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A hypergolic mixture ignites upon contact of the components without any external source of ignition (heat or flame).
There are relatively few instances where this is a desirable event...unless you're a rocket scientist or weapons designer.
Accidental mixing of incompatible materials can lead to a fire or explosion. Here's one example witnessed by the staff at ILPI of what can happen when incompatibles are mixed.
Consult the Safety Data Sheets for the materials you are working with and carefully check Section 10 which should list any potentially hazardous reactions or incompatibilities with other materials.
Always read the labels on your bottles (don't assume a chemical's identity by the shape, size or color of the bottle). This is especially true for waste bottles. We at ILPI have personally witnessed several hypergolic reactions caused when laboratory workers have accidentally mixed nitric acid and organic solvents in waste bottles. It's terrifying and can have life-threatening consequences. Here's a safety handout from Tufts University titled Laboratory Accidents/Explosions Involving Nitric Acid and an Organic Solvent and you can find dozens of reports on similar incidents, along with lessons learned and safety advice, with a quick Google search.
Be sure you're in compliance with DOT placards and labels from Safety Emporium.
See also: explosive, flammable.
Additional definitions from Google and OneLook.
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