Mar 9, 2010

RBF Teaches: Common Sense

Today, young ones, I thought I would go through a little thing I like to call common sense. Some of you have it, others (most) do not. It is something that can be developed however, by using that thing scientists call "the Brain". First, an explanation of why this is important (not the brain, common sense). 

Initially, when I started tutoring I taught 1st year science and engineering students very basic chemistry, mostly organic. However, a number of frequently asked questions came up. Most notably, "can I pour this down the sink?" and "which bin do I throw this in?". Well, after a while I started adding the answers to a short intro speech I gave at the start of the practical session. Unfortunately, people tend not to listen intently and I, admittedly, do ramble on occasion. So, in the hopes of saving some other poor sod the hassle, here we go.

  • Typically, if you wouldn't eat it or drink it normally, don't tip it down the sink. If in doubt, put it in a  waste container. Most typically, put it in the waste container labelled with your said waste.
  • Next, gloves always go in a toxic/hazardous waste bin simply because its safer for you and the cleaners (if you have them) and these things have a habit of coming around again. Don't whinge or ask why, just do it.
  • Washing you glassware - First, ask yourself, "am I going to use this for a dry (anhydrous) reaction?". If yes, then wash with water then acetone and dry it in the oven. If it's a burette for a titration, don't go washing it with acetone, rinse it with distilled water and then rinse it a couple of times with your solution. If you are going to use water in your reaction why the hell would you wash your flask with water, then acetone? Unless of course you see lumps of organic solids still stuck to the flask (unlikely).
  • If it stinks, keep it in the fumehood. Noone else wants a whiff. If you have to rotavap it do that on a rotavap that is isolated and preferable also in a hood. This includes gloves.
  • If you are doing an extraction, hold the stopper. If you hold the stopper pressure with build up, so release the pressure every so often. Once you are done, take the stopper off.
  • Use a funnel to pour liquids. This avoids spills *rolls eyes*.
  • Drying salts (MgSO4 NaSO4) are kept in the oven so they stay dry and therefore work more efficiently. Don't take them out and walk them back to your fume hood. Take a container or test tube, get some drying salt and then take it back.
  • When you take a flask off the rotavap, occassionally it sticks, a slight, gentle twist will usually get it off without too much effort and you won't have broken your flask on the water bath. Oh and it's usually a good idea to make sure the vacuum is released properly too.
  • Put things back where they belong. It makes it easier to find when you are looking for it next time.
  • Wear gloves and lab coat at all times in the lab, that will save you wondering when you should and shouldn't need gloves.
  • Wash your hands, even with gloves you don't want to risk it. Imagine going to the toilet and putting all those lab goodies on to your goodies. Not so goody.
  • If you break some glassware, use a dustpan to clean it up so that you don't get cut with contaminated glass.
  • Only tighten clamps to the point at which the glassware stops moving, any more is redundant and will probably result in breakages.
That is probably a little too much and some a little too obvious, but seriously, all of these things I have been asked or witnessed. Take some time, think, pray, then think again, then do. That should  eliminate some of the basic mistakes you will make until you are reach the super 1337 levels. Even then we are all human and we can just have bad days. There are most likely a dozen other things that I haven't gone through but I will put them in when I think of them.

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