The “emergency evacuation due to science” badge.


Sort of self explanatory – should be a good story or two here… (DL).



  1. In 1979, I managed to cause an emergency evacuation due to science.

    It was in the chemistry building at Western Washington Univ. Another guy and I were trying to catch up on some lab experiments that went wrong. Well, my bad luck streak continued. I was making a tear gas like compound under the hood. No big deal under normal circumstances. But, vents for the hoods on the roof, swivel so that they always vent downwind. And on that day, the wind blew such that it lined up the vents directly upwind from the intakes for the basement. Yup, I “gassed” the basement. Caused the building to be evacuated until they could vent everything out.

    But, even that was not as bad as when a fellow photographer dropped a gallon of glacial acetic acid in the photo lab…

  2. Goodness, this reminds me how we knocked over a 5 liter dewer can of liquid nitrogen during science week one year at school.

    The stuff ran like rats on the floor – unfortunately most of it rushed out underneath the door, out into the hallway, and following the slant of the floor it ended up in the staircase.

    It didn’t cause a proper evacuation, but the ensuing panic among our teachers and many kids was almost as good^^

  3. Oh, my. Yup, been there, done that. In 8th grade, no less. You see, a friend of mine found a jar in his attic from a 1940’s era chemistry set, containing sticks of white phosphorous (!!) in water. (His family is rather lucky that that jar was well sealed, and the water did not evaporate over the years.) He decided to bring it to science class to show everyone. During that, someone wanted to get a closer look at the phosphorous, as it was in a dark bottle, so I lifted a stick the size of one of those fat sidewalk chalk sticks out of the jar with a pair of needle nose pliers. I figured it would be okay to take it out of the water for a minute or so, as long as it remained wet, and I carefully held it over the open jar so I could quickly drop it back in. This *would* have been fine, if the stick hadn’t zipped out of the jaws of the pliers like a squeezed watermelon seed. And landed *directly* on the room’s radiator. Which was on, and hot.
    All I recall after that was the whole building suddenly being filled with white smoke so dense you couldn’t see your hand in front of your face. Needless to say, they had to evacuate the building. To make matters worse, the school was not the only tenant of that building, and the neighboring music academy, and one other tenant also had to evacuate.

    (We both went to a private school in the Chicago area, which had

  4. I decided to make some magnesium loaded black powder, and knew that black powder is mixed wet, and allowed to dry. I mixed it up, and left it in my dorm…
    Mg + H2O = MgO + H2
    H2 + S = H2S
    which resulted in me taking a deep breath on the edge of the smell, then sprinting into the dorm and throwing an ammo tin chemistry set out of the window, then sprintig back to safety until the gas dispersed.

  5. When I was 7 years old I did a class talk involving copper coins and fuming nitric acid. Adding some home-made tumreric indicator (turns brick red in acidic conditions) um .. accelerated .. the reaction, generating quite large volumes of NO2. This prompted the teacher to evacuate the classroom and we spent the rest of the afternoon playing softball.

    The maguffin? It was *my* nitric acid. Not the schools.

  6. Second semester freshman chemistry lab at the University of Texas at Austin, I was assigned a lab drawer and told to inventory the glassware. I opened a capped vial and whatever was in there caused the entirety of Welch Hall to be evacuated and firetrucks called out. Good times!

  7. Spilled benzene on a lab bench, not under a hood. Chem floor was evacuated the rest of the afternoon.

  8. This evacuation happened to a friend. It happened at a Tacoma WA area high school in 76 or 77. She was a chemistry TA. In the back room, there was the usual supplies of chemicals that would be outright banned in any school today. In the corner was a small drum that no one paid any attention to. It was pushed around, stuff set upon it, etc. Then one day, for some reason, she checked the label – picric acid! And it had started to crystallize too. Well, that caused the entire school and everyone within 500 feet to be evacuated.

  9. I set a 250 mL round bottom flask full of pet ether into a heating mantle that was inadvertently left on. Upon addition of boiling stones (to facilitate the reflux I was going to to) the ether flash vaporized filling the lab and hallway with ether fumes. My research prof and team weren’t amused.

  10. I did this as a high school teacher. I was pouring some acetic acid in my classroom, which had neither hood nor emergency fan. The little plastic doohickey that sits in the mouth of the bottle fell out, and suddenly my aperture was a LOT bigger than it was supposed to be. Kids were coughing and gagging all over the room.

    My classes met outside for the rest of the day, and the class smelled like a pickle factory for the rest of the week.

  11. Can I get two of these? We had to evacuate our 6th grade classroom because some friends and I were playing with this really cool liquid metal that we found! The science teacher from the high school had to come over and collect the mercury.

    In 8th grade, a friend of mine and I were taking an electronics class. He wondered what would happen if he bent a piece of wire in a U shape and stuck it in an electrical outlet. Turns out it kills the power to the entire building!

  12. Does it have to be a stinky evacuation?? I had a minor spill of radioactivity (S35-methionine) that I cleaned following the proper protocols. Of course it was late in the day and the cleaning staff came to mop the floor before I was done confirming the contamination was cleared. So, I asked them not to mop the floors until later. I came back to the lab the next morning and was told I couldn’t enter the building because the HazMat team was on the way for a radioactive contamination on the 11th floor (my floor)! It took a lot of talking to convince them to just call the school radiation safety officer instead of the Fire Department.

  13. We were doing a chemistry magic show for some of the elementary schools near my university. We decided to start the show with a bang, involving mixed chemical fireworks. This would have been great, had the theatre people turned the fans on before the show started. About 15 mintues into the show, we had to evacuate everyone from the theatre until the could get some fresh air flowing through, about 15 minutes

  14. Well, I didn’t CAUSE the evacuation, but I was involved! An undergrad student in the lab was using the biological safety cabinet (with gas burner on to sterilize his glass spreader) and tossed all of his pipet wrappers to the side, right next to the flame… the inevitable occurred, and everyone had to get out of the lab right quickly. I’m proud to say that I heroically turned off the gas, although my labmate was the one who superheroically tamped out the fire using his labcoat.

  15. I was an undergrad researcher, teaching a Ph.D. how to do a radioactive RNA hybridization technique. Apparently some people at such a high level still have no respect for a screaming Geiger counter – she dropped a vial of P-32 on the floor and didn’t bother telling me about it. I came in the next day and was yelled at because they had to demonstrate complete decontamination before we were allowed back in the lab.

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