Lab Mishaps and Stuff

The funniest lab accident?

There was the time I spent an entire day trying to make electrophoretic gels using distilled water instead of buffer. The agarose suspended fine in the distilled water, but I couldn’t get it to solidify. I kept remaking the agarose solution and never got anything worthwhile. The next day, I asked a lab mate what I was doing wrong. I found out and felt damn stupid.

And just last week the autoclave leaked. A brown liquid covered the floor. It was real funny while I cleaned it up.

Or how about the time I mouth pipetted ethyl methanesulfonate . . . NOT!!


  1. #1 ERIC JUVE
    December 4, 2006

    I thought the little cotten plug in the pipette would protect me from ammonium hydroxide, it probably does, but it doesn’t stop ammonia gas.

  2. #2 Amit
    December 4, 2006

    That’s pretty funny. I haven’t poured a gel in something like 6 years. I did spend and entire afternoon trying to figure out why I couldn’t import a table into mysql without errors. It turns out I was using the wrong file.

  3. #3 gretchers
    December 4, 2006

    My lab always gets a kick out of the time we were searching for this strange high pitched ringing sound coming from somewhere in the lab. I thought it was loudest by the vacuum line, then strangely in the cold room and by the drying cabinet on the other side of the lab. After about 10 minutes (!) it occured to me that it was the same volume everywhere, but always loud to someone else when they were near me. Turned out the timer I was wearing on my pocket had low batteries and was making the noise. I turned quite red.

  4. #4 HS Chem Dumbass
    December 5, 2006

    In my high school chemistry class, I forgot to put on gloves one day when pouring acid under the hood. Of course I spilled some on my finger, and I had a hangnail, and the acid stung my skin there. My reflex was to stick my finger in my mouth and suck on it, but that tasted really bad, and burned my tongue too. I jerked my finger out of my mouth so fast that I smashed my hand onto a corner of the hood and bruised it. And I spilled my graduated cylinder of 6M HCl all over the place. It all happened in about half a second. But nobody saw it, and that, of course, is the most important part of any lab accident!

  5. #5 anomalous4
    December 5, 2006

    From my college days:

    A friend and I were burning the usual midnight oil in the office next to the chem lab, fueling ourselves with frequent refills of instant coffee. At that time I was using a cheap glass (not even a coffee cup, just a thin glass glass), and I heard a faint popping noise when I poured in the hot water. Not thinking much of it, I picked up the glass – and the bottom had broken off. Coffee gushed out in all directions. I think we spent the next hour and a half cleaning up.

    Then there was the time I spilled pyridine. The organic chem lab hoods didn’t have doors on them – don’t ask me why – and the smell cleared everyone out of the lab in about 3 seconds flat. (Of course I was left to clean it up, all by my lonesome.) The upshot of that was that every one of my fellow students called me “Pyridine” for the rest of the school year (and beyond in a few cases). I finally decided, if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em, and drew a cartoon character of a pyridine molecule with an angry face, which became my trademark until the day I graduated.

    …and the time I put something with a little bit of acetone on it in the drying oven…… but I won’t mention that.

    And the guy in my lab section when I was an organic chem lab assistant, who was such a klutz, he went through at least 4 or 5 “Chem-Kits” in one year. (We stopped counting.) Most of the time it was a piece or two here and there, but he managed to drop the entire kit at least twice. {{{CRASH!}}} (It’s nothing, it’s just Wild Bill again.) How he managed not to spill anything dangerous, I’ll never know. The scary part: He wanted to become a surgeon.

  6. #6 franz dibbler
    December 5, 2006

    Back in the old days (1980s) our lab used to prepare adipocytes from rat epididymal fat pads. While straining the cells through cheese cloth my hands slipped and the whole mess splashed up and quite a bit ended up in my mouth. The post doc told me to think of it as rat bacon. Don’t remember the taste, just running to the fountain spitting and swearing.

    One of the pre med students couldn’t get his acrylamide into solution and ended up boiling it on an open bench. We were really pissed.

  7. #7 Julie Stahlhut
    December 5, 2006

    There was the time I spent an entire day trying to make electrophoretic gels using distilled water instead of buffer.

    At least be glad that they didn’t solidify, so you didn’t actually load samples on them. I made that mistake once while distracted in the lab. The gel actually looked fine, but when I tried to run out samples on it, the results were, of course, utter crap. Guess all those little ions were really important! 🙂

  8. #8 MissPrism
    December 5, 2006

    I made a gel with water one time too! Also, I carefully exposed a sheet of cardboard to a radioactive southern blot for 3 days in the freezer. I only noticed my mistake when it dissolved in the developing fluid.

    These days it’s mostly theory.

  9. #9 p-ter
    December 5, 2006

    damn, I’m glad so many people have made gels with water before. I felt like quite the ass when I did it.

  10. #10 sparc
    December 5, 2006

    I just have to accept that I run gels in the wrong directions about twice a year. Of course only when I am interested in small fragments that have left the gel already when I change the polarity.

    But that’s nothing compared to a medical postdoc who was hired by my former boss because he co-authored a Cell paper with some band shift assays in it. When he was supposed to run a gel for the very same purpose he claimed that the gel wouldn’t run because

    the two wires in there are not connected

  11. #11 sparc
    December 5, 2006

    here’s my favourite list:

    forgot to ad TEMED or Ammoniumpersulfate before casting acrylamide gels (luckily, I don’t have to prepare these nasty sequencing gels anymore)

    used wrong antbiotics (if you realize it it only costs you one day)

    used wrong restriction enzymes (doesn’t matter to much in sticky ligations, normally you won’t get wrong positives. However I recently cloned polished BamHI/PvuI instead of BamHI/PvuII fragments and it took me a week to find out my mistake)

    messed up identical numbered tubes from different experiments (there’s never enough space on these tubes to include all desired information and my wrist starts hurting if I try to write longer description on them)

    Heat block on wrong temperature (96°C is quite some heat shock during transformation)

    PCR wrongly programmed (without cycling thers no chance to ampify anything; one also should not end the program with a final 95°C step)

    Bred the wrong mice due to false genotyping (Besides getting really expensive one may loose the desired allele from the colony)

    Started a week long experiment only to find out that s ingle substance is missing that you essentially need to finish the experiment (However, due to a lack of saccharose in the lab I found out that sugar from the supermarket worked as well)

  12. #12 aitchdub
    December 11, 2006

    I’m glad I’m not the only one!

    My favourite (now…) was when I was running hormone radioimmunoassays and I was collecting fractions from a long row of columns. It had been a long day in the lab, and I had just loaded my last fraction at 2 am and was very much looking forward to going home. I attached the lengths of tubing to the tops of each of the columns, turned on the nitrogen tank oh so carefully, and waited to time the drips. Nothing. I cranked up the pressure, still nothing. Starting to panic a little (what the heck?! are the columns jammed?) I turned up the pressure even more. After a bit of cursing and jumping up and down I noticed…that I forgot to turn the stopcocks at the top of the tubing to allow the gas to enter the columns. I eventually finished up and went home only 20 minutes later than planned, but feeling incredibly foolish.

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