By: Michael Heintz, Senior Specialist, Environmental Laboratories
There seems to be a rise in at-home, or do-it-yourself (DIY), scientists. These people possess varying levels of scientific training and experience, ranging from a single chemistry course in high school to professional scientists (and others in between), who decide to take on complicated scientific research at home. Their goals differ widely: some look to discover the next great medicine, some research energy sources, and others are just curious. They all have one trait in common: conducting scientific experiments in their kitchens, basements, or garages. Under almost any consideration, this is a bad idea.
To be clear, these are not cornstarch experiments you did as a kid. Nor are we talking about the multitude of less dangerous experiments you can conduct at home in the name of scientific curiosity. Some of these DIY scientists conduct dangerous experiments, like attempting to split the atom in a microwave or synthesizing biological material for a possible vaccine. People are conducting complex experiments needing specialized chemicals, controls, and safeguards in facilities with the “sophistication” of your mother’s spare bedroom.
Just because you can buy them on the internet does not mean your house is the appropriate place to store radioactive, biological, or hazardous materials. The situation becomes even more complicated during disposal: what happens to the material flushed down a drain or put out with the municipal trash collection? Non-DIY laboratories adhere to strict regulations, which exist to protect the safety of the scientist and the community.
More and more state and federal officials are investigating the use and manipulation of hazardous materials in DIY laboratories. Most states make using or storing these kinds of materials in a residential setting illegal. Given the rise of residential scientists, agencies like the Centers for Disease Control conduct programs to register or monitor for amateur laboratories, and the National Institutes of Health issued a report on biological research by amateur scientists.
In some instances, these efforts bring DIY efforts into the mainstream as a new market: community laboratory space for experimentation in a more controlled environment. Health and environment research remains complicated, detailed, and includes some level of risk to the scientist and those nearby. Scientific research should be conducted in the appropriate environments. Blowing up the block does not make for good neighborhood relations.
If you are interested in becoming a laboratory scientist, it is a field that is constantly growing and those with proper qualifications are always in demand. Until then, leave the complex experiments and research to the pros.