Too Stupid to Be a Scientist

True Lab Stories really are everywhere these days. Via Inside Higher Ed’s Around the Web, a blog called “What the Hell Is Wrong With You?” offers True Lab Stories: The Party Game (my name, not hers):

Back in the good old days, when La Blonde Parisienne and I were bright young grad students working in the same genetics lab, we used to play a little game called “Too Stupid To Be A Scientist.” The game goes like this: you do something stupid, and you tell the other person what a stupid thing you did, and they cheer you up by telling you something even stupider they did. For example, one day I went to lunch with La Blonde and said sadly, “I set the trash can on fire today.” She responded, “That’s nothing! One time I thought the ethanol had all burned off the little spatula, forgetting that ethanol burns clear, and I put it back into the tube of ethanol and the whole thing blew up.”

She offers some more examples, and the commenters chime in with their own stories of stupidity. It’s fun, and everyone can play.


  1. #1 Julie Stahlhut
    August 17, 2006

    I once melted two pipettors in an ethanol fire. Left the pipettors on the lab bench with a Kimwipe casually discarded across them. Ethanol-flamed some stuff on the same bench, dripped flaming ethanol on the Kimwipe, and destroyed the plastic barrels of both pipettors. Needless to say, whenever I handle flaming ethanol, I make it a point to know where my Kimwipes are!

    Also got stung while collecting tropical paper wasps because I nudged their nest with my net. That one became blogbait at Stridulations in late May of this year.

  2. #2 frumious b
    August 17, 2006

    I forgot Newton’s Law of Heating once.. I put a room temperature sample in the 900oC oven, realized I hadn’t weighed it, and took it out with my bare hand.

  3. #3 somnilista, FCD
    August 17, 2006

    She must be really gutsy to play ‘stupid’ games with a blonde…
    well, gutsy or stupid.

  4. #4 Tom Renbarger
    August 17, 2006

    I’ve shorted the terminals of about 100 Amp-hours worth of 28V Lithium batteries before. The whole high bay smelled like coughing for several minutes thereafter before we had sufficiently aired it out.

  5. #5 Dangerous Bill Penrose
    August 18, 2006

    About to light a Bunsen burner, I spotted a flask close by containing a yellow solution which fizzed like soda pop. Fearing that it was flammable, I leaned over and took a sniff. Next thing I know, I was sitting on the floor, surrounded by concerned labmates. The flask contained 10 M sodium cyanide, plus acid washings from a filtration.
    This happened 43 years ago. Today I merely invest stupidly.

  6. #6 Dan
    February 22, 2007

    I was only an engineering student for a while, now I’m on to less intensive fields, but I had a fairly funny incident that I thought you all might enjoy. This isn’t as dramatic as huffing sodium cyanide by accident or alcohol flames, but it does involve high voltage.

    OK, so I was attempting to make a function generator, because I was going to be playing with audio interference, and as a consequence of this I had a little tackle box of components out (you know the usual assorted resistors, capacitors, all that good stuff, and it’s important to note for the story, a bunch of IC chips, mainly cheap stuff like 555 timers, but some others as well). On top of this, set on the lid, was a transformer I was working with because I needed to input mains current from the wall to the circuit, and I needed to step it down and recitfy it.

    So I’ve got the rectifier set up in my breadboard, and I’m fuddling with the transformer, meanwhile, my genius of a partner decides to plug in the transformer’s plug, which was, of course, not readily identifiable (yeah, I know that was entirely my fault). Now it’s not connected to anything, so there’s no immediate indication that it’s now conducting 120 volts of AC current perilously close to my fingers…

    …Until I pick up the transformer off the top of my tacklebox. At which point the leads touch each other. There was a brilliant flash, more of an extended flash really; let’s just call it a really really bright light because it looked like someone set off a magnesium flare. Of course I was looking right at it when it happened. the brightness of the flash was also somewhat amplified by all the lights immediately going out, apparently the lab benches and overhead lights were on the same breaker.

    The end damage: a blue spot in the center of my vision for half an hour, a big hole burned in the top of my box of components, and a lot of fried chips, I’m not sure if the plastic melting or a spark did them in. I’m just glad nothing hit me…

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