Top 10 Lab Horror Stories for Halloween

Oct 31, 2019 / by Alex A. Goldberg, Ph.D.

Our previous Top 10 Lab Fails Contest was such a hit that we decided to bring it back, just in time for Halloween. This time around, we collected 10 of the SCARIEST lab horror stories around, from ghosts hidden in western blots to actual, real-life body parts! Without any further ado, here are your top 10 lab horror stories:

#1 – Smurf Murder Scene

What happens when you put a smurf in a microwave? 

From the author of our winning lab horror story:

“My smurf murder scene was caused by a minor oversight when staining a gel with Coomassie blue. The airtight lid accidentally "fell" on the container while the gel was being microwaved, resulting in an explosion accompanied by a massive boom, and blue liquid splashed everywhere. We could smell acetic acid in the lab for days and the lab microwave was never the same.”

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Looks like Gargamel finally got what he wanted.


#2 – The Bloody Label

Labels in the lab are no joke, as anyone at our company will tell you. This is what happens when labeling containers goes horribly wrong.

From the author:

“This is what happens when you sign your DMEM medium with general marker then use ethanol for disinfection.”

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#3 – Here, Hold This

Our third story speaks for itself. 

From the author, Tiffany Colvin, who has a bright future in writing short horror stories:

“As a new tech, right out of school, I got assigned to the night shift in the lab. I worked at a VA Hospital, and night shift was generally pretty quiet. An occasional transfusion, maybe someone coming into the ER, but for the most part, I tried to stay awake and find things to do. One night, at about 3 am, I got a call from the ward nurse that they were taking a patient to surgery. This was really unusual, so I asked what was going on and if I needed to get blood ready, etc. She said, ‘Oh, no big deal, just a revision of an incision from surgery he had yesterday morning.’ Ok, weird, but nothing too dramatic. About 20 minutes later, I got a call from the OR that they had a specimen for pathology. It's not too unusual to have a swab for micro, maybe a tissue for slides. I asked the nurse if she wanted me to run down to the OR and get it. She laughed and said she'd bring it to me. I waited patiently for about five minutes when the front doorbell rang. Now, at the time, this was a very outdated lab crammed into a space that was never meant for a laboratory. So, there was no window or pass-through. I opened the front door and there stood the nurse...with two arms full of specimen. My jaw dropped and I asked her what on earth was the specimen?! She plopped the long, heavy object into my outstretched arms and said, ‘It's his leg.’ I'm very proud to say that I did not immediately drop the leg on the floor. I looked at our small specimen fridge for pathology and back at the nurse, down to the leg, back to the fridge, and back to the nurse. ‘I don't think it's gonna fit.’ In a stroke of brilliance, I decided that the only place it would fit was in our morgue. This wasn't a below knee amputation, it was at the hip, and almost as tall as me. Our morgue wasn't a fancy one with lots of little bins. It was one huge walk-in refrigerator with tables. After I psyched myself up to enter the night...I walked in and noticed that there were bodies on the tables. I didn't want the leg to accidentally go somewhere with a different body, so I decided to put it in the corner. It felt disrespectful to lay it on the ground, so I stood it upright. I booked it out of the morgue and finished out my shift. When my boss came in in the morning, I passed on the news. Granted, I was really tired and not communicating the best at that point, so when I said, ‘I left a leg standing in the corner of the morgue. Right leg, not left...’ then hilariously added, ‘But no toe tag!’ She thought I'd lost it. Definitely something I'll never forget!”

For those who've seen Return of the Living Dead, this is almost EXACTLY how something like that starts. 


#4 – The Blob

When plastic decides to consume everything in its path, look out!

From the author:

“My boss at the time had started a lab on the west coast, and on the west coast, he had 15 post-docs. As an interim lab manager, I was helping set up the new lab along with my PI and one other post-doc. I decided to autoclave this Nalgene tank as it said it was autoclavable. I set up the autoclave, and after a couple hours, I came back to check in on it. It turns out it had completely melted. My PI and the post-doc ended up trying to peel off the bottle from the rack, and since it was still super hot, we had to wear gloves. All three of us ended up spending the afternoon trying to get it off, and in the end, we did. This broke my trust in bottles that said they are autoclavable. Now we place anything in a bin to autoclave in the off chance something melts.”

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Good thing it didn’t chase after them!


#5 – Scattered Bones

Horrific things can happen to anyone in the lab, as this next story will attest.

From the author:

“I'm a career lab professional with many years of experience doing western blots. This, however, was my first attempt at running and blotting an isoelectric focusing (IEF) gel. Running the gel and probing the blot both went well; it was the actual transfer that was a disaster. The gel was sticky and mushy, and any attempt I made to position it on the membrane just made it worse. Then, when the semi-dry transfer was happening, the gel seems to have migrated (I'm guessing it contracted after all the smearing around that happened during setup), scattering my proteins all over the membrane.”

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It's no coincidence the panel on the left looks like part of a human skull. 


#6 – The Flaming Bath from Hell

When water is responsible for setting the lab ablaze, a nefarious force MUST be at work!

From the author:

“I turned on the DiH2O to fill a container, then walked away and forgot about it and went to a meeting. The water ran for a good 45 minutes before someone came to me and asked if I was using the water. I run back into the lab to see that I had flooded the entire dish room and a good 300 square feet of the lab. I had to notify safety because we were afraid that I may have flooded through to some offices below us that are a very well-known company. We get all of it cleaned, no major structural damage, and I go back to work. Another coworker says, ‘Rikki, is that supposed to be making that noise?’ I turn around and I had set a water bath on fire. Yes, on fire! I left the lid open and the safety mechanism failed. I had to call safety again. The water bath was damaged and had to be taken out of service. It was discovered that I had also damaged the DiH2O system, and we had no water for reagents for 2 days. I did about $2000 worth of damage in a matter of 2 hours.”

Was it really the safety mechanism…or something much worse?!


#7 – Ghost in the Blot

If you look closely enough, you can for sure see a creepy face smiling at you from the beyond in this thing.

From the author:

“This is a western blot using chemiluminescence.”

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Quick, turn away! Before it consumes your soul!


#8 – Spooky Decorations

Everyone loves to decorate their house in orange and black come Halloween. But what if…those decorations turned deadly?!

From the author:

“Late one November night, all was quiet as the PhD student slavishly scraped the last of their pumpkin-spice orange colored powder out of the glass jar. The material was precious, the result of weeks of trial and error, and it was violently flammable too! Just a whiff of air would turn the orange to a smoldering black goo. But the student was prepared for this, working arm-deep in a glovebox filled with argon, his chemistry was safe.

As the student scraped and scraped and scraped some more, greedily hunting for one last speck of the orange dust, something was amiss. As he carefully placed the weighing boat on the base of the glovebox, another sample high up on the shelf made a bid for freedom. It launched itself down onto the weigh boat, flinging the flammable orange powder everywhere, spattering the floor of the glovebox and everything around in the bright dangerous material.

And thus, the day ended, not with triumph but with a whimper, as the student could not sacrifice the material and had to gather it all up once more.”

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Sounds like this lab is haunted by a nefarious demon out to get them. No doubt about it. 


#9 – Xylene Bath of Doom

Remember, it’s not just the xylene that’s out to get you.

From the author:

“I was cover slipping under the hood and dumped a bucket of xylene over and down the front of my scrubs. It started to burn, so I quickly went into the emergency shower located in the break room. The shower hadn’t been used before, and apparently didn’t drain right, so I flooded the entire break room, then got yelled out because my coworker thought I was still on break and didn’t realize I was standing there covered in water. Lol.”

Sometimes regular people are the real monsters. 


#10 – Splatterhouse of Samples

Looks innocent enough, but who knows what supernatural forces were at work to cause this mishap?!

From the author:

“Typical block filing oops!”

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Sure doesn’t look typical to me.


Honorable mentions:

0062 600 x 250 px_3 “Someone forgot all about their waste bottle full of unknown black solution in the fume hood, and it started coming to life.”


0062 600 x 250 px_5 “Coworker called in sick. Just me to embed, cut, and stain 130 blocks. Ran around to set everything up and the first thing I do is drop a bottle of hematoxylin on the floor!”

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Topics: Laboratory