Post Tagged with: "USC"

SPIE – San Francisco 2010: Day 2

SPIE an international society focused on all things light-based is having their big photonics conference in San Francisco this week. I had the opportunity to sit in the professional development speaker series and thought I would share some of the speakers’ insights.

Andrea Armani a 2nd year assistant professor at USC in chemical engineering spoke on Leading a Well-Adjusted Research Group. She stated that she gives her students Fridays off from their main research endeavor and allows them to tackle any question they want; which is a very new generation Google-esque approach to student mentoring. She also explicitly establishes that a particular older graduate student will mentor a younger graduate student in the lab, so that the younger student will always have someone to answer their questions. The most interesting story told was how she deftly managed to diffuse the amorous advances of a student, a very awkward position indeed, and a situation not covered in the manual.

Thomas Tongue gave a talk on Peaks and Pitfalls of Professional Communication, but it mainly focused on how to deliver what he calls The Elevator Pitch. He says that in scenarios where you would like to collaborate with an other scientist, or a scenario where you feel you could contribute to a team in the company if only you were placed on it, that you essentially have 60-90 s with that collaborator or vice-president to make your best pitch. The pitch has to be clear, compelling, conceptual (not bogged down in technical jargon), concrete (a specific quantifiable metric should be given), consistent (story should flow well), customized for the the target audience, and always given in a conversational tone. His advice is similar in nature to what Peggy Klaus advocates in her book The Art of Tooting Your Own Horn without Blowing It but she terms them brag-a-logs. Peggy Klaus’s book is a good read for those interested in professional development and especially for those that have problems vocalizing their contributions.

The chair of the session was Dirk Fabian from SPIE Student Services and I’m glad they were able to put together a good mix of speakers; as this type of information can be hard to extract from PIs.


By January 25, 2010 0 comments chemical education

Chemical Spill or CHEMICAL SPILL!!

Some of you may have heard on ABC news about a “Chemical Spill” at the University of Southern California on 10/15/09.1 Luckily, you get the inside story because the spill was in my research lab.evacuation

A post-doc in my research group was transporting a few chemicals in a plastic basket from one location to another.  The plastic was brittle due to gradual chemical exposure and cracked. Three bottles fell to the ground and broke. One contained lauroyl chloride, another an anthracene derivative (I don’t remember which one) and the third was a 100 mL bottle of tributyltin chloride. The first two are entirely inert and caused no concern.  The third chemical is an alkyl tin reagent which, in general, are known to be toxic.2 Tributyl tin chloride has a high boiling point (170ºC) and a low vapor pressure compared to that of trimethyl tin chloride. To actually be affected by this chemical, you would probably have to lick the floor or rub it on your skin. However, it was a scenario where we decided it would be best to close the room and allow our on campus Hazmat team, composed of three guys and a truck, to clean it up.

Our lab safety officer soon learned, through USC Public Safety, that the Hazmat crew was unavailable due to a publicity event on the USC Health Sciences Campus. I am not exactly sure who was contacted next, but the response was big.  A building evacuation, two fire trucks, 10-15 firemen, several LAPD officers, and a Los Angeles county chemical spill response team later a news helicopter shows up. They were likely listening to the police radio and, once they arrived on the scene, started reporting the event on ABC news.

The chemical spill response team was no doubt baffled when they saw ~50 ml of clear liquid on the floor of our lab. This is the team called in when a chemical tanker flips over.

Eventually, the USC Hazmat team arrived and did the minor cleaning required from the beginning.

The image above is perhaps the best summation of how overblown the response was. It was used by ABC news to indicate a mass building evacuation.  The picture is actually of an on-campus engineering job fair that was happening a block away. Each white umbrella signifies a different visiting company.

Luckily, the media was distracted by a helium balloon, without which this overblown event may have been even further overblown.

Things I learned/re-learned from this event:

  • Know what chemicals you are working with, how to clean them up and their toxicity.
  • Find out who you need to call for both major and minor chemical spills.
  • Don’t use dollar store plastic baskets for transporting chemicals (at least not long term).
  • Don’t invite your Hazmat team to publicity events.



By October 17, 2009 6 comments Uncategorized