Here there be dragons.

I’m still getting to grips with this whole blogging malarkey so I thought I’d give it yet another go today.

Something massive happened to today.

Yes. That’s right….

I used tertiary butyllithium for the first time at the age of 27, in the second year of my post doc. 

I know, I know, this is heavy. I can see you need a sit down now. I’ll get you some tea/coffee/cider/beer/other in a minute.

Truth be told, I’ve heard enough bad stories about tert-BuLi over the years that I’ve pretty much done my best to avoid it whenever I could. However, seeing as Grignard failed me the other day, I was forced to turn to lithiation and when it was suggested to me that tert-BuLi might do the trick, I thought “why the hell not?”.

So here is my reaction vessel (argon balloon not shown):

The foil is there to potential stop t-BuLi dropping into the acetone/CO2 bath. Not just to make it pretty…

And a handy message on the fumehood:

A comical safety message. Before you jump on me, there was a proper safety notice placed on the fumehood out of shot as well.

To be fair to tert-BuLi (because chemicals have feelings just like people?) when under an inert atmosphere its more happy, and by the point above it had already done its business. However, it’s one of those chemicals that should never be underestimated. Just look at the hazard symbols:

Chemists should all be aware of what these mean. I miss the old orange and black ones personally.

Basically, *deep breathe* it’s highly flammable, spontaneously catches fire in air, liberates flammable gases in contact with water (which will likely ignite), may be fatal if swallowed/inhaled, causes severe burns in contact with the eyes or skin and to top it all it’s very “dead fish, dead tree” (as we call it in the laboratory – aren’t we witty?).

Suffice to say that it’s a chemical you should show great respect and the utmost care in using. There have been a number of high profile laboratory accidents involving tert-butyllithium over the years. In particular the recent (2009) tragic case of Sheharbano Sangji in the lab of Patrick Harran at the UCLA, who died after being severely burned while working with tert-butyllithium when her synthetic sweater caught on fire. I don’t think that there is a chemist who shouldn’t read about what happened in that case and a very detailed explaination can be found here via Chemistry and Engineering news.

Every single university has it’s own safety rules and every single laboratory has its own safety practices and every single researcher has their own way of working. These three aspects do not always mesh very well, especially (as I’ve discovered over the years) if the University tends to talk about safety a lot, but doesn’t have a budget to act upon aforementioned talk.

I asked for advice today on how to use tert-butyllithium, as you’ve probably surmised I’m not a cavalier when it comes to my approach to chemical safety and I’m pretty sure if anything went wrong everyone in the laboratory would have known what to do.

I think the take away message is…Always play it safe with chemicals you’ve never used before. Do your homework. Check your hazards. Take all the necessary precautions.

In other  news….

Oh. The physicsts at CERN might have pretty much found that Higgs Boson thing that they and the whole world has been obsessing over for years. Don’t let it be said that I don’t pay attention to the bigger picture.

-The Lab Coat Cowboy-

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