My lab is currently undergoing a Health and Safety (H&S) upgrade. We are moving from the old H&S system which was mostly based on a mutual trust between us and the chemicals that they wouldn’t try and kill us, to a system that is more akin to treating most of my lab like the chemical equivalent of a deranged serial killer.

Practically, this means instead of detailing all my chemicals on form A, I now need to fill out form B. Given that I have a small chemical library of 114 chemicals of assorted shapes and sizes, re-filling out that many forms is not exactly a thrilling prospect. But it’s okay, someone high up had a great suggestion – “Can we just get rid of any chemical we don’t use for a month?”…

In the half a second after that suggestion was made, I realised two things – firstly, I can do a great impression of a frightened deer in headlights and secondly, judging by the cold sweat it gave me, I may be a hoarder.

Chemical smeagolI am a research scientist and I have a number of simultaneous projects. These are all quite early stage projects where I don’t always know the processes I’m going to use. Every new project has new chemistries to try out, and to do them I need order stuff. Not all of it obviously, but there are always 2 or 3 things I need that my library doesn’t have.

Around 90% of the stuff I have has no meaningful expiry day (in most cases it’s the expiry date of the container not the material) so it can pretty much just sit in the cupboard until the next time I use it. I did once get into an argument with an auditor who wanted us to dispose of our NaCl because it had expired by one month. Perhaps it’s my weak chemical knowledge, but what the fluff is NaCl going to spontaneously break down into? Are they worried about some kind of super mould growing that only feeds on salt?! Because if there is a chance of that happening I’m willing to take the risk, as I’m pretty sure its discovery might put me in with a chance at a Nobel prize.

Lazy chemist's dream

Also there are various chemicals that were custom synthesis products. They may not actually exist anywhere else in the world. I have small petri dishes of crystallised material that were made ~8 years ago for one particular project which have actually been used in a couple of projects since. I also have a small library of porphyries that were made for my predecessor that are all beautifully coded with indecipherable alphanumeric markings. Those I had started to think were a bit ridiculous for keeping as I didn’t actually know which was which… until by random chance I bumped into their creator who gave me a crib sheet. Thus validating me storing them for the last 4 years.

So there is a huge temptation to just keep building up a giant library of materials. No matter how specific, they often come round again as really useful materials. I know that the second I get rid of them I’ll have a project come along needing them.

I’m not sure if this is just my own brand of craziness or if other chemists have similar hoarding tendencies. Maybe it’s me, maybe everyone else cleans out the chemical cupboard and I’m the chemist equivalent of a cat lady with a house full of junk. Share your hoarded chemical stories either by dropping an email to phil.prime@laboratorynews.co.uk or by commenting on this article online at labnews.co.uk – and possibly make me feel less like the only one…