Who would have known that the most difficult thing about working with arsenic would be working with arsenic?
In order to contain the realgar and not get it all over the lab, I have to do everything in a giant glass box with giant rubber gloves sticking out of them.
When I’m working in the glove box, I have three, sometimes even four pairs of gloves on all at once—a medium pair over my hands, the box’s built in gloves, and one or two pairs of XXL gloves over those. Dexterity is a very difficult thing…
…which is really great when I’m trying not to fling realgar everywhere.
My first task was to test out this idea that my Salleo group mentor, David, had for handling the realgar: deposit it with an electric pepper grinder.
He ordered two different ones from Amazon, just so we’d have options, and they arrived a few days later. Once we saw the packaging for this mill, we knew it was the one.
Everyone who knows about “Das Pfeffer Mühle” gets a KICK out of it. David, other Salleo group students, and especially Alberto (I mean, Professor Salleo) himself.
David helped me make some initial samples Das Pfeffer Mühle and using Shawn’s leftover realgar powder from last year. I have a lot more to say about sample prep in the future, but for now, I’ll say that the pepper mill worked beautifully. The powder deposited nice and uniformly onto the slides (which are currently contained in plastic cases, which in turn are in a plastic bag).
The next step was to make my own realgar powder. David had ordered three single-crystal samples of realgar, about three grams each, from a mine in China.
When we opened the package, the crystals were each in their own little plastic bag wrapped in several feet of tissue paper. There was also an extra surprise for us.
I took two of the crystals and brought them into my glove box. They went into a glass mortar and pestle, which in turn was placed inside a large plastic bag (to prevent arsenic from getting everywhere), which in turn was resting inside a plastic dish (to help the bag stand up a bit better). I smashed the crystals a few times with the pestle, and they broke surprisingly easily.
After grinding the realgar into a pretty fine powder, I funneled it into a small jar and wrapped that with foil. You know, to prevent light from turning it all into pararealgar and ruining everything. Then that whole thing went into another plastic bag. (You can never plastic bag toxic substances enough!)
What I didn’t think about was how I would need to use a different pepper mill in order to avoid contaminating my new realgar powder with Shawn’s stuff. Fortunately, the other one we bought, the French Eparé, works exactly the same.
UNfortunately, that means Das Pfeffer Mühle has done its time and will no longer be a part of this experiment.
RIP, Das Pfeffer Mühle. You’ve served us well.