Mandatory Safety Standown

Some of the trappings for working in a government lab are the frequent safety trainings, safety retrainings, safety walkthroughs, safety evaluations, and safety inspections. This year Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory is up for its DOE review. If LBL passes then its contract with the UC system is renewed. If we don’t pass, the contract is opened to other bidders. Since the higher ups are not looking forward to a Clorox owned LBL, the entire lab is in a state of heightened safety righteousness. On Wednesday, the division director (kind of like a department chair) informed us we were not allowed to do research, but were instead to spend the day cleaning and making the lab as safe as possible. Clean labs have historically lower rates of accidents, so messy bench chemists are a serious no-no around here. Being the good graduate student, I went around the lab and disposed of all 50+ of our mercury thermometers [1] (correctly and coordinated with EH&S) except this guy below.

I just couldn’t bring myself to throw this beauty in the trash heap. It will be spending its retirement with me. 

[1]: Mercury thermometers are not illegal per se, but they are strongly discouraged at LBL.




  1. What is the range on that? Is it 0-5 °C?

    That is one sexy piece of apparatus! I’d keep it too.

    • If you look at the far right hand side, you’ll see more mercury and a reading for 20 C corresponding to the room temperature. But from what I can tell, the mercury reservoir on the left is related to this mini scale on the right. I need to play with this some more to figure it out. It kind of sucks to be stumped by a thermometer. :/

    • I’d like to know too. How much did that device cost? I could convince the department to buy that to replace our current one.

  2. Don’t you just love safety audits? I hate wasting resources (i.e. mercury thermometers), but it’s a necessary evil sometimes.

    I tend to find really interesting pieces of glassware when I’ve been instructed to clean the lab by “the man.” Found a calibrated micropipette last month–JACKPOT!

  3. Does the mercury pool through the thinner capillary to the upper chamber – giving you a reading at room temperature as an added bonus, while giving you a nice 0-5 reading when really being used?

  4. Hi- LANL had the brown shirt safety freaks starting around FY00. Then shut the lab down in 2004. Took us 4 months to get back up. Our immediate group lost 5m in funding. We kinda just sat on our rear ends taking safety online courses and immersing ourselves in safety think groups trying to understand what we did wrong. Good luck.

  5. The whole mercury is evil thing is getting a little bit out of hand.

    The thermometer in question, the picture is not that great, but I believe it is a revering thermometer. You take a measurement, flip it upside down quickly and your temperature is “saved” for later viewing.

  6. That’s a Beckmann thermometer, a differential thermometer devised by the man who first isolated solid benzophenone ketyl as a solid using either hydrogen or CO2 (generated with a Kipps apparatus) back in the 1880’s. His thermomemeter was used for determining molecular weights since it can measure depression of freezing point to within 1/100th of a degree.
    It’s definitely a keeper.

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