation by the California Division of Occupational Safety & Health and the Office of the State Fire Marshal, says James Gibson, director of UCLA's Office of Environment, Health & Safety.

C&EN
January 22, 2009


I wonder why she did not do the extraction inside a glove box under an inert atmosphere like argon, which is SOP in all the labs I had worked in if one is handling energetic materials. Even wikipedia has it under the safety section (about handling butyllithium).

I also cannot believe she did not wear a lab coat. That's cardinal sin number 1. More details here.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Change we can believe in

The crowd was silent, and all eyes in the room were transfixed on a white screen projecting live images of a ceremony hundreds of miles away heralding the change that has come to Washington, DC. Students, faculty and staff alike - there were even cheers and applause when he appeared and when he stepped up to give his inauguration speech.

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I find the following two bits most captivating:

What the cynics fail to understand is that the ground has shifted beneath them - that the stale political arguments that have consumed us for so long no longer apply. The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works - whether it helps families find jobs at a decent wage, care they can afford, a retirement that is dignified. Where the answer is yes, we intend to move forward. Where the answer is no, programs will end. And those of us who manage the public's dollars will be held to account - to spend wisely, reform bad habits, and do our business in the light of day - because only then can we restore the vital trust between a people and their government.

Nor is the question before us whether the market is a force for good or ill. Its power to generate wealth and expand freedom is unmatched, but this crisis has reminded us that without a watchful eye, the market can spin out of control - and that a nation cannot prosper long when it favors only the prosperous. The success of our economy has always depended not just on the size of our Gross Domestic Product, but on the reach of our prosperity; on our ability to extend opportunity to every willing heart - not out of charity, but because it is the surest route to our common good.

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To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict, or blame their society's ills on the West - know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy. To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history; but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.


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Compare that to the politicians and senior civil servants of a little red dot half a globe away, and they pale in comparison.

When a government has lost touch with its people, what right does it have to continue to lord over them?

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Dear President Obama,

Welcome to the White House and good luck. You will need it, and I hope you succeed.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

The shift in mindset has already started

It's been about a month since the start of my new job. I am still in school, but my status has changed somewhat. The new group is nice and I am trying to settle in as quickly as I can. I am still single, and can still afford a few more years of being poor and be dedicated to the pursuit of my craft.

However, the contentment of living a graduate student's lifestyle has been replaced by a lust for a proper dwelling fit for yuppies and an appreciation for a well-done kitchen. Somehow I feel the days of surviving with cheap pizzas and sodas are over.

Yes, I like the fact that my group is working on scientific problems which are intellectually intense and challenging but I have started to think about life beyond the lab. And of course, what I miss/need most now is a partner. If things work out the way they are supposed to be, she might be joining me next year from Singapore.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Fiscalis - NBR's Fiscal Stimulus Commercial

Saw this on TV yesterday. Self-explanatory...

Tuesday, January 06, 2009