Thursday, July 23, 2015

Those Radical Drug Chemists at the NIST

The National Institute of Standards and Technology has the reputation of being the government's most boring scientific arm, the sort of place where people measure constants to the 11th decimal place and worry about inserting the correct number of leap seconds per decade. I once knew two graduate students in physics who used to threaten each other with “if you keep this up you'll end up at the NIST.” But maybe it was all a facade:
The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) appears to have been the unwitting victim of a real-life Walter White, the meth-cooking chemistry teacher in the hit television show Breaking Bad. A weekend explosion at the federal laboratory’s Gaithersburg, Maryland, campus was linked yesterday to the production of methamphetamine, an illegal stimulant often “cooked” in home laboratories. Federal and local law enforcement agencies are now investigating how the explosion happened and whether a NIST security guard injured in the blast might have been involved. . . .

On Saturday, 18 July, an explosion rocked the NIST campus around 6:45 p.m., injuring the security guard and sending the institute’s fire and police forces flocking to the scene. The explosion happened at “special projects” Building 236, a smaller facility with laboratories reserved for particularly hazardous research. According to NIST spokeswoman Gail Porter, the lab in question was not in use at the time of the incident, but was transitioning from combustion research to a new project.

The guard, who suffered non–life-threatening burns, resigned on 19 July, Porter said.

The Associated Press has reported that Epsom salts and other materials associated with meth production were found in the lab, whereas one local television news station quoted federal law enforcement sources saying that pseudoephedrine, drain opener, and a recipe for meth were also found.

1 comment:

G. Verloren said...

Meth is actually relatively simple to produce, which is why I'm leaning towards suspecting the security officer being the one doing the cooking.

I would think the sorts of exacting scientific minds that work at the NIST would be far less likely to mess up their chemical synthesis compared to security personnel who likely are simply exploiting their site access to get a hold of the necessary ingredients.

Then again, mistakes do still happen to even the most exacting of personalities when dealing with volatile chemicals...