April 24, 2007

Geeks, Scav Hunters plunder chemistry lab

Searle Chemistry Laboratory became the one-stop shop for lab paraphernalia, Scav Hunt supplies, and professors’ trash-turned-chem-geeks’ treasures last week as students looted leftovers in the building’s soon-to-be-renovated offices and labs.

With renovation on the horizon, faculty began leaving Searle last year for the Gordon Center for Integrative Science, with the stragglers leaving early this month, according to Senior Chemistry Lecturer Vera Dragisich. After an open house for faculty and graduate students, undergraduates had the chance to raid the now bereft-looking Searle and pick clean the hodgepodge of abandoned goods.

“[It’s] what we do normally when people close down their labs,” Dragisich said. “Most faculty members like to give other faculty members and grad students their…glassware and furniture. It’s just traditionally done in our department.”

After e-mails to listhosts, word got out to Scav Hunt captains and science undergrads about the free-for-all in Searle, and students flocked over to grab everything they could carry.

“It was a weird vibe,” said Jordan Phillips, a first-year who got in on the action. “It was like, ‘Is what I’m doing here kosher?’”

Phillips and a friend, Anna McGeachy, also a first-year, saw people making off with lab glassware, furniture, a rotating party light, a pair of skis, a half-bottle of scotch, suitcases, syringes, lab coats, test tubes, whiteboards, and fire extinguishers.

“It was a good day to be a geek,” said McGeachy, a biology concentrator whose eyes widened at the prospect of snagging lab glass. “I’ve always wanted it. I grabbed whatever I could get my hands on.”

“I felt like I was on a playground,” Phillips said. “I was like ‘This is like a dream. Did you really leave all this fun stuff for me to play with?’”

McGeachy, who decorated the Hitchcock House bathrooms with “Emergency Shower” signs from the lab, added that the excursion may pay off for her academic career: She grabbed some old general chemistry tests and a bunch of Department of Chemistry letterhead.

“Some people may be mysteriously getting accepted to the graduate program in chemistry,” Phillips said, tongue-in-cheek.

“I know nothing!” McGeachy insisted.

The pair said that some students made off with electronics, but looters weren’t scoring cutting-edge technology. “This is a nerdy school,” McGeachy said. “People were like ‘Windows 3.1! Yeah!’”

One student, who asked not to be named because he violated the widely understood no-taking-chemicals rule, said he sneaked off with a kilo of sodium, which he said could explode if put in contact with water.

“Some people tried to take liquid nitrogen and [supervisors] said no,” Phillips said.

Though many looters just grabbed odds-and-ends, others approached Searle with a mission in mind: gear up for Scav Hunt.

Second-year Priyanko Paul, Hitchcock House’s Scav Hunt captain, led a few “teams” of Scav Hunters into what he called the “wasteland” of Searle, where they collected materials, including wood from broken shelves, that might be useful in next month’s Scav Hunt.

“For Scav, wood is pretty much the most useful raw material,” Paul said, adding that last year, his house had to buy lumber for the task of outfitting a 14-foot puppet of former University president Don Randel.

Paul said that during the raid, he spotted opposing Scav forces: members of the rival Max Palevsky team, which won the competition last year. Nevertheless, he said the teams kept things civil at Searle.

“I remember I held the door open for the Max captain,” he said. “We were very courteous.”