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July 10, 2015

MSU Police investigating small explosion at Giltner Hall lab

MSU Police confirmed a small explosion that occurred in an empty laboratory in Giltner Hall today around 10:45 a.m. For safety purposes, rooms surrounding the lab were evacuated. There were no injuries.

The explosion was caused by isopentane in one room where an apparent chemical reaction occurred in a refrigeration unit. Isopentane (2-methylbutane) was placed in an unsealed container in a typical household refrigerator. A spark caused an explosion of the flammable vapor. The force was large enough to blow off the door to the refrigerator and break the windows more than 20 feet away.

MSU’s Environmental Health and Safety team and the East Lansing Fire Department responded.

In laboratories, isopentane is used to make a bath in liquid nitrogen. It is quite common to prepare tissues for storage at -94°F (-70°C) by immersing them in liquid nitrogen. This process of flash freezing preserves such biological samples.

Mixed with other compounds, however, isopentane can be quite stable. It is often used in a range of cosmetics, including shaving gel, body wash and some toothpastes.