This is one of the most entertaining online resources for undergrad researchers I’ve seen in the last few weeks.

The page “Rookie Mistakes” is part of an online vault of stories from benchtop chemistry, where erlenmeyer flasks are known to explode and solvents erupt in greenish flames.

This collection of pages began with a list of eleven mistakes in September 2004. The idea was that beginning experimentalists might learn from experienced chemists, chemists who have run hundreds of reactions, and made lots of mistakes.

The Rookie Mistakes did not exactly work out that way. What began as an innocent compilation of beginner bungles evolved into an entertaining catalog of honest errors, freak accidents, relatively innocuous events that cascaded in horrific directions, and incidents worthy of a Darwin award. After a few years of this, reading the list involved scrolling through a vast catalog of catastrophe encompassing all the classes of chemical experimentation.

Check it out. Especially chemists. There’s nothing like a good old “you’ll never guess what blew up in my fume hood” to remind you that there are always surprises in the laboratory. The non-deterministic nature of sloshing chemicals together is a constant source of frustration and surprise, and it’s a privilege to have the space to try and ferret it out.

Also, these stories are pretty cool in the raw aspect of things blowing up and catching fire. (Discharged syringe with t-BuLi in open atmosphere…flamethrower!) ACS and Langmuir and Nature are all in the business of science gone right, and now here is a website for all the places where things went wrong or weird! I tip my hat to Rochester for putting up this website.


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