UCLA Professor Patrick Harran Strikes Deal with Prosecutors

June 22nd, 2014

BulldoodyPatrick Harran, the UCLA professor who faced four felony counts in connection with the death of Sheri Sangji in a laboratory fire, has struck a deal with prosecutors that allows him to avoid charges in exchange for a $10,000 fine, 800 hours of community service, and running a lab free of safety violations. So long as Harran completes his end of the terms of the agreement, he will avoid trial and have an untarnished criminal record.

What a relief!

As an assistant professor in charge of a research lab, I could not be happier with this outcome. I have a lot of stuff to worry about, and ensuring the safety of my students cannot be allowed to get in the way of important things like finding consulting gigs, collecting awards, traveling to international conferences, and stealing ideas for grants. All of those OSHA rules are meant for industry, not academia. The bar for what passes as safe in academic labs is clear, and people who want to work under moderately safe conditions know better than to go to graduate school. The government simply can’t expect me to be responsible for what happens in my lab, which is well over 50 feet from my office and not even the same direction as the restroom. I’m happy to buy enough safety goggles and almost enough lab coats to outfit my students, but the rest is up to them. If Aldrich has written a technical note on their hazardous experiment, my students know not to bother me.

The most important aspect of the Harran deal is how it extends the long, proud tradition of excusing PIs of any professional responsibility for their work. Society recognizes that professors are only supposed to have good things happen to them. We get the lion’s share of credit for papers, not the students or postdocs. We get the big salaries, not the students or postdocs. We get the awards, not the students or postdocs. On the flip side, professors must be protected from negative consequences at all costs. If an accident happens in one of our labs, that’s the students’ fault. If multiple papers from one of our labs contain fabricated data, that’s the students’ fault as well. Clearly, professors are not responsible for supervising their groups for integrity or safety. We know this because Dalibor Sames and Patrick Harran are still in charge of their labs. I applaud Columbia and UCLA for recognizing that you can’t discriminate against professors for trivial things like irresponsibility and incompetence. Anyway, it’s the competent professors you need to watch—lightning never strikes twice, right?

Of course, I realize that there should be some consequences when something truly horrible happens. In these situations, professors must arrange for perfunctory punishments that allow all of the parties charged with oversight to save face. That’s what we saw here: UCLA threw some money at a scholarship in the victim’s name and at establishing a safety program it should have had in the first place. Personally, Harran was forced to donate money to the hospital where his student died. Incidentally, I think $10,000 was way too much; the man only earns $301,000 a year. How is he going to make ends meet with just $291,000? At least Harran’s lawyers were clever in how they disguised the 800 hours of community service as a major inconvenience instead of court-mandated preparation for the Broader Impacts section of Harran’s next NSF proposal. Killing two birds with one stone is exactly why good lawyers get paid the big bucks.

In all seriousness, I think the deal agreed to by prosecutors is a grave injustice, but one that comes as no surprise in today’s legal system. Without any changes to the material facts of the case, how does the DA go from charging someone with four felony counts to striking a deal that allows Harran to have a spotless record with a payment, community service, and actually doing his job of running a lab free of safety violations? Note that this was not a plea bargain; Harran pleaded guilty to nothing—not a misdemeanor, or even an infraction.

The game plan of Harran’s legal defense was quite effective: delay, delay, and delay. They gummed up the works with continuance after continuance and motion after motion. In the end, it appeared the prosecutors were willing to do anything just to clear the case. I mean, was this deal what the prosecutors were holding out for all of these years? What makes it all the more worse is that the original deal called for 400 rather than 800 hours of community service. The judge had to step in and double it.

My heart goes out to Sheri’s family for their loss. While I think our legal system has denied them justice, my hope is that the field of chemistry does not forget what happened to her. I hope UCLA’s reported new-and-improved safety culture persists, and I hope the rest of the world of academic chemistry also strives to do a much better job regarding safety than it has in the past. At the very least, I can guarantee you that Sheri’s death has had an indelible, positive effect my approach to safety and how I manage my lab and students.

 

For more coverage: C&EN’s Jyllian Kemsley and Michael Torrice have done a fantastic service for the community in covering the case, and Chemjobber has been curating links to coverage on his site.


43 Responses to “UCLA Professor Patrick Harran Strikes Deal with Prosecutors”

  1. 00000000000000000 Says:

    lol. What BS, although my only comfort is you probably had to write this to make yourself look good to your department. Someone chooses to transfer a pyrophoric reagent next to an open beaker of pentane, and it is everyone’s fault but the experimenter’s. This like charging the gas station if you set yourself on fire as a result of smoking while filling your tank.

  2. Paul Bracher Says:

    @Zeros: I’ve already acknowledged that Sangji was partially to blame. She paid the ultimate price.

    I think this case is more like charging a driver for failing to ensure his passengers are wearing seat belts.

  3. Richard Chalkley Says:

    Well, well, well…

    No surprise really.

    Been watching this one with great interest from ‘across the pond’ (Scotland to be precise)

    As a ex-organic Chemist turned University School Health and Safety Manager, I’m outraged at this, but not surprised. True, it sends a stern warning but we will only really improve safety across all of academia when a PI finally serves time.

    I’m not saying that it is all bad. I am involved with some really great labs. Over the years though, I’ve seen some shockers.

    At least he did not get off scot free and this will stain his reputation forever.

  4. Graet Chem Says:

    Disappointing, but not surprising. As the previous commenter said, the poor safety culture in academia will not be improved unless robust action is seen to be taken against those who do not live up to their duty of care.

    However, my question in all of this is what about the departmental management? What could they have done to challenge and require their staff to behave in a safe way and encourage a good safety culture? Harran did not work in isolation here. Although I think should be brought to account, it does feel like the department management have hung him out to dry somewhat while they skip off into the sunset.

  5. Graet Chem Says:

    Just been over to the thread about this on Chemjobber.

    I have to say that some of the comments allegedly from the academic community are pretty shocking here. I’m afraid I am left completely unimpressed by the pleadings for special treatment here because ‘our productivity’ might suffer. Just who do these people think they are? In the real business world we do all the health and safety stuff properly and mangage to maintain productivity just fine (and that is in an environment where we are really judged by the bottom line).

    Sadly, it doesn’t shock me that many academics are so out touch with the rest of the world on this as they have been protected pretty well by the dubious status of research students. What disappoints me most is that they seem to think that they can engender sympathy from the rest of the chemical community for their poor attitude to safety, when many of that chemical community have specific responsibilities for health and safety in their businesses, many of which have been pioneers for safety programmes.

  6. Jyllian Says:

    @Graet Chem: “it does feel like the department management have hung him out to dry somewhat while they skip off into the sunset”

    Can you explain more about why you feel that way? I know you’re not alone in that sentiment, but I have a hard time understanding it. The district attorney decided to charge Harran, not his department, UCLA, nor UC. And the DA charged UC, also, though UC settled pretty quickly.

    We don’t know why Harran’s settlement took so long. It’s entirely possible that his deal was on the table from the start, he just didn’t have much incentive to take it since UC has been paying his legal bills. And, of course, he still has a job. Granted, his contract may have been such that UC was required not to fire him and pay his legal bills, but at the same time he’s not fighting a breach of contract suit, either.

    Publicly, UCLA has been nothing but supportive of Harran. See, e.g., http://newsroom.ucla.edu/stories/charges-dropped-against-uc-regents-236963 (and other press releases, but the UCLA newsroom site seems to be having problems right now).

  7. Hap Says:

    n0: If you ran a gasoline dispensary at a tobacco plant, perhaps your analogy would be accurate. Or perhaps you are used to a different form of entertainment than me – I don’t normally dispense t-BuLi on the week between Christmas and New Year’s, but I don’t know, maybe you couldn’t figure a better way to light candles?

    I’m not certain why people whose job is to teach people how to perform research have no duty to make sure that their students perform it safely, when 1) teaching people how to do research is the basis of their jobs and 2) the expectations of safety are significantly strongly in industry, where the individuals are supposedly already trained how to perform research safely. The student/coworker dichotomy that universities profit from doesn’t seem to matter here, because either role seems to mandate better training for researchers and more responsibility for supervisors than is seen here. If the safety and training environment for grad students is akin to people working out of their garage, then why do universities get so much overhead to maintain the workplace?

  8. X Days Accident Free Says:

    Well, it looks like we lab safety officers will have to pick up the slack…I know that it can be a huge pain to instill/enforce a culture of safety but, ultimately, it’s worth doing (even if there is little/no support from PIs or the department)

  9. LMM Says:

    @Graet, X Days: I feel like the ‘safety culture’ that safety officers try to promote is often as much a part of the problem as it is a part of the solution. The reluctance associated with following departmentally proscribed safety precautions is as much practical in most departments as it is anthropological. Much of the safety equipment is poorly fitted to the point of being almost unwearable. I’m small enough that I wind up swimming in many lab coats, and overly long sleeves, particularly loose ones, easily become a safety hazard in a wet lab. In retrospect, a broader range of lab coat sizes — plus, perhaps, a few minutes spent fitting sleeves with a tailor at the start of grad school — would have accomplished what years of safety lectures failed to do.

    At their best, safety talks can easily be memorable and engaging. I can still quote lines from a lecture I attended nearly a decade ago at the start of grad school by an OChem prof who described in detail intermediates we should never consider including in a synthesis. But the ones I’ve seen from many safety officers come across as bland and out-of-touch, and that really reduces the amount of credibility afforded to the people in that position.

    Something has to change in academia. The problem is that those with the credibility to make the change have no desire to do so, and those with authority have no credibility that they could use to enforce their mandates when students turn their backs.

  10. Chemjobber Says:

    Here’s Jyllian’s post/information on small lab coats: http://cenblog.org/the-safety-zone/2013/08/uc-expands-its-lab-safety-program/

    Dunno if it would help you LMM, but it’s a start.

  11. bluekirby Says:

    While reading the first part of the post all I could think about was how such an argument is legal if applied to shell companies.

    As a student in a synthetic inorganic lab at an R1 institution, emphasis on safety has been poor. The safety training that new grad students go through involves lots of long packets, seminars, a single gas-cylinder training (if applicable), an annual fire training quiz done online, and enough information to be able to maintain order while being a TA for an undergraduate GenChem/OChem lab. And since I joined a lab the only safety training I have gotten is the annual fire quiz and the gas cylinder training (during my 3rd year since it wasn’t available my 2nd…) And my usual source of information, the post-doc in the lab, is very helpful on most subjects and general knowledge, he doesn’t supervise me at all times and so I haven’t learned much from him in this area.

    It is a shame that progress in the field of safety only gets made when some truly horrific event happens. I’m pretty knowledgeable about the chemicals I work with and take extra precautions with the more dangerous of them, but I often wonder what my daily exposure to solvents and small amounts of misc. chemicals will have on me in the long run.

  12. Chemist Says:

    I am a ~40 year old PhD holder who works a multinational firm. If I wanted to do the reaction that Sangji was doing when she died, at any scale, a safety review with my supervisor, a couple other PhDs from my group, and someone from process engineering would be mandatory. At the scale she was at, you can double that and add my boss’s boss into the mix. She was not remotely trained or prepared to do that chemistry. Not even close.

    Harran got off light, but the bigger problem still remains – safety is awful in grad school.

  13. SackMass Says:

    The problem is the relative grey-area that academia falls into, employment legislation wise. If the accident had been in an industrial setting, Harran would have been thrown in jail and the key tossed away. How do you police a lab in an academic setting when nobody is technically employed by anybody. In such a situation, assigning responsibility for safety is difficult at best. What’s needed, in my opinion, is a massive shake-up of the student/supervisor (or in this case RA/supervisor) relationship. Specifically, to set it in legislative stone that members of the supervisor’s lab are their employees and the supervisor is directly responsible for their safety, so that the same strict controls that are present in industry can reign over academia.

  14. Dr. Mel Says:

    I think the key word in the entire column was the word “professional”. Educators despise professionals but have much to learn from them, especially the medical doctors and the engineers, on liability. What do I think will be the most significant outcome of this series of events? An increase in interest by PI’s on liability agreements with their institutions as a matter of hiring and personal purchase of liability insurance. I have no doubt that the ACS will create and sell academic liability insurance if they do not do it now they should.

  15. UCB Says:

    I just finished a post-doc at UC Berkeley – during which the new safety policies were implemented. I don’t want to be critical of the author of the C&EN article (as she has to rely on the information that has been provided by her sources), but in no way, shape, or form has any improvement in ‘safety culture’ been achieved – though the new PPE was pretty swank.

    It’s a great demonstration of how higher level administrators think that you can solve such a problem through the keen insight, and sharp crafting of a new regulation.

    In our lab, on the first day a new member starts, they are expected to read (and sign) over *a hundred* SOPs (standard operating procedures), each of which is often over ten pages long. How many people do you think read a thousand pages of technical material on that first day? Nobody has, and nobody ever will.

    Next up is the $40,000 “Laboratory Safety Fundamentals” online video. All you have to do is skip to end of each video and answer a multiple choice quiz. You’ll get it wrong the first time, but it will tell you the right answer. Load it up again, and in 10 minutes you are finished without a single thing learned.

    My supervisor was actually pretty good about pointing out the safety shortcomings of our group. The real problem? He was never around. What I never saw happen was another student point out where a peer wasn’t behaving safely. Yes, everyone wears PPE now – but only because we don’t want to be blamed when the lab gets fined.

  16. Graet Chem Says:

    @Jyllian – Chemistry is a specialist discipline where students are exposed to more and more serious hazards than many other academic disciplines. Therefore it is not unreasonable to expect that, at the department level, additional safety procedures must be adopted, beyond those generically produced by the wider university, to ensure the health and safety of staff and students doing experimental work. The overall responsibility for this must rest on the head (or chair) of the department as they have the authority and administrative power to enforce these procedures. It has been made clear that there was next to no oversight of Prof. Harran’s lab safety practices at the time of Sangji’s death and therefore it is clear that the procedures that are the responsibility of the head of department were not sufficient to ensure safety. I would regard this as a failure of the departmental management and one that should have resulted in some kind of punitive action, however we hear nothing of the sort. This is why I think Harran has been hung out to dry by his immediate supervisors (although he deserves little sympathy).

    As for UC/UCLA’s actions, they seem entirely consistent with an institutional response to minimise reputational damage on honour contractual agreements regarding legal cover with an employee. I wouldn’t see them as any genuine and heartfelt support of Prof. Harran by senior university leaders, just an attempt to brush the whole affair under the carpet as quickly as possible so that it doesn’t affect admissions and donations.

  17. Graet Chem Says:

    @LMM – I agree, an overbearing centralised safety management culture is just as damaging as a laissez faire type attitude. That’s why the real task is to get everyone involved in safety as it is everyone’s responsibility!

    To be optimistic, industrial chemistry had an horrendous safety record a few decades ago, but they did managet to turn it around with the likes of DuPont launching world-class safety programmes. It is possible, but it seems that the impetus is only created when people are seriously injured or killed.

  18. x Says:

    I believe if this “accident” had happened in another institution, the outcome of the case would have been significantly different. UCLA is a top school with great reputation. They successfully protected their reputation by paying huge amounts of money to top lawyers and defending their faculty member.

  19. ABTD Says:

    It seems that funding agencies don’t care. He was given at least two grants this year.

  20. Polymer Phil Says:

    The culture of grad school is toxic and needs to change. In addition to the safety problems, which wouldn’t fly either at an industrial employer or even in an undergrad teaching lab, a lot of PI’s would find themselves in hot water with the HR department if they worked in industry and treated underlings and colleagues the way they do. When I was in grad school, there was a university HR department that didn’t really do much of anything – if they insisted on an environment of mutual respect and professionalism like a well-run corporate HR department does, it would be a good start toward fixing the dysfunctional culture of academia.

  21. CanuckGradStudent Says:

    I’ve seen several comments on this article, here and elsewhere, referring to the incredible pressure to perform and lack of care on the part of the PI. Is this a trend that’s much more noticeable south of the border or do I just not see it up here because I fell into a lucky research group?

    In circumstances such as those of the Sanji case my PI would likely want to supervise the whole process, especially if I was as new to the job as she was. In fact the first time anyone in our lab uses anything pyrophoric they’re supervised by either my professor or myself. While lab coats aren’t mandatory at my institute they’re highly encouraged and we all seem to have the sense of when they’re necessary and when they’re not?

    After reading the details of the case it seems like Harran did his due diligence (The student technically had all the required training) but stopped there. And while he has shown remorse, I can’t help but think my PI, and most PIs, would be a little more devastated by something like this.

  22. The Iron Chemist Says:

    If I remember correctly, the accident happened relatively late at night. One topic that I’m surprised hasn’t been mentioned is that the long hours that a lot of faculty demand of their workers are certainly contributing to poor safety conditions. I’ve known people in grad school who worked such long hours that they would fall asleep riding their BIKES on the way back from lab. Sleep-deprived people working with chemicals- yeah, that’s safe and will result in high-quality results.

    And with respect to the safety training, I’d agree that it’s mostly window dressing in its current form. I’d suspect that it’s best tailored at the lab level, rather than the department. The department could provide some modules and the lab head/students could decide upon what’s most appropriate, given the nature of their work, and avoid overwhelming students with material that might not be relevant. SOPs can help, if administered correctly, but they are not a substitute for actual oversight and responsible mentorship.

    The students themselves aren’t blameless; I’ve seen students at four different institutions ignore pretty fundamental (and common sense) safety measures. Most students I’ve known certainly haven’t sought safety training, and a substantial number blow off supposedly mandatory meetings on the topic. Many of them are merely following their advisors’ leads though, and the faculty certainly aren’t blameless either. The faculty set the tone for the lab and should be providing oversight.

    How should the blame be allotted amongst the two groups? I don’t know; it probably varies from case to case. How should the blame be allotted here? I don’t know; I certainly don’t know either party nor how they really interacted prior to the accident. What I do know is that I’ll do everything I can to avoid having something like this happen in my own lab.

  23. Jyllian Says:

    @UCB: You can’t put all responsibility for safety training on institutional EH&S. General EH&S training will necessarily be general. Individual labs must step up to address their individual concerns.

    @Iron Chemist: No, it was not late at night, though your question about long hours generally is a good one.
    http://cenblog.org/the-safety-zone/2014/06/myths-of-the-sherisangji-case/

  24. labrat Says:

    I know a lot of PI’s and grad students who have no idea about this incident. Other than a few schools, departments and individuals, nobody learned any lessons from this accident. Any news on the most recent Minnesota lab accident?

  25. LMM Says:

    @Chemjobber: It’s mostly in the past now (my work now is mostly biochemistry), but it definitely sounds like a good start for the UC system.

    What’s striking is that the UC system needed to custom order lab coats in order to purchase ones that fit all of their scientists. I wonder how many other safety hazards in academia could be as easily dealt with….

  26. Jyllian Says:

    @labrat: This is what’s known at the moment about the Minnesota incident. I should be able to learn more once they’ve finished their investigation.
    http://cenblog.org/the-safety-zone/2014/06/explosion-injures-university-of-minnesota-graduate-student/

  27. Chemjobber Says:

    @LMM: Not many. I presume that the scientific lab coat industry basically rides off the coattails/is cross-subsidized by the health care lab coat industry… so ordering things in bulk (especially when you’ve promised a judge you will) is relatively simple. If only we could order common sense and considered wisdom in bulk…

  28. Len Says:

    I’m torn on this. I’d like to have all of the details and be able to make an educated decision on whether the accident was preventable. I do love to see the university standing behind their faculty until all of the relevant ino is available.

  29. EA Says:

    Yes, the safety culture in many academic chemistry labs is very lax.

    Since there are unemployed elderly chemists (“pfizered”) Chemistry Departments should each hire one of them, to become a “teacher of good laboratory techniques”. This person would be allowed access to all labs, with the assignment there to teach the graduate students and postdocs how to work safely (pyrophoric reagents, flammable gases under high pressure…). Of course, legally each PI will still be responsible for the safety of the people in his/her lab.

  30. Chemjobber Says:

    @EA: Great idea.

  31. ABTD Says:

    See ChemJobber’s site for note on how UCLA is bragging that they won the case.

  32. Paul Bracher Says:

    @ABTD: Yup. I left a comment in that post yesterday. That press release (from UCLA’s lawyers) is revolting.

  33. abcd Says:

    Paul: Why would the driver be charged for the passenger not wearing a seat belt? is this actually a law in your jurisdiction?

    EA: hire an old generation chemist would be counter to this circlejerk. They teach to know what you are working with and take appropriate precautions, and can often be found working in a suit with no goggles. The sanji case seems to have a huge following obsessing over the lack of a labcoat, when really the issue was the open beaker of pentane that was knocked over next to her.

    Sincerely,
    an old generation chemist that almost never wears a labcoat.

  34. Probably an invalid opinion Says:

    I wish I was surprised that everyone is pointing a finger at Harran, but after all this is academic chemistry and everyone is a die-hard liberal that subscribes to the “blame game/it’s not your fault attitude”. Was Harran at fault? Yes. Was the student at fault? Yes. Was the rest of the lab partially at fault? Yes. The scary part is that this could happen to 95% of the professors at R1 Schools … a freak accident and someone gets hurt/killed. Harran did not want this, but at the same time, i am sure its been years since he ran a reaction/stepped into the lab. Students are trained by more senior students / postdocs … bad (or good) techniques are passed from generation to generation. That young lady should have NEVER ever ever ever ever been syringing that t-BuLi…u never pull solutions, you ALWAYS push them via N2 especially when you are dealing with any more than 5 mL. Someone in lab should have said something, since this was not the first time she ran that reaction.

    The reaction (no pun intended) to this case is so annoying. Safety backlash…now, the safety people who KNOW absolutely nothing about chemistry or how things work are patrolling the halls and saying “wear your labcoat” – and i am standing there doing dishes with SOAP and WATER! The problem is that most graduate students at these “top schools” are on the line of inverse relationship between intelligence and common sense; they frankly, dont even think about what they are doing…they just mindlessly robot their reactions b/c they are on the brink of physical/mental/emotion collapse. i wasnt alive during the cool days of chemistry, but those guys were gangsters, not wearing gloves, lab coats, or even goggles and reactions were exploding like it was their job. Were people hurt? Were people killed? Yes, but it was extremely rare, just like it is today. The difference is they paid attention! They wanted to be there. Today, the number of grad students that are just “there” is unbelievable and this is even at top schools.

    The bottom line to this whole rant is that everyone has to be responsible for their own actions and the actions of the others in the lab. If you see something legitimately unsafe, say something to that person. If you think there is a safer way to do a reaction, suggest it. If there is a cabinet that is rotting with rusty cylinders and old ethers that are probably most peroxides, say something and get it cleaned up. It is a collective effort always.

  35. Chemjobber Says:

    everyone is a die-hard liberal

    Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha

    (deep breath)

    Hahahahahahahahahaha

    Heh.

  36. ding ding dong Says:

    If the safety people had the knowledge to comment on the safety of what chemists are doing, they would be actual scientists. “probably an invalid opinion” has it exactly right. These idiots will walk around telling people making a sat. bicarb solution to put labcoats on while ignoring the fuckwit that is washing out hydrazine-containing glassware at the sink, without killing it with acetone in the hood first. Safety is not about blind rules like “always wear a labcoat” it is about a deep understanding of what you are working with.

    Not sure I get the “you never pull solutions” by same poster though. I find schlenk pushing opens up more potential risks. many glass syringes lack stops entirely, and can easily have the plunder pushed out with too much N2 pressure. A N2 balloon and sucking out with a needle is far safer.

  37. Graet Chem Says:

    @probably an invalid opinion, @ding ding dong

    I fully agree with what you are saying up to the point that you seem to see this as justification to disengage with those who look after safety in your organisations (at least that’s what I take from refering to safety officers as ‘fuck-wits’). If your safety people don’t understand what you are doing you need to engage more and not less. Why aren’t there people involved in safety who do understand chemistry, for example? I’m a chemical safety officer in my company, and I’m a chemist too – it isn’t rocket science. Share it around staff scientists as a CPD opportunity, etc. It can be a positive thing, not a burden.

    The culture you seem to be describing and ranting against is a very old fashioned approach to safety where only ‘safety specialists’ bother about safety and act in an authoritarian and obstructive way – this has been found to be the cause of accidents too! What you seem to want is what is seen in the industry (at least over the pond here in the UK) to be the much better practice of behavioural safety where people work in an environment wear unsafe behaviour can be openly challenged, the organisation learns from previous incidents and everyone feels responsible for safety. The difficulty is in getting to the point and that requires evolutionary change through different modes of action on safety. If people are routinely unsafe then it probably needs some form of mandaotory safety rules to be established and adhered to (such as what PPE should be worn where) before you can move onto the behavioural safety approach.

    My advice to academics and research scientists in universities that are going through these changes is to engage with them and drive them forward – this is how you will get a safe lab with a reasonable level of oversight and safety rules.

    That said, I think some people are slightly missing the point of PPE in hazardous areas as they seem to only refer to the particular task that is being undertaken rather than the environment. In a research lab, the environment (i.e. what other people are doing) poses significant hazards too so, just because you aren’t doing anything hazardous yourself, doesn’t mean that the PPE is not serving a real purpose. If there is an explosion or fire in the lab near you, you’ll be glad that you were wearing those safety specs or flame retardant lab coat whilst doing the dishes!

  38. Paul Bracher Says:

    @abcd: I was always under the impression that drivers were responsible for making sure their passengers were belted, but it looks like drivers only get ticketed when people under 18 aren’t wearing seat belts. You learn something new every day…

    And I agree wholeheartedly that safety needs to be a collective responsibility and that you need to be reasonable about how you apply rules for things like PPE (i.e., there’s a big difference between running a tBuLi reaction without a lab coat vs. pulling data off a lab computer without a lab coat).

  39. Hap Says:

    If you’re a teacher and one of the primary things you’re supposed to be teaching is how to perform research, wouldn’t one think that you’d have a responsibility to teach them how to do so without killing themselves or their labmates? The fact that 1) Ms. Sangji and others were partly to blame for her accident and 2) few other professors seem to take that responsibility seriously doesn’t alter the fact that there was a responsibility, and that Harran didn’t discharge it. It seems entirely inconsistent to assume that the responsibilities of advisors in graduate schools to teach safety and provide or contribute towards a safe lab should be less than those of professionals overseeing other professionals in an industrial environment.

    This would have been the case even if she had been doing something completely dumb, like Mr. “Let’s Play With Too Much Explosives and Then Grind Them In a Mortar and Pestle” (where, even though, the perpetrator was dumb bordering on willfully stupid, the advisor had little oversight in place to either make sure he couldn’t be so dumb or to remove him from lab).

    Finally, the advisor runs the show – he (mostly he) gets his name on the papaers, collects the money, and gets the benefits. He also has significant (as in the Myers patent case) control over his students’s futures. If he wants a safe lab environment, he can get it, if it can be gotten. If he doesn’t, however, or he values productivity and other things about it, then lab is probably going to be hazardous, and unless students are willing to sacrifice their careers to make it less so, that isn’t going to change.

  40. Polymer Phil Says:

    Invalid Opinion’s comment “they just mindlessly robot their reactions b/c they are on the brink of physical/mental/emotion collapse… The difference is they paid attention! They wanted to be there. Today, the number of grad students that are just “there” is unbelievable and this is even at top schools.” is spot-on. Now that I work normal hours in industry, I’m better able to pay attention to safety than when I was a burned-out grad student. It’s hard to make someone who hates his/her life care about lab hazards; I know I didn’t.

  41. Probably an invalid opinion Says:

    @dingdong. The pushing i am talking about is have a needle with N2 flowing hooked up to a Schlenk line, put it through the SureSeal, use a cannula to transfer the t-BuLi to an air-free dropping funnel or a graduated Schlenk under N2 and then transfer from there.

  42. Nick K Says:

    Probably an Invalid Opinion: If you are working with t-BuLi it is a very good idea to use argon as the inert gas rather than nitrogen. For small to medium volumes (50ml or less) sucking the pyrophoric reagent into a syringe is safer and easier than blowing it into a Schlenk tube.

  43. ChimeIn Says:

    (YMMV)

    I firmly suggest that any volume of tBuLi over ca. 5 mL should always be transferred via cannula like Probably an invalid opinion states. If no over pressure inert gas is available, one can also make the transfer using slight vacuum via a Schlenk line. If you do it properly there’s even no flames out the end of the needle!

    Handling 50 mL of the stuff in something with moving parts that can be dropped is asking for trouble. So is using anything other than a gas-tight glass syringe with a teflon plunger. Plastic syringes (used by Sangji I believe) are poor as the reagent can eat through them. Glass plunger syringes often do not form a good seal especially when the ground joint wears out. tBuLi also reacts with silicone grease…


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