This is how chemistry demos are going to get banned in high schools:
This is how chemistry demos are going to get banned in high schools:
I’m always interested to come across instructional documents on chemistry professors’ Web sites. These documents can be great resources, because they often contain very practical advice about safety, direction on how to maintain instruments, and guidance on experimental technique from experts in the field. Taking the time to commit this information to writing also helps prevent “institutional” loss of memory when senior members of the lab graduate without having properly trained the next generation of students.
Unfortunately, you don’t come across that many lab manuals online. Perhaps this is because some of them are distributed in hard copy only. Perhaps, some professors don’t want to explicitly write procedures and safety guidelines in fear they might be used against them in court. My guess, however, is that most people can’t find the time to sit down and write out this information—or they don’t see the value in doing so.
Jim Tour’s “Guidelines for Research” is among my favorite documents. He gets very specific about some of the advice he doles out. For instance, all nitrogen bubblers left on overnight should have a flow rate of one bubble per second or less. Tour provides guidance on how he likes notebooks to be kept, and he also provides expectations about work ethic and vacations. Finally, there is the passage on personal hygiene:
Personal Hygiene: Although not customary in all countries, Americans generally bathe at least several times per week. As a result, many Americans are offended by the infrequent bathing habits of others (whether Americans or internationals). Thus, you may be leaving a negative impression of yourself without ever knowing it. Unfortunately, bad impressions are often difficult to overcome. Likewise, be sure to use an underarm deodorant since most Americans find body odor to be most offensive. I have seen people causing themselves to be ostracized by others simply because of poor personal hygiene habits.
It might seem trifling or overbearing to provide advice on this level, but the info is correct and I wish more people heeded Tour’s advice.
While the idea of writing a manual all at once seems daunting, I think that doing it in pieces seems quite reasonable. In fact, I think you can assemble some really good tidbits of advice from material that is already posted online. These documents are almost like official memoranda to members of professors’ labs. For instance:
The famous “How to Write a Scientific Paper” article in Advanced Materials had its beginnings as a type-written memo from George Whitesides to his lab.
There’s also Ken Suslick’s cool presentation on how to give a talk.
And I like how some professors provide specific instructions on how to ask them for letters of recommendation.
Anyway, before I go writing similar stuff in the future, I wanted to know if you all had come across any great lab manuals or memos. Leave them in the comments, and I’ll compile a list below.
Jim Tour’s “Guidelines for Research”
Melanie Sanford’s “Group Welcome Kit”
Dave Collum’s site
Bart Bartlett’s “Standard Operating Procedures”
Turro Group’s site
Watson Group Manual
Tolman Lab’s “Standard Operating Procedures”
Armen Zakarian’s site
The big news on Friday was that a California judge denied UCLA chemistry professor Patrick Harran’s motion to dismiss or reduce the charges against him relating to the death of Sheri Sangji in a tragic tert-butyllithium accident in Harran’s lab. C&EN and the LA Times both had reporters in the courtroom. Chemjobber and Jyllian Kemsley are curating lists of links.
I’ve weighed in on the subject before, and my views have not changed. There is plenty of blame to go around. Should Sangji have taken more precautions in running her experiment, the most important of which would have been wearing a lab coat? Certainly. She had to have known better, but she paid the ultimate price. Now, it’s past time to decide what responsibility Harran bears in the accident. I think the judge made the right decision in allowing the case to go to trial, and unless the sides strike a plea bargain, a jury will now decide if Harran broke the law. I don’t like Professor Harran’s chances in front of a jury. While most people who’ve been in grad school may recognize the lax oversight by Harran as “normal”, that doesn’t make it legal.
And while Harran faces the possibility of 4.5 years in prison, I still don’t think a prison sentence is warranted should Harran be convicted. The most effective and relevant punishment would be something that specifically limits Harran’s ability to run a laboratory. What I also find distressing is UCLA’s “unwavering” support of Harran. (Side note: Does that include Harran’s claim that UCLA never trained him properly?) UCLA is sending a bad message here; schools should make a point of requiring that professors take their responsibilities in managing labs and training students more seriously.
Some people just can’t handle the excitement of chemistry:
It seems that this is from a show named “Školski sat”. I think they’re Croatian. A Facebook page for the show is here. I wish there were more clips on YouTube of their doing chemistry.
This summer, our NSF-funded center for solar-energy research joined forces with a local high school and a local science club to create a new program for informal science education in western Los Angeles. I serve as the coordinator for Caltech’s participation in the program, which involves helping to plan and run science club meetings every other Saturday for 8-to-14 year-olds at a housing unit on the west side of Los Angeles. We structure our meetings less like a class and more like a club by favoring the use of hands-on activities where the kids can actively discover the concepts we wish to teach (and have lots of fun at the same time).
As you might expect, one of my primary concerns has been making sure the kids run these activities safely. When designing experiments, there are a number of top-level considerations that go into addressing safety. First, we avoid designing any experiments with serious hazards—we don’t use especially toxic chemicals and we limit the scale of our activities to small volumes. Second, we have a fabulous team of “near-peer” mentors from the high school and Caltech who make sure that the kids aren’t performing any unauthorized experiments (like tasting the chemicals we use). Finally, we are actively working on building good habits with respect to personal protective equipment (PPE).
Before Caltech joined the program, the kids already had a shared set of goggles for general use when activities warranted. One of the first events we organized for the club was a field trip to Caltech to tour the school and see what we “real scientists” do in the lab. Before they came into my room to see a few demonstrations, I gave them a quick version of my lab accident story along with the requisite speech on the importance of wearing goggles when in laboratory. With this story freshly in mind, they all lowered their goggles over their eyes and marched in (see photo, above).
Sadly, despite my impassioned plea, it took all of two minutes before some of them started moving their goggles up to their foreheads. Two minutes! I know goggles are a drag—they can feel tight, fog up, and block your vision—but I was hoping for a little more after my attempt to scare them straight.
One of the most important things I’ve learned from my involvement in the new program is that it is really, really hard to get kids to pay attention to you. If you try to lecture them about a concept, you’ve got about ten seconds before their eyes start wandering across the room. It’s far better to get them learning concepts by running experiments and/or having them ask and answer questions. Kids at this age are not especially concerned about what you want them to do—they seem to do what they want to do.
And I think that was part of the problem with the goggles. We wanted the kids to wear them, but that missed the point. What would make the kids want to wear them? Obviously, a cautionary tale about preserving their eyesight in the unlikely event of an accident was not enough.
I thought we needed to do a better job of making eye protection cool/fun, so first, we ordered them some safety glasses like “real scientists” wear (for general use) in lab. I bought three varieties of glasses from my favorite safety company. Each pair was only about $2—well worth the investment. At the next club meeting, we let the students choose what model and color they wanted. (To my surprise, the boys all wanted red frames while the girls opted for the black or clear frames.) Finally, in order to let the kids establish a personal connection to their PPE, we brought some knickknacks to let them personalize their glasses. These included rolls of colored tape and packets of jewel stickers that the kids could use to “bling out” their frames. This model had particularly wide frames that gave the kids a bunch of space to decorate.
Right after the decoration activity, we performed our most demanding (and fun) activity to date: making glow sticks from scratch. I don’t think I saw a single kid remove his/her glasses during the experiment. We’ll keep monitoring the situation in the future, but I think we’ve made some headway.