Friday, May 27, 2011

Life As a Chemist

I want to be a writer someday, but right now most of my working time is spent being a chemist. For the most part, nothing much exciting happens where I work, but we did have a bit of action the other day.

Unfortunately, I was the one responsible for all the excitement.

I do research on fuel cells and one of the more common fuels for these devices is hydrogen. So when I disconnected one of our test systems without completely shutting down the fuel stream, the escaping hydrogen set off the laboratory alarm.

There was no danger involved. Hydrogen can be explosive when sufficient quantities build up in a closed area, but the amount I was leaking was almost a thousand times below that limit. Unfortunately, the nearby carbon monoxide sensor is also sensitive to hydrogen and its alarm level is set at a much, much lower level, so the alarm went off when it shouldn’t have. Inconvenient, but better to be safe than sorry.

Normally this wouldn’t have been any problem. Just a few flashing lights in our lab to let us know there was a leak. However, the company had just recently tied our room’s alarm system into the building’s main alarm system and so an “evacuate the building” message was broadcast throughout the entire building. Thank goodness it wasn’t raining that day.

Although the matter was quickly resolved and everyone brought back inside, I did have to explain all this to the chief engineer for the project. No fun!

Who ever said chemistry was all fun and games?


  1. Sorry to hear about that! We had a similar experience not too long ago. State-wide news coverage and all. And after that? Safety inspections like no other. Of course, our alarm was tied in with the building, the fire department, and apparently the local news.

  2. Oh gosh! I'm a chemist also (semi-volatile analysis, mostly Pesticides, Herbicides, and PCBs) and have plenty of fun - and rather boring - lab stories. But I've never set off an alarm :P Good job!