Day: July 5, 2013

Friday, 5 July 2013

11:22 – Colin had a pretty bad evening. He’s only two years old, but he’s already terrified of fireworks. Someone in the neighborhood was setting off heavy stuff. Not just little bottle rockets and firecrackers, but serious rockets with heavy bursting charges, and in large numbers. Hell, they may even have been using a pyrotechnic mortar. Colin jumped every time one of the heavy ones detonated. I’m guessing that whoever was doing it probably burned at least $1,000 worth of fireworks.

I’m working today on internationalizing the biology and chemistry kits, which involves changes to a few of the chemicals in each. In many cases, we can comply with international hazardous materials shipping regulations simply by decreasing the concentration and increasing the amount. For example, the standard biology and chemistry kits include 15 mL of 6 M ammonia, which is hazardous according to IATA. So we’re going to substitute 30 mL of 4 M ammonia in the international kits, which makes it perfectly legal to ship.

For one or two chemicals, the change is more radical. For example, we ship 30 mL of 6 M (~ 20%) hydrochloric acid in our US kits. The maximum concentration allowable under IATA regulations is < 1%, or about 0.3 M. So we'll ship 100 mL of that, which is enough to get most of the labs done. The really annoying thing is the IATA rules on sodium (or potassium) hydroxide, for which they have zero tolerance. Shipping even one mL of 0.001% hydroxide solution violates their regulations. Fortunately, in most countries it's pretty easy to get ahold of solid sodium hydroxide, which is sold in hardware stores, DIY centers, and so on as "lye" or "crystal drain opener". So for hydroxide we have no option but to tell international buyers they'll have to get it locally.

The rest of the changes are pretty minor. For example, in our US kits we ship 15 mL of Sudan III stain solution, which is a tiny amount of the solid stain dissolved in isopropanol (rubbing alcohol). The only way to ship IPA legally under IATA regulation is at a concentration much too low to dissolve the stain powder. So we’ll ship a bottle that has only about 6 mg of the solid stain in it. International buyers will have to fill the bottle with 15 mL of rubbing alcohol and let the stain dissolve.

We’ll ship international kits via USPS Priority Mail International in boxes we provide, rather than using USPS-provided boxes. Although the boxes cost us a buck or so each, the postage will be at least a few dollars less than it would be if we used a USPS Large Flat-Rate Box.

Other than the chemical differences, the main difference for international buyers will be that they’ll have to pay postage. We won’t know exactly how much until we can get a weight for the international kits, but for the biology kits I’d guess we’re probably talking a postage surcharge of maybe $40 to Canada, $50 to Mexico, and $60 to the UK and most of the rest of Europe. Of course, depending on country, they may also have to pay import duties, VAT, or other fees to the postal carrier when the box is delivered.

The other difference is that for international sales we have no option but to ship FOB Winston-Salem, NC USA. In effect, that means our responsibility ends when we hand the package to the USPS carrier. All risk of loss or damage is assumed by the buyer. We may offer insurance at an additional cost, but it isn’t cheap and it may take literally months to settle a claim for loss or damage, assuming it’s settled at all.

17:25 – I just made up a liter of 0.5 M dipotassium oxalate solution for the international chemistry kits. Which of course gave me a good question for the AP chemistry course I’ll eventually write…

When I was in high school, all of the seniors took the Kuder test. It was intended to come up with recommendations for the careers we were best-suited to pursue. My top three recommendations were, IIRC, research scientist, university chemistry professor, and high-school science teacher. I suspect if I’d been a high school or university science teacher my students would have feared and loathed me.

So, here’s the question I came up with: “You dissolve 56.1056 grams of potassium hydroxide (FW 56.1056 g/mol) in 1000.0 mL of 0.5000 M oxalic acid to make a solution of dipotassium oxalate. To four decimal places, what is the molarity of that solution? If you have insufficient data to answer the question, specify what additional datum or data you need.”

Heh, heh, heh. I remind me of my ungrad p-chem professor. Each test day, he wore his test t-shirt, which had an image of an erect middle finger on the front.

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