Times have changed. In the old days, leftover chemicals in a chemistry lab were quickly disposed of. “Back then, if you could mix it and it didn’t explode, it went down the drain,” says Steve Owen, director for environmental safety.
Not anymore. Today, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration requires every chemical on campus be inventoried and documented, and that’s led to some interesting discoveries.
As lab managers began taking inventory, they found all sorts of World War II surplus material stashed in the chemistry building’s basement, acquired over the years by frugal Jesuits.
Retired chemistry professor Theodore Thepe, S.J., for instance, once bought a neutron generator worth several hundred thousand dollars. “Paid practically nothing for it,” he says. He stuck it in the basement, but later sold it after his plans to get it working never materialized. Other stuff is still there, though, waiting to be discovered.
“I remember Father Fred Miller found out there was a chemistry lab being dismantled somewhere,” recalls Thepe. “He picked up a whole train car load of things.”