Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Holy Shirt!

Received this email and picture from my grad student son today:
This is a picture of the shirt I was wearing yesterday. A vial containing a borane (allyl phenyl boron chloride to be specific) broke while I was holding it yesterday, spilling the contents on my shirt.

The effect was instantaneous: gray smoke started fuming uncontrollably into my face, which happened to be hydrochloric acid (this borane is such a strong acid, it reacts with water in the air to make hydrochloric acid, one of the strongest acids around) and my torso area got very hot very fast.

Within a second or two I had my shirt off and fortunately did not have any burns on my body. I ran to the eye wash station and rinsed my eyes out for 5 minutes, though none of the chemical had gotten in my eyes that I was aware of. Some of my hair was singed from the shirt removal process, but that's it.


A colleague was standing only a few feet away, and he said that as soon as it happened, there was so much smoke, he couldn't even make out my face. Pretty awesome!

I'm completely allright, but looking back it was SO cool that I had to share. If I hadn't gotten the shirt off in the first few seconds, I'd probably be receiving skin grafts right about now and I'd probably be less jovial about it....

When people talk about harmful professions, I'd guess people don't think about graduate student in chemistry as one of them. But in academia we get away with practices and using chemicals that industry NEVER would, and as a result, almost everyone experiences or witnesses a huge accident. Combine that with young, inexperienced kids in their early 20's and you're bound to see a lot of accidents. Not that I'm inexperienced or anything. It was more of a freak accident.
This is sobering. Thinking of how bad the outcome might have been scares the holy crud outta me -- it reminds me of the effects of the acid blood of the creatures from the movie Aliens!

His reaction -- "pretty awesome" and "SO cool" -- is typical for him, though. He has such a keenly rational mind that he's always been able to keep some distance between "what is" and "what might have been." His parents, on the other hand, lack this perspective and are kind of freaked by this freak accident.

Update: Mrs. Howard has a brother who is also a scientist at a university, and he's come up with a bunch of alternate explanations for our son's T-shirt:
1) It wasn't an accident. He borrowed his wife's T-shirt and got a mustard spot on it that he needed to hide.
2) He's secretly at Area 51, and an alien drooled on him.
3) What hair he has left is now luminescent green from the chemicals.
4) He finds his work very borane.
5) Heard in the lab just before it happened: "Hold my beer a sec and watch this..."
6) It wasn't allyl phenyl boron chloride. It was bong water.
7) He's breathed in so many fumes over the years his snot dissolves cloth.
8) "Deodorant not working ? Try new Borane! Feel the burn!"

9) "Graduate Student Starts New Fashion Line. Plans fall debut sponsored by DuPont and Macy's"
10) Someone didn't follow the directions on the liquid fabic softener that say "Do not apply to dry clothes."
11) Drooling is a poor habit if one is a fire-blowing street performer........
12) "I wasn't kidding when I said the Elmira Grad Nite party was HOT!"

13) (Speaking of fashion) If pink is the new white, chemically burned purple must be the new periwinkle.
14) "I went to grad school and all I got was this lousy acid burn."
15) Headline: "Fruit of the Loom recalls new line of fire-retardant T-shirt."
16) "Ask me about my gaseous hydrochloric acid."
17) Darwin Award winner for 2006?
18) "Mom, Dad? I'm sorry I didn't tell you sooner, but I'm The Human Torch and this is what happens when I sneeze."

Okay, that last one was mine.

1 Comments:

Blogger Blue Girl, Red State said...

I was a graduate assistant in chem about 450 years ago and a student had a similar run-in with NaOH (sodium hydroxide). After 25 years in labs, I can say with veracity that that is the only time I ever got wet in the emergency shower.

3:49 PM, September 28, 2006  

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