[Lab Story]
Karen was doing an experiment in 1996, 2 drops of reagent dripped on the gloves, just 15 seconds announced the fatal ending
In August 1996, Karen accidentally dropped 2 drops of solution on her latex gloves during an experiment. The situation was an emergency and she immediately handled the solution in just 15 seconds. Afterwards, she washed her hands sufficiently and opened a window for air. Who expected this short 15 seconds, to her pronounced a fatal end.
What kind of chemicals are so deadly? Even with professional protective gloves on, why would it still lead to fatal consequences?
This highly toxic chemical is called dimethylmercury solution. It is volatile, flammable and extremely dangerous, with tiny drops being fatal.
Perhaps you may question why Karen insisted on carrying out this research if it was so dangerous. Isn’t that just asking for death?

However, Karen Wetterhahn is not your average researcher. She is a renowned expert in the field of toxic metals research and has broken into the forefront of this field with her profound theoretical knowledge, extensive practical experience and excellent presentation skills.
With her professional background, she succeeded in securing a $7 million project, ‘The Relationship Between Mercury Ions and DNA Repair Proteins,’ which set a new peak in U.S. research funding at the time.
If successful, the experiment might also hopefully solve the serious problem of mercury poisoning that was plaguing the world at the time.
Karen has been engaged in scientific research with a conscientious attitude, in order to better study the mercury ion, she resolutely chose other people do not dare to venture into the field, will be known as ‘one of the world’s most dangerous poisonous metal’ of the dimethylmercury, as her research object.
In the face of such a dangerous toxic metal, Kate naturally prepared for the spirit of 12 points. Not only did she carefully make special droppers (choosing materials that are less likely to break, better sealed, more in line with operating habits and more convenient), but she also strictly followed the procedures for each experiment, not daring to have any sloppy.
However, even so, accidents happen.
One day, Karen came to the lab as usual, lately, she not only had to deal with the students’ lectures, but also had to write the lab report, which made her feel a little tired.
She had wanted to take a day off, but after watching the experiment make some progress and not wanting to waste time, she finished her lunch and rushed back to the lab.
Experimental work was often tedious, however, for Karen there must be no let up as she was dealing with dimethylmercury, a very dangerous substance.
Everything was carried out in an orderly fashion and without incident. Karen breathed a sigh of relief and recorded the experimental data. However, a sudden turn of events happened in a flash.
As she tried to recover the used dimethylmercury, her hand somehow shook, causing two drops of liquid to drip onto her latex gloves.

Instantly alerted, Karen set the reagent bottle down as quickly as she could and hurriedly moved to the safe handling area, following strict lab safety regulations.
But even so, fifteen seconds had passed.
After completing the clean-up, she carefully examined her hands and found nothing broken. She was relieved; after all, she was still wearing latex gloves.
About half an hour later, Karen examined her hand again and still found no sign of anything unusual, so she left the lab.
Although she understood the toxicity of dimethylmercury, Karen still harboured a sense of wonder.
For the first few days, she observed herself and felt normal with no discomfort. Gradually, she breathed a sigh of relief and resolutely continued her daily routine.
However, after a few days, she began to feel dizzy, lose her vision, and hobble her steps.
Despite these symptoms, Karen didn’t worry too much; after all, she had been working with highly toxic substances and some discomfort seemed normal.
However, as time went on, these problems intensified and she began to faint frequently. After one of these fainting spells, she realised that something wasn’t quite right and rushed to the hospital.
The doctor’s findings made Karen’s heart sink. The doctor said, ‘You are suffering from acute mercury poisoning, and the concentration of mercury in your blood has reached 4,000 micrograms.’

4,000 micrograms may sound insignificant, but for Karen, the statement was certainly a crushing blow.
The figure meant that she had little chance of survival, and her hopes of life had been eclipsed.
It is important to understand that a normal person has a mercury concentration of only 7.2 micrograms per litre of blood, and the amount of mercury in Karen’s blood was way above that.

Karen was remorseful as she thought back to that afternoon and regretted that she shouldn’t have been so greedy and aggressive. Now, faced with a serious threat to her life, she couldn’t help but blame herself.
Karen immediately told her doctor what had happened and actively pursued treatment, while informing her colleagues that she hoped they could work together to see if latex gloves would be adequate protection against dimethylmercury.
Karen fought this illness while the doctors stuck by her side and did their best.
At first, the doctors tried using oral succinic acid in the hopes of expelling the mercury from her body, but unfortunately, it didn’t work.
Methylmercury binds readily to fat in the body, and the part of the body that most abundantly contains fat happens to be the brain.
As a result, most of the mercury had deeply invaded Karen’s brain, triggering a violent neurological reaction.
Unwilling to give up, doctors tried a whole-body blood replacement treatment, which initially seemed to have some success, giving Karen and her doctors a glimmer of hope.
Soon after, however, the mercury levels in Karen’s body rose dramatically again, destroying the glimmer of hope.
In June 1997, faced with such an illness, Karen eventually passed away in agony at the age of 48, losing a remarkable chemical genius.

Shortly after Kate’s death, her colleagues completed experiments revealing that rubber gloves have very low resistance to dimethylmercury, taking only one to two seconds to penetrate the gloves.
In order to prevent this tragedy from happening again, scientists worked hard to develop new materials to prevent dimethylmercury.
Eventually, they succeeded in developing special double-layered gloves, establishing them as the standard for handling dimethylmercury.
Karen’s death serves as a warning light to remind all researchers to maintain a high level of vigilance at all times to prevent similar tragedies from occurring again.
At the same time, we should pay deep respect and honour to those scientists who have fought tirelessly for the happiness of mankind.
Their sacrifices and efforts have forged a safer environment for scientific research for the benefit of all mankind.

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