I use some dangerous materials in my job. The most dangerous stuff includes:
*Liquid nitrogen. This is really, really cold. It could freeze you if you fell into a vat of it. However, that isn’t what makes it so dangerous. If liquid nitrogen is spilled on the floor, it boils and becomes gas. The gas takes up over 700 times as much space as the liquid. So, if you use too much of it and it all boils off, it could push all the air out of the room you’re in and hence you’d die from lack of oxygen! So you have to be careful with it and only use small amounts.
*Aqua regia. I use this to make sure my glassware is really, really clean. Aqua regia is a very strong acid, made from a mixture of concentrated hydrochloric acid and concentrated Nitric acid. It’s so strong it can even dissolve gold! It also produces corrosive, poisonous gases, like Chlorine. You have to use it in a fume hood to keep the vapours away from your lungs, and you have to wear protective clothing to avoid splashes burning you. Again, though, if you’re careful you’ll be fine.
I also sometimes use toxic, cancer-causing or explosive chemicals. As a scientist, part of my job is to assess the risks and make sure I know what I’m doing and how to prevent accidents before I start experiments with these kinds of things. So, because I’ve had training and I do the right preparation and I know what I’m doing, I’m not scared. But I am careful and cautious!
I’m fortunate that my job isn’t very dangeous. I work in an office, at a computer – so it’s probably even less dangerous than school!
I guess the thing that could be mot worrying is when read about the problems the world might be facing, the ones that scientists are trying to solve. Things like climate change – how, if we don’t stop putting so much carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, we’ll really change the climate which could cause all sorts of damage, but we don’t seem to be moving to alternative energy sources fast enough!
I try not to let things worry me, though. Rather, I think ‘what can I do about it?’. For the climate change example, I think I can just help encourage as many people as possible to be aware of it. To be sensible with my own energy use. And to help the scientists and engineers who are trying to do something about it.