What have you broken in the lab?

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Ingolifs
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What have you broken in the lab?

Postby Ingolifs » Tue May 25, 2010 6:42 am UTC

They say that experience in the lab is directly proportional to equipment ruined...

I can no longer remember every single piece of glassware I have destroyed, as it has now amounted to quite a bit (i'm an organic chemist), but a couple of things stand out.

I've smashed a 5 litre round bottomed flask that belonged to one of our stills... those things cost like 100 dollars and I was quite mortified afterwards.
I've also ruined a vaccuum pump by attempting to vac off tetrafluoroboric acid. I've never seen plastic corrode like that before.

Although these weren't done by me, I was in the lab at the time:
I've seen a good lithium aluminium hydride fire. It was actually quite pretty - the flames were a mixture of orange and pink, and the bottle containing the LiAlH4 was shooting out sparks rather violently before it died down.

Oh, and i've also experienced an exploding still - Someone was distilling Dichloromethane under argon, but forgot to open up the top tap that lets out the vapour pressure. Needless to day, pressure built up to the point where the thing burst with the sound of 1000 ballons popping, sending glassware all over the place and blowing a hole in the ceiling. A couple of people were hit by glass, but no one was hurt. It took me about a minute to fully regain my hearing though.

What sort of fun breakages or near-death experiences have you guys encountered in the lab?
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Re: What have you broken in the lab?

Postby Ulc » Tue May 25, 2010 7:57 am UTC

Glassware beyond count of course.

The only really significant one was a gel size exclusion column, with my double labeled protein on, including that the gel had to be discarded.

Estimated cost: Around $8000

My advisor's reaction? "*sigh* ohh well, good thing I just received money"
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Re: What have you broken in the lab?

Postby JayDee » Tue May 25, 2010 10:46 am UTC

I don't remember breaking any particularly expensive glassware, but earlier this semester I dropped an Ubbelohde viscometer before catching it on my knee. Everyone in the lab took a deep breath and was staring at me, so I quickly learnt that was an expensive bit of kit.
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Re: What have you broken in the lab?

Postby nopacman » Tue May 25, 2010 7:58 pm UTC

-One glass stirrer (or whatever) on chem lab
-A transformer (nothing interesting, just an 240AC-150DC) two weeks ago, by surpassing the max. amperage in like 500%, with the supervision of my lab teacher. Plus, it was connected to two Helmholtz coils that coupled with the frequency (50 Hz). Fortunately it didn't break the vacuum tube that was inside. Sounded really wrong, I could see my face full of glass shards.
-Some 2A fuses for the same.
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Re: What have you broken in the lab?

Postby Leumas13 » Tue May 25, 2010 8:10 pm UTC

I've broken a ton (I work in my chem halls stockroom), but my favorite breaking story was told to me by a junior, who claims he placed a regular test tube instead of a cuvette into a spectrophotometer, and the light beam reflected and somehow broke the entire machine. He did this as a freshmen, which just makes the story even better
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Re: What have you broken in the lab?

Postby Whelan » Tue May 25, 2010 8:44 pm UTC

- uncounted beakers and test tubes
-I once managed to snap the end off a burette. I went to turn the tap and the whole end just snapped off.

Yeah that's it. I was lucky enough to be very close when my friend got a bit carried away clamping some glassware and managed to crush it though.
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Re: What have you broken in the lab?

Postby LucasBrown » Tue May 25, 2010 10:54 pm UTC

I'm still in high school and am a physics student, so I don't have any epic glass stories, but I have still managed to break stuff...
Most infamously, I let two very strong Nd magnets (rectangular, about 3cm x 1.5cm x 1 cm) slap together. They exploded. Several large chunks impaled themselves in the walls, a sliver impaled itself in my arm, and about a quarter of the volume of the magnets was turned to a very fine magnetic dust. I still have the scar from the sliver in my arm.
Not quite so infamously, I was doing some stuff with a DC power supply and I let the leads touch the wrong thing. They spot-welded and the circuit caught fire.

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Re: What have you broken in the lab?

Postby ikrase » Tue May 25, 2010 11:30 pm UTC

THis was at home (home lab?), I caused a small transistor to EXPLODE!. I shorted the wrong thing on a photoflash circuit, and the transister blew up, spraying silicon and case fragments everywhere.

I also have literally blown up traces on PCB's.
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Re: What have you broken in the lab?

Postby Izawwlgood » Wed May 26, 2010 1:30 am UTC

Breaking normal glassware isn't even something I batted an eye at; I routinely watched rotating undergrads or such drop something and just look mortified. Basic glassware has a shelf life, it will eventually be broken.

I haven't broken anything of note, but I did witness two pretty major accidents. Firstly, a guy somehow, stupidly, splashed his face and arm with nitric acid. He screamed a lot. Secondly, a tech didn't balance the rotor of an ultracentrifuge. The sound that thing makes when it's running is scary enough to me; the sound it made when the disc rocked off it's bearing and precessed and burned a ring into the lid had me running to hide behind the thickest structure I could find.
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Re: What have you broken in the lab?

Postby scarecrovv » Wed May 26, 2010 4:16 am UTC

Things I'm sure were my fault have so far been limited to various popping, burning, discoloring, sparking, exploding, and otherwise letting the magic smoke out of electronics. The most expensive and frustrating single incident was when I destroyed a small part of a Field Programmable Gate Array (FPGA), such that it still appeared to work, but made small and mysterious errors every once in a while. It took me four weeks to figure out what was wrong.

However, when I walked into the lab one day earlier this year and turned on a $100,000 hexapod nanopositioner, it started making the most awful grinding noise I'd heard in a while, drove itself into the end of it's range on two axes, and ceased to work. Repairs will probably be $5,000, once we get more money. The current theory about it's demise is that somebody bumped the stage earlier that day and fucked something up inside. The phone call I made 5 minutes later was one of the scariest ones I can remember. Evidently he doesn't hold it against me too much, since I still work in his lab :wink:.

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Re: What have you broken in the lab?

Postby Leumas13 » Wed May 26, 2010 4:55 pm UTC

scarecrovv wrote:Things I'm sure were my fault have so far been limited to various popping, burning, discoloring, sparking, exploding, and otherwise letting the magic smoke out of electronics. The most expensive and frustrating single incident was when I destroyed a small part of a Field Programmable Gate Array (FPGA), such that it still appeared to work, but made small and mysterious errors every once in a while. It took me four weeks to figure out what was wrong.

However, when I walked into the lab one day earlier this year and turned on a $100,000 hexapod nanopositioner, it started making the most awful grinding noise I'd heard in a while, drove itself into the end of it's range on two axes, and ceased to work. Repairs will probably be $5,000, once we get more money. The current theory about it's demise is that somebody bumped the stage earlier that day and fucked something up inside. The phone call I made 5 minutes later was one of the scariest ones I can remember. Evidently he doesn't hold it against me too much, since I still work in his lab :wink:.


Saying "you know that 100,000 dollar machine we have? yeaaaa it's broken" has got to be one of the most terrifying sentences to say
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Re: What have you broken in the lab?

Postby psychosomaticism » Wed May 26, 2010 5:01 pm UTC

I've also broken the dozen test tubes and beakers in o-chem labs; it seems to be an initiation rite, or maybe just the nerves of doing something mildly more complicated than freshman chem. I think I may have broken a condenser or fractionating column, but I can't remember if that was me or someone at my table.

I think the worst things to break aren't the equipment, but the experimental items you're working with. I had a really nice TLC plate just finished, I reached into the developing tank to get it, and it falls into the solvent flat on it's side. Time for a new plate.

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Re: What have you broken in the lab?

Postby Izawwlgood » Wed May 26, 2010 5:43 pm UTC

Most good PIs will understand that even a year old machine will have components that break down; turning on a microscope and having the bulb blow out isn't YOUR fault. That said, most PI's probably also assume you aren't going to admit to doing something absurd with the equipment.
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Re: What have you broken in the lab?

Postby DNA » Wed May 26, 2010 5:56 pm UTC

I've never broken anything in a lab *knock on wood*
It's probably because I haven't clocked as many hours in a lab as you guys (as I've never had a job in a lab), but I still had lab classes in high school, cegep and university. I blame it on my ability to catch everything that falls out of my hands 8)
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Re: What have you broken in the lab?

Postby Mr_Rose » Wed May 26, 2010 8:48 pm UTC

I too haven't managed to break anything in a lab, though I did once witness someone who was told three times not to, look down the end of a boiling tube full of organic volatiles whilst it was being held over a Bunsen.
I looked away for a second and then there was this loud popping noise and I guess you can figure out what happened. I've never seen the supervisor turn that colour before or since.

I did once manage to destroy a solid steel toasting fork though. White hot iron is very pretty...
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Re: What have you broken in the lab?

Postby Turtle_ » Wed May 26, 2010 9:04 pm UTC

I don't think I've broken anything yet, I'm only in high school though. I do have a story of other people breaking something though. In my school the ceilings are made out of a bunch of tiles which are made out of some type of foam or something. Some students were screwing around, aimed a faucet at the ceiling, and turned it on pretty high. They managed to shoot a small hole in the ceiling.
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Re: What have you broken in the lab?

Postby LaserGuy » Wed May 26, 2010 9:29 pm UTC

My Ph.D supervisor told me near the start of my tenure that if I didn't damage any optics within the first year of working in our laser lab, then I clearly wasn't working hard enough.

I think in my first week I had scratched up a couple of silver mirrors pretty badly. Replacement was over a thousand dollars.

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Re: What have you broken in the lab?

Postby masher » Wed May 26, 2010 11:25 pm UTC

I've managed to blow up a high voltage power supply for an x-ray generator.

Good thing we had a service contract!

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Re: What have you broken in the lab?

Postby Nautilus » Thu May 27, 2010 12:11 am UTC

I once managed to completely melt a plastic variable resistor by leaving it on all night.
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Re: What have you broken in the lab?

Postby mouseposture » Thu May 27, 2010 1:10 am UTC

Leumas13 wrote:Saying "you know that 100,000 dollar machine we have? yeaaaa it's broken" has got to be one of the most terrifying sentences to say

There's worse. Sometimes you make a mistake and you have to tell your human subject's family that he's died.
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Re: What have you broken in the lab?

Postby Carnildo » Thu May 27, 2010 2:43 am UTC

Leumas13 wrote:Saying "you know that 100,000 dollar machine we have? yeaaaa it's broken" has got to be one of the most terrifying sentences to say


Not if you're working in a lab where a certain amount of breakage is expected. I used to work as a technician in a mechanical testing lab, and in addition to the thousands of test specimens I broke, I think I reported breakage of every piece of equipment at least once. This ranged from grip inserts (so common that how to repair or replace them is part of training) to both test machines (the sixty-ton press cost about a quarter-million dollars, but as a piece of industrial equipment repairs are generally cheap and straightforward).

Over on the other side of the room, breakages were even more common: I don't think the fatigue lab ever had all their equipment working at the same time, and none of it cost less than a hundred thousand.

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Re: What have you broken in the lab?

Postby Six Fingers » Thu May 27, 2010 4:49 am UTC

Yay for the stock room, I work there too! Haven't broken anything too expensive. Did have the bottom fall out of an Erlenmeyer flask once though when I was washing it. The glass end just popped off perfectly. It was so bizarre I kept the thing. :/

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Re: What have you broken in the lab?

Postby Angström » Thu May 27, 2010 11:31 am UTC

I broke three crucibles in a single Chemistry lesson a couple of years ago, trying to extract metals from their oxides with carbon. One shard melted a hole through a plastic folder.
I also once tried to push a delivery tube into a bung too hard, with predictable results.

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Re: What have you broken in the lab?

Postby Gopher of Pern » Fri May 28, 2010 4:13 am UTC

I've broken a few test tubes, beakers and measuring cylinders in my time. A few of my notable breakages include:

A penetrometer filled with mercury, inside the instrument it was supposed to be used in. Not only is the penetrometer expensive, but cleaning mercury out of the small space it collected in was not fun.

I tried running a particle sizer without the flow cell in place. The service guy had taken it out, then left without telling me. It was fun cleaning up oil inside the instrument! :(

I've also blown up a test rig for some equipment. It came from America, and I didn't change the input voltage...
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Re: What have you broken in the lab?

Postby Tass » Fri May 28, 2010 9:30 am UTC

Shit! I'm afraid I just broke a 100,000$ camera, just now. No kidding. I should be running to my advisor rather than writing this now, although I don't think time will make anything worse.

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Re: What have you broken in the lab?

Postby Mr_Rose » Fri May 28, 2010 9:38 am UTC

Tass wrote:Shit! I'm afraid I just broke a 100,000$ camera, just now. No kidding. I should be running to my advisor rather than writing this now, although I don't think time will make anything worse.

Well at least you made your Famous Last Words memorable and meaningful, right? :P
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Re: What have you broken in the lab?

Postby Shivahn » Fri May 28, 2010 9:42 am UTC

I have broken assorted stuff in school lab. The only thing I've broken in a professional lab was a slide with brain tissue.

In my defense, it's not like the person was using it anyway.

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Re: What have you broken in the lab?

Postby Tass » Fri May 28, 2010 10:27 am UTC

Mr_Rose wrote:
Tass wrote:Shit! I'm afraid I just broke a 100,000$ camera, just now. No kidding. I should be running to my advisor rather than writing this now, although I don't think time will make anything worse.

Well at least you made your Famous Last Words memorable and meaningful, right? :P


I shut the whole setup down and went to lunch. Now I am back and are starting it up again, I hope it will work again now.

Amazing that my laptop actually had this thread open on the other desk when it happened.

Edit: Seems to be working! Phew. Could have cost me months of work if it didn't.

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Re: What have you broken in the lab?

Postby iop » Fri May 28, 2010 11:02 am UTC

Izawwlgood wrote:Most good PIs will understand that even a year old machine will have components that break down; turning on a microscope and having the bulb blow out isn't YOUR fault


Funny you should mention that. An undergrad in our lab had the bulb (~1000$) die on him the first time he was using the microscope on his own. The poor guy was so terrified!

Less funny was when someone managed to get the stage stuck (we could fix that again, fortunately), and when someone bent the binocs (the two tubes of the eyepiece didn't point into the same direction anymore, so that each eye got to see a slightly different bit of the slide). There it took some questioning of people until I found out that someone had caught his sleeve on one of the tubes, and since he's strong and heavy, he managed to bend it out of shape (thinking "oops, ah well, it'll be probably ok"). Costs 2500$ and is, of course, not covered by warranty.

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Re: What have you broken in the lab?

Postby RockoTDF » Sat May 29, 2010 3:20 am UTC

Haven't broken anything too bad so far, but I will start doing fMRI training in the fall semester. In the event something goes wrong, you will be the first to know.
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Re: What have you broken in the lab?

Postby Charlie! » Sat May 29, 2010 4:03 am UTC

My skin.

It was while cleaning some glassware used to synthesize a chemical with unknown health effects, back when I did chemistry (so, 2 years ago). It was actually a fairly deep cut.

But I haven't died yet, so I guess it's all good.
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Re: What have you broken in the lab?

Postby modularblues » Sat May 29, 2010 5:00 pm UTC

Glassware in chem, wires and diodes and transistors in circuit labs, and my sanity in computer simulations.

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Re: What have you broken in the lab?

Postby Fractal_Tangent » Sat May 29, 2010 5:22 pm UTC

A Büchner funnel, it accidentally tipped over in the sink and the top broke off. Ooops. In the same lesson I set a bunch of test tubes on fire. Which was amusing. =D
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Re: What have you broken in the lab?

Postby Kuji » Sat May 29, 2010 6:45 pm UTC

Mostly glassware, the most recent one was like 2 or 3 inches of the Pasteur Pipette inside a Hickman stillhead while trying to extract during a Diels-Alder experiment (Organic Chemistry), which made it a bitch to try to extract the product inside.

I am rather perfectionist while trying to do the different experiments and trying not to get things blown up or broken.

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Re: What have you broken in the lab?

Postby defaultusername » Sat May 29, 2010 8:39 pm UTC

While I believe I myself have managed to avoid breaking anything too expensive so far, I did witness the unfortunate demise of a rather delicate piece of equipment this semester. The device was used to measure the melting point of crystalline substances, by putting a small sample of the substance in a fine tube with one open end. The tube was then inserted into the machine, closed end first, and the temperature of the sample slowly increased until melting was observed.
The process of transferring your sample into said fine tube is a pretty frustrating one, however. Many substances have an annoying reluctance to proceed any further into the tube than a millimeter or two. This behavior eventually resulted in one student attempting to circumvent the problem by inserting the open end of the tube into the device.
That student got his data, but once he had no-one else did.
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Re: What have you broken in the lab?

Postby Charlie! » Sun May 30, 2010 5:51 am UTC

Oh dear.
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Re: What have you broken in the lab?

Postby kernelpanic » Sun May 30, 2010 6:15 pm UTC

This didn't happen to me, but to the girl next to me. About three years ago, we were doing an experiment (I remember it had to do with light, and we used a very expensive piece of equipment, so we were very excited that we were using the "grown-up" equipment (we were 12-13 at the time).

Teacher: Now, please notice that all wall sockets have three plugs: 120 VAC, 6 VDC and 12 VDC. DO NOT plug the machine into the 120 VAC. DO NOT plug the machine into 12 VDC. ONLY plug it into 6 VDC. 6 Volts DC. The middle one. The green one. Not the top blue, or the bottom red, only the middle, green plug labeled 6 Volts DC. Do you understand?
Class: Yes.
Teacher: Now this is extremely important, OK? I will personally see to it that you get into a lot of trouble if you do it wrong, OK? [Note: This is not as outrageous as it sounds, that teacher used to joke like that all the time.]

As you can probably see by now, the girl plugged the machine into the top, blue, 120 V, AC plug. Smoke starts to come out. I notice what is happening, but unfortunately I have no idea what is about to ensue.
Me: No! Don't-
At this point a bright green/blue flash lasting about 5 seconds occupied all of my field of vision, and a bang that was heard all over school shook the classroom. After the debris settled, about three people were crying (including the girl), and the teacher noticed how obviously terrified the girl was, so instead of shouting at her he asked all of us to go outside and calmed her down. I don't know what punishment, if any, she received.
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Re: What have you broken in the lab?

Postby Izawwlgood » Tue Jun 01, 2010 2:45 am UTC

Kuji wrote:I am rather perfectionist while trying to do the different experiments and trying not to get things blown up or broken.

In my Orgo Lab Practical, the prof made us go through our lab books and circle 10 things, to prove that we'd kept good notebooks; one of the 10 things was a stain, discoloration, or burn, and it was his belief that if you didn't have one, you'd cheated.
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Re: What have you broken in the lab?

Postby PM 2Ring » Tue Jun 01, 2010 6:17 am UTC

Speaking of stained notebooks, nitric acid does fun things to red ink.

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Re: What have you broken in the lab?

Postby Alexius » Tue Jun 01, 2010 12:46 pm UTC

defaultusername wrote:While I believe I myself have managed to avoid breaking anything too expensive so far, I did witness the unfortunate demise of a rather delicate piece of equipment this semester. The device was used to measure the melting point of crystalline substances, by putting a small sample of the substance in a fine tube with one open end. The tube was then inserted into the machine, closed end first, and the temperature of the sample slowly increased until melting was observed.
The process of transferring your sample into said fine tube is a pretty frustrating one, however. Many substances have an annoying reluctance to proceed any further into the tube than a millimeter or two. This behavior eventually resulted in one student attempting to circumvent the problem by inserting the open end of the tube into the device.
That student got his data, but once he had no-one else did.

Ah, melting point blocks. I remember one lab session I couldn't find one that was usable- all of them had tubes snapped off in the hole blocking it. We're expected to seal our own melting point tubes, and sometimes they get a bit bent in the flame. If it's too bent, it's liable to snap in the machine. I had to get the lab technician to open up the machine and get the broken bits of tube out. I've never heard of anyone putting the tube in the wrong way round- that's fairly impressive! Presumably it took a while to get the machine cleaned out- they're not that delicate IMO, though, as they consist mainly of a large solid metal block!

The most impressive thing I've broken so far has been a Buchner funnel- I was rinsing it out with acetone, and it slipped out of my hand. I caught it, but struck it against the bottom of the fume-hood door in the process. I've seen people break IR spectrometer plates, and heard of someone being stupid enough to try and clean them with water (which dissolves them). I've also had someone snap the water outlet pipe off a condenser, resulting in water all over my experiment. Fortunately the apparatus was closed up (stopper, closed funnel and guard tube) so none of it got into the reaction, which had to be done under anhydrous conditions...


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