Saturday, December 17, 2011

Home Labs: Responsible Curiousity



 
I doubt anyone still has this blog on their readers but I haven't heard much about this story (LINK via Boing Boing). I must say that the guy seemed to have a well organized home laboratory. What he was doing with it seems to be anyone's guess. The picture above is from the police file.

The chemicals that make the article include:
potassium permanganate
potassium nitrate
ammonium nitrate
iron oxide
zinc oxide
stearine
copper sulfate
urea
hydrogen peroxide
aluminum powder
dextrin
sulfamic acid
hexachloroethane
charcoal
potassium silicate
sodium bicarbonate
wax shavings
PVC shavings
hexamine
acetone
methyl hydrate
hydrochloric acid

"In his furnace room, he had an electrochemical setup where he seemed to be turning potassium chloride into potassium chlorate"
The only reason that I have emerged a bit from my hole is that this is an issue for me. A former student of mine became a popular local science show leader and over the years developed a home lab of alarming and surprising dimensions. All was well until he died suddenly in a motorcycle accident and left his rather non-scientifically inclined wife to deal with his home lab. We are still sorting through the details but suffice it to say that he was a high school teacher when the local schools were closing down science store rooms and a significant portion of chemicals deemed to dangerous for school ended up in his basement.
So, how do we balance the interests of the non-professional amateur scientist with the practical safety issues related to the use and disposal of the products of reactions that can be done with chemicals from the hardware store?

I do not have any quick answers other than a hope that municiple hazardous waste disposal centers are open to well labelled small (and not so small)amounts of chemicals or a young widow is going to lose a significant portion of her life insurance benefits taking care of what her amateur scientist husband left her.

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For a while it was all about research and then it was all about teaching and now it's all about trying to find a balance while teaching at a small liberal arts and science university.