Frightening dilemma of the day: how to get lithium fluoride inside my glove box?
I spend a lot of time working in a glove box, where the idea is to keep oxygen and moisture out. You fill the box with your favorite inert gas (we’ve got nitrogen in the one I use), and that let’s you do all sorts of fun science that would normally get messed up by oxygen or water. As a benign example: magnesium oxidizes like crazy in air. Nothing dangerous, sort of like the equivalent of rust. So if you need non-rusty magnesium, get yourself a glove box (there are far easier and cheaper ways to make sure magnesium doesn’t oxidize, but it’s a good example). There are more dangerous situations where you want a glove box becasue, say, things explode in water, but you get the idea.
So. First rule of glove box: don’t put oxygen/water inside. Seems simple but is sometimes a bit less intuitive than not sticking your cup of coffee inside. Jars of chemicals can go in fairly frequently, for example. If you close a chemical jar outside the glove box, you’ve now got oxygen inside the jar. If you then put it in your box and open it, you’ve just broken glove box rule #1 (guilty!). So generally you open your jar, pull out the air with a vacuum pump, then put it in your box. Easy!
Well, today I got some lithium fluoride that needed to go in my glove box. It arrived with an enormous skull and cross-bones poison label on the UPS box. It’s nasty stuff (even by chemist standards), and you don’t want to breathe it. Really. Unless you like, and I quote, “immediate defecation, writhing, … liver edema and necrosis, respiratory and cardiac failure.” (To be fair, that’s just for “large doses”, whatever that means.) I was thrilled. The problem then became how best to open it up so I could vacuum out the oxygen (so I could put it in the glove box) without killing myself. Welcome to the exciting life of chemistry grad students.
Long story short, the stuff is in the box. I am not dead.