All chemicals can be handled safely and the Diels-Alder reaction has been around for about 90+ years, so those with a strong organic chemistry background should have the experience in reaction control. What better place to teach chemical safety and how to handle exothermic reactions than in a highly-supervised classroom with limited quantities and good containment?
Chemistry is not a “zero-risk” occupation and we, as educators, should not imply that it is. It is a risk-managed occupation. A well-equipped academic laboratory is ideally suited for risk management. I would encourage you not to miss a great opportunity to teach safety to the next generation.
I'm teaching an organic lab right now (my first time teaching this course), and we're supposed to do a Diels-Alder reaction in a few weeks. It's a reaction between cyclopentadiene and maleic anhydride, and the students are supposed to "crack" dicyclopentadiene to cyclopentadiene using a distillation with mineral oil, and then react cyclopentadiene with maleic anhydride in ethyl acetate (which is a very exothermic reaction). Long story short, the whole thing sounds like an accident waiting to happen.
I know there has got to be a safer (and maybe even greener!) Diels-Alder reaction out there for organic lab students, but I don't know exactly where to look and thought maybe it would be a good question for all of you! I don't have a long time to search and test things, so if someone has a Diels-Alder procedure you use at your university that works and is safer, I would love to hear about it!
Thanks for any assistance!
Kendra Leahy Denlinger, Ph.D.
Department of Chemistry
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