Harvard Medical School is beefing up lab security after six researchers got sick off poisoned coffee back in August. The toxicology reports came in recently, according to Bloomberg, and the chemical culprit was sodium azide, which turns into a toxic gas when it's mixed into water. The good news is that none of the six died. The bad news: Nobody seems to know how this stuff got into the communal coffee pot to begin with.
And while a whodunnit poisoning mystery is not exactly what Wired had in mind when it listed "Grad Student" as #6 on its top 10 list of Best, Most Dangerous Science Jobs, this incident certainly does nothing to bump that job off the list. Not to mention the fact that, given the lab environment, you have to wonder whether the poisoning was even intentional at all...or whether somebody simply didn't wash their hands well enough before making a fresh pot.
Even the most mundane job in science is hazardous if you don't know what you're doing. Grad students in labs around the world are in constant danger of, well, screwing up. In 2004, a Texas A&M student, for example, was cleaning up a laboratory when a jar of chemicals he was handling suddenly exploded, leaving him with severe lacerations and burns.
Maggie Koerth-Baker is the science editor at BoingBoing.net. She writes a monthly column for The New York Times Magazine and is the author of Before the Lights Go Out, a book about electricity, infrastructure, and the future of energy. You can find Maggie on Twitter and Facebook.