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rosehips
08-08-2019, 08:49 PM
Hi all,
I'm writing an urban fantasy story where the mc is investigating a 12 year old case where a laboratory was destroyed by two explosions. At the time, there was a cover up, and it was ruled accidental. The mc discovers by looking at records and interviewing people from the time that the explosions were deliberate sabotage/acts of terrorism. The perpetrator of them is a magic user, but part of what I want to do is make that not obvious right away. I am so not an expert when it comes to fires and bombs, though, so there's a lot I need help with to ground this fantasy in some believable reality.
One person says that the research they were doing in the lab did not involve combustibles, so that's the first thing that piques the mc's interest. However, the person who says this will turn out to have been lying about several things, so this detail doesn't have to be true.
1) What would indicate that explosions were deliberate? I'm thinking there would ordinarily be an accelerant, but maybe the absence of this is what would indicate that magic was involved? Assuming this is the case, what would the evidence look like without the accelerant? I have no preferences in terms of the type of bomb employed, although it couldn't be too obviously a bomb since there was a successful cover up after the fact.
2) What other kinds of evidence would suggest an impossible scenario (in other words, magic)? If you were watching a movie or a tv show, what would you see that would have you saying, "No way this could really happen"?
3) What chemicals would any typical lab have that are in fact combustible? I'm thinking I can send my mc after a red herring with that, if he asks someone who survived the blasts and they tell him there were such chemicals in the lab.
4) Do you have any other thoughts about how these explosions (there were two, though later the cover up tried to say there was only one) might have played out that would allow for a cover up and for my mc to uncover the truth 12 years later?

Thanks for any and all advice and suggestions, I really appreciate it.

Kjbartolotta
08-08-2019, 08:58 PM
I've seen the Casimir Effect used as a way to handwave magic into an IRL setting. Doesn't hold up to any real examination, but doesn't need to.

Patty
08-08-2019, 08:59 PM
Most recent lab I worked in was plumbed for gases, and the compressed gases came in in tanks. A big explosion could involve the gas lines (we had hydrogen, methane, oxygen, nitrogen and others.) That could be easy to track down evidence-wise (The fume hood being the obvious site of the blast) and you could then later have the person discover that the tanks hadn't actually been hooked up. therefore, it couldn't have been the gas lines after all.

That's all I got.

PostHuman
08-08-2019, 09:05 PM
how about some kind of ectoplasm or arcane residue?

rosehips
08-08-2019, 10:46 PM
Most recent lab I worked in was plumbed for gases, and the compressed gases came in in tanks. A big explosion could involve the gas lines (we had hydrogen, methane, oxygen, nitrogen and others.) That could be easy to track down evidence-wise (The fume hood being the obvious site of the blast) and you could then later have the person discover that the tanks hadn't actually been hooked up. therefore, it couldn't have been the gas lines after all.

That's all I got.

Thank you, this is very helpful!

rosehips
08-08-2019, 10:48 PM
how about some kind of ectoplasm or arcane residue?

The problem I have with this is it would I guess have to be something in the initial investigator's report, or maybe something a witness would remember, but not something the mc could work out for himself. But maybe I can still work with it! Thank you.

- - - Updated - - -


Most recent lab I worked in was plumbed for gases, and the compressed gases came in in tanks. A big explosion could involve the gas lines (we had hydrogen, methane, oxygen, nitrogen and others.)

Is it possible for you to give me an idea of what some of these are for in a lab? Thank you very much in advance.

Patty
08-08-2019, 10:57 PM
Different labs will use them for different reasons and I'm only a sample size of one.

I'd suggest settling on the exact gas you think might work for your puposes and then researching the common uses of that gas.

https://www.thoughtco.com/names-and-uses-of-gases-607535

https://ilmoproducts.com/industries-served/specialty-gas/laboratory-gas/

I'm not sure if all of those are available in a compressed state, but I'd suggest zeroing in on one or two that would suit your needs and going from there.

World building, yay!

Cath
08-09-2019, 01:33 AM
Remember to keep the answers to the real world. Otherwise we’re taking a trip over to the world building forums.

Bolero
08-09-2019, 01:49 AM
In terms of laboratory they can be very variable. If you are talking physical chemistry then it is mostly equipment for measuring things. If you are talking organic chemistry then there will be lots of solvents and other organic chemicals in use - BUT - the bulk storage will be in a special solvent cupboard, or with larger labs solvent store room - which is fireproof, detectors, bund at the door so burning organic liquids can't run out under the door. In any contemporary properly run lab the solvents will only be used in a fume cupboard. Heat sources tend to be ignition proof - so steam heating, or specialist non-spark heat plates. Any naked flames like a bunsen burner in a dedicated fume cupboard only.
In terms of what can trigger and explosion - well some organic compounds are shock sensitive. If you are making organic nitrates then with the more sensitive ones dropping it could do the trick.
If you are mixing together two things which produce heat when you mix them, such as diluting a strong alkali like caustic soda, you always put the soda slowly into water, and never water into the soda, because when they mix you get heat generated and get it really wrong you will make steam which will drive the contents of the flask up out of the flask and spread concentrated caustic soda around the place. Never healthy.

Introversion
08-09-2019, 05:05 AM
It’s maybe worth mentioning that dust explosions (https://www.robovent.com/frequently-asked-questions/what-is-a-dust-explosion/) are a thing, though I’d expect that be more of a risk in a production / manufacturing setting than a lab? But maybe your lab does some sort of process prototyping that might be at risk??

frimble3
08-09-2019, 07:04 AM
What kind of a lab is it? Does it matter to your story? Can you choose the type based on the result you want?
Because if the guy who says it wasn't anything combustible, maybe he's lying and maybe he's not thinking of everything.
There's a lot of stuff we don't think about: the dust that comes off shredded paper, or is ground off in mail-opening machines.

MaeZe
08-09-2019, 09:40 AM
I suggest looking up actual lab explosion accidents. Start with real explosions and add the thing that doesn't fit the scenario after.

University of Hawaii fined $115,500 for lab explosion (https://cen.acs.org/articles/94/web/2016/09/University-Hawaii-fined-115500-lab.html)

State occupational safety and health agency found 15 workplace safety violations associated with blast that severely injured a researcher ...

Ekins-Coward was preparing a gas mixture of 55% hydrogen, 38% oxygen, and 7% carbon dioxide when an electrostatic discharge likely ignited the mixture, according to an investigation report issued in July by the University of California Center for Laboratory Safety. The gas mixture was to be used to feed bacteria to produce biofuels and bioplastics. The gases were combined in a 49-L steel tank designed for compressed air and not electrically grounded.The comments contain interesting information.


Texas Tech University Chemistry Lab Explosion (https://www.csb.gov/texas-tech-university-chemistry-lab-explosion/)
There's a video in this report that looks useful.

Combustible dust was mentioned, here's an OSHA guideline on the hazard. (https://www.osha.gov/dsg/combustibledust/index.html)
Any combustible material can burn rapidly when in a finely divided form. If such a dust is suspended in air in the right concentration, under certain conditions, it can become explosible. Even materials that do not burn in larger pieces (such as aluminum or iron), given the proper conditions, can be explosible in dust form.Could be it's determined it would have taken magic to aerosolize the dust particulates.

Some interesting basics of dust explosions here. (https://stonehousesafety.com/laboratory-testing/dust-explosion-testing/)

waylander
08-09-2019, 07:47 PM
Hydrogen lines to a specialist hydrogenation reactor are a good possibility. Most organic chemistry facilities would have one.

ironmikezero
08-09-2019, 11:50 PM
Does it have to be a legal/legitimate lab? Can it be an illegal activity (think meth lab) within an otherwise legitimate commercial lab operation?

Illicit meth lab operations (even small ones) are notoriously volatile and prone to catastrophic explosions. A clandestine meth operation hidden within the vast regions of a mega-commercial laboratory complex might go unnoticed. And once finished cooking a massive batch, might merit instant disposal of any evidence with a deliberate explosion via a magically induced spark from a considerable distance, of course. (In real life, trace evidence of a meth operation would abound, but it's your tale to tell). The legit commercial lab, acutely concerned about negative publicity, would have ample motive to participate in a subsequent cover-up.

Kinsman
08-14-2019, 07:37 AM
If I'm interpreting your intent correctly, you're looking for something that an initial investigator might overlook, or could be covered up by the initial investigator (with relative ease). Most chemistry labs will have acids, alkali's and solvents. In an of themselves, these may be caustic but not explosive, but in the right combinations and circumstances, certainly can form combustible, even explosive compounds. For example, sulfuric acid, sugar, and potassium chlorate will spontaneously ignite (see variations on Molotov Cocktail). What might indicate magic (or some outside influence, sabotage, etc) could be:

1. Where the source of energy (magic, fire, etc) originated. If there's no readily flammable material in that immediate vicinity, then the energy was thrown/cast/propelled from that spot into something flammable/combustible (storage cabinet, shelves filled with chemicals in beakers and flasks) causing the resulting chain reaction.
2. The type of damage is inconsistent with the materials present (magic doing damage which caused the explosion/fire, but the fire does not fully conceal the damage done by the magic)

No idea if any of this might help, or if I've even correctly determined what you're asking... so I'll stop right here.