Sunday, September 5, 2010

Always Respect Your Research

In the course of graduate research, most students will encounter agents or materials that can cause serious injury or even death. In my experience as a researcher in the fields of infectious diseases and natural products chemistry, this was especially true.

The risks involved in infectious diseases research are obvious. Even the name sounds bad-- infectious diseases. Who wants that? No one, I hope.

My research involved working with bacteria that, if I were unknowingly infected, could kill me within 24 hours. And I did this everyday. Our lab had special antibiotics and a protocol to follow in case we suspected exposure.

Yes, it sounds bad, but be thankful that there are scientists who are willing do this day-to-day. They are the ones putting themselves into harms way so we can live a healthy life free of strange and exotic illnesses.

Lab Safety

I was thinking about lab safety after reading the articles in the links provided above. For me a quote from the movie "The Rock" starring Nicholas Cage (playing a biochemical weapons expert) and Sean Connery (playing former British agent) best summarizes my approach to lab work. In a scene where Cage's character was disarming a missile containing VX nerve agent, he says, "The second you don't respect this, it kills you."

Respect, that's what it boils down to.

I respected what I was working with and took the proper precautions: coat, gloves, mask, goggles. But there was always a few people who became complacent and occasionally forgot to bring a piece of safety equipment. Yes, there were minor accidents, and these often scared people straight, but it didn't always last.

After a few years of cautious research, I had enough and decided to pursue graduate studies in chemistry. I though it would be safer. In some ways it was (no killer bacteria) and in others it wasn't (flammable agents and explosions). But this is a story for my next post.

-Dr. Dave

Posted via email from Dr. Dave Science

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