A Canadian college student majoring in chemistry built himself a home lab - and discovered that trying to do science in your own home quickly leads to accusations of drug-making and terrorism.
Lewis Casey, an 18-year-old in Saskatchewan, had built a small chemistry lab in his family's garage near the university where he studies. Then two weeks ago, police arrived at his home with a search warrant and based on a quick survey of his lab determined that it was a meth lab. They pulled Casey out of the shower to interrogate him, and then arrested him.
A few days later, police admitted that Casey's chemistry lab wasn't a meth lab - but they kept him in jail, claiming that he had some of the materials necessary to produce explosives. Friends and neighbors wrote dozens of letters to the court, testifying that Casey was innocent and merely a student who is really enthusiastic about chemistry.
On December 24, Casey was finally released into his parents' custody, pending a trial to determine whether he was building what police called "improvised explosive devices." Yesterday Casey's lawyer told local journalists:
My client is a very intelligent young man . . . he's very keen in chemistry, a very curious young person and very capable, very knowledgeable in the area and he was always curious with regard to chemistry, chemical compounds, chemical reactions, that kind of thing. So from my client's point of view, it's completely innocent insofar as he had no intention of creating any explosives or explosive devices. As people probably know, anything in your house can constitute or be used in chemical or explosive devices, including sugar and cleaning compounds, Mr. Clean, bleach, detergents, all those sorts of things.
It's unclear what made police raid Casey's house. They claim that they got a tip from a woman who sold Casey fertilizer and was concerned about it. Certain kinds of fertilizer are used in the production of crystal meth.
The case is reminiscent of the Steve Kurtz case in 2004. Kurtz is a New York artist who uses biotech equipment in his work, and police arrested him on suspicion of terrorism after discovering his home chemistry lab.
Casey is now living at home, but he is no longer allowed to engage in chemistry experiments except under supervision in school labs. He is also required to inform the chemistry department of the charges against him. His trial continues on January 26.
This is a stark example of how scientific curiosity is still regarded with suspicion - even in an era where home labs are becoming more and more common. Good luck to Casey - let's hope his next home lab is even bigger and cooler than the one he recently lost.