November 22, 2008

Labs Suck

I have 3 sets of columns to finish running so that I can get my samples done before Thanksgiving. This was the plan, anyway, because more Sr will be run on the SEM in early December, and I wanted my samples to be among them. So I got in at 9am and found a parking space, in spite of the insane football traffic in advance of the noon game, and started preparing columns. Unfortunately, I couldn't get the centrifuge to work, so I sent out email to a bunch of lab staff to see what I was missing. One of the grad students, Mike, came in around 11 and got the centrifuge on. I set it up, all was good, and an undergrad happened to mention that one of the lab rooms smelled funny. Mike determined that the hoods weren't working - the hoods that suck out all the bad fumes from the gross chemicals (mostly hydrochloric, hydrofluoric, and nitric acids) - and ordered us all out until Public Safety can get the hoods working again.

So I have some columns drying out, but fortunately didn't lose any samples because I hadn't loaded them yet. I was a bit worried about having been in a lab with no functioning fume hoods for 2 hours, though. The MSDS (material safety data sheets) of course told me that all of these acids are highly corrosive and that, if inhaled, a person should immediately get fresh air or oxygen and see a doctor. The MSDS, though, always seem to be for the highest concentration of a given chemical: and I was fairly certain that it was 7 molar nitric acid that was making the fumes, as that was the only acid I was using (I had 14 beakers drying down on a hotplate). 7 molar isn't all that high, but I ended up going to Student Health anyway, weaving my way through the throngs of hooligans headed to the game, as it was 11:30 by this point.

Fortunately, the physician's assistant there said that, were I going to get pulmonitis, it would likely have been acute and it would have shown up by that point. Based on my presentation, he didn't think there was anything to worry about. But, if I develop asthma-like symptoms within the next 24-48 hours, I should get myself to the ER, where they'll do a chest xray and maybe give me steroids. Whee!

I think I'm going to sit in my house with the humidifier on all weekend attempting to clean out my mucous membranes of any inhaled nitric acid. This will leave me quite far behind on my sample prep and unable to make the early December deadline. Double whee! Why do I pretend that I'm a scientist?

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