Lab Bloopers

Reddit users share the worst mishaps they’ve witnessed while working in the lab.

By | April 22, 2015


Accidents happen. As any scientist knows, plenty can go wrong when working with potentially dangerous microbes, chemicals, or equipment. Last week (April 17), Reddit user mmm_whatcha_say opened a thread asking scientists to share “the worst thing that has happened in their lab.” The thread has attracted nearly 2,800 comments. Among the top 500:

Food-related flubs

AnthraxCat: “We had a grad student working with a relatively benign strain of Vibrio cholerae who didn’t wear gloves, or wash her hands before eating lunch. She got cholera. The doctors were baffled.”

Jfmorrison: “Postdoc ordered a pizza and ate part. Put the rest in the -80 C freezer. Next night, wants a snack, puts in microwave on defrost for a couple minutes. Cheese looks melted so he takes a bite. The center is still frozen solid and he gets ice burns on his tongue, mouth, and lips.”

Physics 101

Plasmonical: “Grad student decides to use an ultracentrifuge, needing to spin at about 1,000,000g (~9800km/s2). Decides to load it with all his samples on one side of the drum (unbalanced). During spin up, the drum rips itself off the motor arm and shreds the interior machinery as it bounced around. RIP ultracentrifuge.”

Costly catastrophes

Blackday44: “There was a communication issue, and someone threw out about $20,000 worth of samples.”

LabMoneyWaster: “Added the wrong chemical to a 300L solution that compromised an experiment and wasted $150,000 of company money.”

Fashion accident

Au_Struck_Geologist: “Bought new white shoes. Spilled nitric acid on new white shoes. Result: new white and yellow shoes.”

Share your lab bloopers

Humorous confessions aside, lab safety is a serious issue. In the spirit of sharing, The Scientist asks: What’s the worst #labblooper you’ve witnessed? Tweet @TheScientistLLC using the hashtag.

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Avatar of: DNADEB


Posts: 5

April 23, 2015

Someone did a similar thing to an ultracentrifuge once when I was in grad school and he was thrown out.

Avatar of: Ellen Hunt

Ellen Hunt

Posts: 18

April 23, 2015

Grad student, sleeping  (surreptitiously) in professor's office at night (he was homeless) put his false teeth in the professor's coffee cup for the night.  Got up to use the bathroom in the morning, and left the denture. The stuff of legends. She was not amused.

A lab was left in the care of a post-doc when PI left on vacation. He returned from his hiking vacation to find that the post-doc had done nothing when the power failed and all of his -80 freezer samples had melted. The cost was incalculable. They were deep-ocean collections that could not be replaced.

A grad student was found asleep in the cell culture room with his feet up, inside the biosafety hood. This explained a lot about why it was hard to keep cultures going.

Avatar of: moushumi dey

moushumi dey

Posts: 1

April 25, 2015

very recently a pg medico was working in our lab with the mini centrifuge machine (135000rpm) and suddenly it exploded with all its content (broth culture of staphyllococcus aureus) .all the eppendorf tupes got crushed in very small pieces,the lid of the centrifuge was no where to be seen,the student's eye bled profusely,taken to casualty and found her conjunctiva teared ,stitches were given to her,luckily her eyes were sved.GREAT EXPLOSION.!!!!!!!!!!!!


Avatar of: .....


Posts: 5

April 27, 2015

I had a situation similar to the ultracentrifuge but thankfully a lot less costly. I needed to grow up a bacterial culture in a tabletop shaking incubator of a lab I worked in during one summer. They had a variety of the screw in holders in a seemingly random position (definitely not symmetrical), so I placed my single flask in one of the holders for the 500 ml flasks. It was a bit off center, but it never occurred to me that I could actually move them (I also had no idea where the screws and stuff were). I came back the next morning to find the lab manager cleaning broken glass out of the incubator...whoops. Thankfully it was with run of the mill E. coli instead of the higher BSL things in the lab and it hadn't done much damage...but wow was that embarrassing. 

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