I have worked in labs for a long time and it is generally a pretty safe work environment despite what some folks imagine. However, occasionally something happens that has the potential to turn pear-shaped.
Today I was making some 5 molar sodium hydroxide solution, which is corrosive. In fact, 1 molar sodium hydroxide is corrosive, 5 molar is five times stronger and so is very corrosive. It was also hot because the solution heats up as the solid dissolves. Without giving it too much thought, I covered the top of the measuring cylinder I was using and inverted it to mix. Unfortunately the combination of heat and alkaline solution dissolved part of the seal on the lid, resulting in a spurt of liquid bursting out and across my bench. Fortunately it went away from my face and didn’t hit anybody else so was mostly just a mess and some on my hand which was easily washed off.
In hindsight there were a few things I did wrong there: Inverting a measuring cylinder is a quick and dirty way to mix solutions but always has the potential for spills – I was taught better than that but have become slack over the years. It also was luck rather than good planning that caused the splash to go away from my face. I was wearing eye protection but probably should also have had a face shield on. Sodium hydroxide in the eyes is one of the worst accidents that can occur in a lab and the only reliable way to avoid it is to have protection between you and the corrosive liquid.
As with most mishaps I’ve had in labs over the years I was not injured, just got a fright. Whether that means I’m a safe worker or just stupid but lucky I’m not sure! It is good though to be reminded of the need to be careful and aware that something could potentially go wrong at any time.
Image of burn from: BMJ Case Rep. 2012; 2012: bcr2012007103. Published online 2012 September 11. doi: 10.1136/bcr-2012-007103
As our large (1,500 students) first-year biochemistry course gets into full swing, work has become busier and I’ve been having to start earlier each morning so we get the labs cleaned up and reset ready for classes at 9am. By early I only mean 8am, but that actually entails catching a bus at 7:20am in order to get there on time since Dunedin has such a great public transport system (sarcasm!). In winter this does not feel like fun.
While the weather has not been particularly bad by Dunedin standards, it has just been mostly overcast, damp and not getting much above about 8°C for most of the week, so I feel like I’ve been living in a refrigerator. The house we are renting is also not well insulated and we are only heating the living area (kitchen/dining area) so it is cold in the hallway, bedrooms and bathroom – not inviting. A further factor is that the firewood we recently got is damp so doesn’t burn well and electric heaters just aren’t enough to warm the place up.
Also, I’m getting older and more sensitive to the cold!
From what I can recall the weekend was mostly spent at home. I had my usual Saturday sleep in, tried to clean up the concrete outside but the waterblaster we bought only a few weeks ago refused to work so will need to be returned under warranty. On Sunday we went to church which was good.
Unfortunately one of my wife’s uncles passed away last week after a long illness. We took the kids with us to Oamaru for the funeral on Monday and although sad at least it was a celebration of a good man and a life of faith. I was glad to be able to take our children as our view is that it is good for them to learn the full spectrum of what life involves.
Dad in hospital
My father spent a few days in Dunedin hospital this week for surgery he has been waiting on for some time. The surgery itself went well but it did take a few days for him to recover and be able to return home.
Something I’m wanting to do is to keep an online journal as part of the function of this website. Obviously it is public so some things would not be appropriate to publish here, but considering how much of what is posted to social media networks can easily become public this is probably not too different.
A significant event for our region was the recent deluge of rain and associated flooding last Friday and Saturday. Fortunately our house was not affected in any major way beyond some leaky spouting and a very muddy back yard. We did bring one of the rabbits (Cloud) inside overnight on Friday as his hutch was leaking and he had become a bit wet. He got a dry cardboard box of hay in the pet playpen for the night and once the rain eased on Saturday I moved all three of the rabbit hutches onto the concrete driveway to get them out of the mud.
(The image shows the Leith Stream on Saturday 22 July above, then at it normal flow two weeks later below)
Despite the lack of new writing on the blog, I have been busy cleaning up all the old posts that I imported a few weeks ago. This involves fixing broken links, editing for obvious errors, adding images back, fixing fussy things that annoy me such as correct hyphens and ellipses. I’ve also tried to clean up the categories and tags to enable some of the older stuff to be found by association, though there may not be many people who actually navigate website by following tags and categories like I do myself.
Other website work has included tightening up security of the site and trying to speed up the loading time of the site. Slow site loading is one of the prices to be paid for the convenience of using WordPress and bringing that time down to something acceptable takes a surprising amount of work. So far I’ve managed to get it to something I’m satisfied with, and while there is still room for improvement what remains to fix would take a lot of time and expertise that I don’t currently have.
Last summer our 5+ year-old trampoline got a small hole in it, which steadily became bigger and bigger until it could no longer be used. We promised the kids that we would get another trampoline for next summer. Heather recently won an auction on TradeMe for one at a good price so we picked it up a couple of weekends ago and despite the cold weather it was an instant hit. For our kids the trampoline is a great way to get them moving and active after crouching over computers watching Youtube for hours.
The second semester teaching has been underway for several weeks now, though I would not say we are run off our feet setting up labs as yet. That will come in a few more weeks.