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Where even the pencil sharpener is dangerous

LABS IN FOCUS: The Hazardous Materials Lab

It starts off well – posted on the door of the Furtwangen University Hazardous Materials Lab there‘s a 20-page list of lab regulations which sound pretty serious; and after visitors have gone through the changing area and entered the lab proper, the next thing they notice are all the rolls of sticky labels with “Warning!”and “Danger!” on them. There’s no doubt about it, bangs and puffs of smoke must be a common occurance here. Students in the Faculty of Health, Safety, Society, studying in what was once a Furtwangen hospital surgical unit, are learning how to deal with dangers of every description.

Because safety takes top priority here, the Hazardous Materials Lab boasts large quantities of fire extinguishers, fume cupboards, emergency showers and extraction hoods. The experiment cases at each workplace contain materials and instructions for diverse experiments, one of which for example results in glowing iron, while another tests how leak-proof normal rubber gloves really are – in times of corona a particularly impressive series of experiments. “This gives you a great explosive flame,” exclaims Prof Dr Stephan Lambotte as he gives me a tour through the facilities, “and here at the back you can carry out biological experiments and poison yeast!”  His enthusiasm is infectious. With acetic acid, a standard pencil sharpener and a squirt of washing-up liquid, the Dean of the Faculty demonstrates under the extraction hood the chemical reaction which involves magnesium and hydrogen. Many of the experiment cases in the teaching lab contain ordinary kitchen and household utensils. “Explosive candy” with icing suger, an explosion with wheat flour – from acid tests to the ignition behaviours of blended fuels, everything can be tested here.

Sometimes the students even become safe crackers – in the Safety and Security Lab next door dangers from external sources, or those caused by machines or the workplace environment, can be simulated and tested. “Who can get the lock open in 30 seconds and what does it look like afterwards under the microscope? ”  The results of such tests are used by the students to develop mechanisms which effectively protect against unwanted intruders. In one room Prof Dr Lambotte leads me to a soundproof cabin that looks like a cupboard. “How seriously can noise damage my hearing? To get the answer, students of the “Security & Safety Engineering“ programme listen to heavy metal … an experience which is sure to leave a lasting impression, in more ways than one.

Our "Labs in Focus" series opens the doors of the many exciting labs at HFU to show the diverse areas of research available to our  young scientists. The articles, which will be published in no particular order, can be read on the Internal link opens in the same window:HFU Research Blog.