Saturday, September 19, 2009
In all the nostalgia I’ve printed here over the years, I don’t think I really covered college life much. As as chemistry student I was blessed with the dreaded Saturday morning (8:00 AM to 12:00 Noon) lab – every semester. It meant standing for four hours and if there had been a good frat party or big dance the night before it could be torture. My lab bench and Harry’s were such that we worked facing each other. Harry was a nice fellow most of the time, but one Saturday he had obviously been partying on Friday night. He was really hung-over.
His lab project required that he pick up a full, heavy bottle if concentrated NH4OH (Ammonia). His shaking hands betrayed him and it fell to the floor and broke. A painful cloud of ammonia gas spread through the lab. Harry more or less paniced. He was jumping around repeating, “ Oh my God! What should I do?” I said, never dreaming how befuddled he was, “Pour a bottle of HCl on it.” For non-chemists, these two chemicals react fiercely and create an old style smoke screen that irritates the eyes and nose. I didn’t think he would do it, but he sure did it.
A liter of each of those could hide a battleship. Without a battleship to defend, the whole top floor of the laboratory building had to be evacuated. To add to the excitement, someone saw all the smoke and pulled a fire alarm. We had a very angry professor. I didn’t confess for several weeks.