>Before we go there, however, we need to address an assumption implicit in the question: the level of sophistication of the chemist. Is the starting point a person with high-level understanding (and experience) with the reactions in question or a novice experimenting on their own? If the latter, then the discussion is moot.
As a entry level lab tech in the early 1980's in agronomy and industrial hygiene labs, I worked with both 30% H2O2 and acetone routinely. Fortunately, I was never inspired to mix them, but I don't think that means that the discussion is moot. I'm interested in how the lab population as a whole is best educated to assess the risks of the chemistry work they are doing. We know that Safety Data Sheets aren't designed to address process hazards but both the primary and compiled literature of known hazard is at best unsystematic and at worse baffling.
One alternative is:
> They should be working under the direct supervision of <a person with high-level understanding (and experience) with the reactions in question> then they should have the ability to recognize that A +B with a catalyst, can form D in addition to the product C they want. They get this knowledge on the journey to becoming a "sophisticated chemist."
As I read the SafetyZone report, the student was following a published procedure and had reviewed a risk assessment with his supervisor. The report suggests that's why he was able to recognize the formation of the TATP as the process proceeded. The SafetyZone has a variety of other reports when explosive chemicals were unintentionally generated; it's not clear if the risk assessments for these events addressed this possibility.
However, the larger point is that my experience in large research institutions is that many faculty in laboratory departments who supervise people working with these chemicals would not claim to be a "sophisticated chemist"; they are more likely to describe themselves as engineers, food scientists or biologists. These scientists will, however, use chemical reactions they find in the literature to further their research. My question is how do we best support this use case in the academic setting for hazard assessment purposes?
> I had a research student ask me yesterday what field of Chemistry studied how to learn what happened when you mixed two chemicals. It was such an interesting question. Specifically, he wanted to know how, when people wrote experimental procedures in papers, how did they know what to say - was it just experience.
One interesting challenge this question points to is that I have often heard inorganic chemists say that they don't know what "those organic chemists down the hall are doing" and vice versa. This might help raise the question of what the range of knowledge of a sophisticated chemist is expected to have. Will a student under their supervision be disallowed from pursuing a literature reaction their supervisor doesn't have experience with?
Thanks to everyone for their comments on this issue.
Ralph Stuart, CIH, CCHO
Environmental Safety Manager
Keene State College
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