3/17/2007

crazy or homicidal? which is it this week?

There are labs where the gloves guard against sample contamination, and there are labs where the gloves (half-assedly) guard you against almost everything you touch. After working in a few of the former, I am now in one of the latter, but I'm a little paranoid at times. Most things I see here on a daily basis are harmful in some way or other. A little caution in handling them negates most of the risks. I've never used anything pyrophoric, though...
Raney Nickel: Spontaneously Combustible! Danger: Do not load in passenger aircraft!Non-chemists: I wanted to take this opportunity to display a few things that appeared on a box that recently arrived in our lab. Now, usually it's the label on something that has the paranoia-inducing words punctuated by exclamation marks. Danger! Toxic! Irritating dust! Carcinogen! This time, it's the box it was shipped in. (Hazmat and shipping...you know how it is.) I was particularly drawn to the "SPONTANEOUSLY COMBUSTIBLE" sticker, which could seemingly allude to spontaneous human combustion, something I will likely experience within the next week.


The backstory? I happen to be an exceptionally jumpy undergrad. So jumpy, in fact, that I had to tack up a little sign to remind the boss to make his presence known lest broken glassware and other less-than-desirable incidents ensue. (He walks so quietly that I suspect he may secretly be a ninja.) I also have a tendency to panic a little in the event of unintentional fire.[1] With these things in mind, I'm set to do a reaction involving hydrogen and the contents of the aforementioned box with frightening labels.[2] Nothing good can come of this...
Thoughts, anyone? One of my labmates has proved to be especially handy with the fire extinguisher, so it shouldn't be too bad. The real reason behind this post and the inspiration for its title is actually a certain IP that has been showing up around here. It would seem that someone has more important things to do than blog-reading...[3]

[1] Intentional fire can be fun. Unintentional fire, like uninitentional pregnancy, is generally not welcome. Ψ*Ψ is (and will remain) childfree and unapologetic.

[2] By "the contents" I mean the vial of Raney nickel in the box. The vial was not the only thing contained by the box. Some people do not appear to understand what to use in confusing situations such as this, thus the need for clarification.

[3] No disrespect intended. After all, you already indicated that the answer is "homicidal."

11 comments:

jokerine said...

Keep a box of sand, a fire extinguisher and another person handy. stuff like this is really not so bad and once you've set the flask on fire once it's not as exciting anymore.
I sometimes work with phosphanes, which ignite as soon as they see air or water, so trust me it's only half as bad.

milkshake said...

Friend told me about a mishap with 96% NaH powder can in Prague: He walked into an organic lab and was startled by bright yellow fire burning on the bench next to the balances. There was some sand dumped around the burning can and the balances were pushed aside (so that they wouln't melt) but nobody was trying to extinqush the fire, the asembled lab personel were just watching it calmly from the distance. My friend shouted "quick, fire extinquisher", grabbed a CO2 fire extinqusher and blew it on the can - and BOOOM - a tremendous yellow fireball of NaH powder burning ensued. So he gave up on trying to put out the fire and joined the spectators. By the time the firefighters arrived the hydride burned out, tre was only a smoldering can and charred bench.

Pa-Ni is not too bad until it dries up. An arabic guy at my previous company spilled some Raney nickel sludge and was cleaning it up, and he wiped his hands into his lab coat around the waist. Some time later his labcoat started smoldering without him taking a notice. He was surprised when colleagues called: Dude, watch out, you are GLOWIN'

evgeny said...

Did he get the Raney Nickel from somewhere? I always make it in-situ in small batches and mine is always a little poisoned with some doubly chelating ligands. I do remember some sizzling with spots that dried up somewhere, but I've never seen it glow. That's, pretty interesting actually.

Chemgeek said...

I've heard of two instances where fires were essentially allowed to burn themselves out. Neither were huge, but significant. Both involved metals (surprise, surprise). Fire extinguishers were ineffective and despite other efforts, they were both contained in a hood until they burned themselves out. I saw the aftermath of one of them. It made quite the mess and left a "scar" on the bench.

kiwi said...

on milkshakes fire extingusher note, i too have seen the results of CO2 extingusher vs burning (in this case an oil bath), it looks like something out of apocalypse now. i now note where dry powder extingushers are in labs, its just not worth trying with CO2.

theguythatIMedyouhisgroup said...

Do you have a stalker, psi*psi?

Ψ*Ψ said...

I'm not sure that "stalker" is the right word...

Matt Jenks said...

For the Raney Nickel, shouldn't you have something like Metal-X or whatever laying around? I've never actually dealt with it, but as I'm doing hydrogenation reactions these past couple of weeks, myself (Pd/C), I've been very cognizant of what to use and when.

The only fires I've heard of that were allowed to burn themselves out were LAH fires. And those basically went so fast that no one could get the fire extinguisher there in time.

milkshake said...

the positive aspect of becoming crazy is that it makes an average homicidal rampage so much more fun

carbazole said...

I use nickel boride instead of Raney nickel. Almost the exact same properties, but it won't catch fire. Really easily made by taking an aqueous solution of Ni(OAc)2 and adding NaBH4 in .01N NaOH dropwise. The pretty aqua green color of Ni(OAc)2 goes away immediately, and as you add the NaBH4, you get a precipitate of nickel boride, which is ready to use. Great stuff. I had a nitro reduction for a Leimgruber-Batcho indolization that was going with about 50% yield with Raney nickel, not sure why, but trying nickel boride gave me a quantitative yield of pure material.

Anonymous said...

Carbazole, do you have a reference for that NiB procedure?

TiA

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