Special Summer Series: Elizabeth Hoover de Galvez from the library's reference department, shares her observations of summer research at Coe. This summer she is working with Dr. Feller's materials science group.It is inevitable that in a teaching lab, mistakes happen. Students (and sometimes faculty) shatter, overheat, mislabel, and otherwise mess up. As I started learning about the equipment in the physics lab, I sometimes felt paralyzed by all that could go wrong. The way that the physics students handle these errors is with humor--by writing up a satirical account of the misdeed and posting in the halls of Peterson for all to see. Then everyone can laugh about (and learn from) their mistakes together.
Recent "good ones" (many of these may not be official "good ones" which get written up, but are just a few mistakes which have happened on the days I've been in the physics labs):
- a sample of glass was mailed off to another university; the researchers started getting unexpected results in their tests. It was finally discovered that the students who had made, packaged, and sent the samples had mislabeled one of them.
- the scanning electron microscope was used to examine a sample which looked very strange under high-magnification. After much head-scratching, it was discovered that the actual sample had been blown off of the viewing slide leaving only a highly magnified image of a piece of tape
- the small enclosed furnace room reeked of ammonia after students heated a glass which contained (I believe) ammonium powder of some form
- someone used highly flammable acetone cleaning solution in the furnace room
- while working with hydrochloric acid to clean crucibles, a student left the water running alongside an uncapped bottle of acid. The students that arrived later found a puddle which they had to verify wasn't acid before cleaning up.
- the students also mentioned a couple of past accidents--melted platinum crucibles worth hundreds of dollars and equipment accidentally frozen by liquid nitrogen.