Lab Safety: Not All Lab Accidents End in Tragedy

QuietBench 1Lab safety is serious, but sometimes it does have a lighter side. Regular readers of our blog probably know we sometimes drive home our lab safety message with a lighter tone. Such is the case with this post. Here are some lab accidents that resulted in serendipitous discoveries and “successful” new products instead of fires and fatalities.

Scientific Breakthroughs from Lab Safety Blunders

Modern lab safety rules are often designed to prevent cross-contamination of any kind, but that might not always be for the best. It’s well known that Alexander Fleming is the discoverer of penicillin. Less well known is the fact that he also discovered a beneficial enzyme after accidentally sneezing on a bacterial sample. Fortunately, he didn’t immediately discard it (which would have certainly met modern lab safety protocol) and instead observed that his mucus was keeping certain bacterial microbes at bay.

Meanwhile, one of the most successful drug discoveries in the modern era was also accidental. Men in the Welsh mining town of Merthyr Tydfil participated in a drug trial in 1992. Test results showed that the drug being investigated was not helping with their angina. Fortunately, however, at least a few of the voluble test subjects were happy to talk about a recent rise in their private lives. If not, the research world might never have discovered an effective use for sildenafil citrate, aka Viagra.

Not all such discoveries have taken place in clean, modern laboratories. In fact, one of the earliest “accidents” in lab history involved Chinese alchemists in the ninth century. They were attempting to mix up an elixir of immortality and instead created an elixir of death: gunpowder.

Another “fortunate” lab accident with decidedly mixed results came from the research lab of DuPont chemist Roy Plunkett. A “defective” canister of tetrafluoroethylene gas was found to also have a friction-free white powder, which would soon adhere itself to frying pans around the world. Unfortunately, research in later years uncovered a real-world safety predicament with this discovery. Further tests revealed that the powder, now known as Teflon, contains a “likely carcinogen” found in fully 95 percent of American bloodstreams.

Fictional Advantageous Lab Accidents

As any science fiction fan knows, fortunate lab safety accidents are not limited to the real world. Comic book heroes have attained various superpowers as the result of scientific mishaps. The Flash was the first, with his incredible speed being the side effect of inhaling certain vapors in a lab. The Hulk is another—physicist Bruce Banner’s initial transformation was triggered by being caught in the blast of a gamma bomb that he himself had invented.

But not all fictional characters belonged in the lab that transformed them. Plastic Man was a thief whose presence in the Crawford Chemical Works was entirely nefarious in nature—he and his colleagues were burgling the place. Perhaps the lab itself retaliated by transforming him with that falling drum of unknown acid.

Preventing Lab Accidents with Dedicated Benches for Mass Spectrometry

Of course, there have been a lot more lab discoveries made because of careful adherence to lab safety rather than divergence from it. This is why we have created our dedicated benches for mass spectrometry. They are specifically designed to keep you and your colleagues safe in the lab—and the mass spectrometer safe from damage or destruction. If you aren’t using dedicated lab furniture yet, contact us today and find out how it can keep your lab, your researchers, your MS, and your data safe from harm.