Decontaminating my Grandfather’s Chemical Legacy

Mark Lorch
6 min readMar 15, 2019

This is a tale of how my grandfather’s pipettes found their way into a pot of odds and ends that sits on my desk.

The story involves a legacy he left that had the potential to kill me, much of my family and probably a good few neighbours, but despite that I can’t help feeling respect and nostalgia for my grandfather every time I pull a pencil out of the mug that it shares with his old lab tools. And sometimes when I’m suffering from writer’s block, I’ll reach for them, play with them a bit, think of him and more often than not I’ll find some inspiration in them and his memory.

My grandfather was one my greatest scientific influences. He was Danish, so of course we called him MorFar (mother’s father in Danish).

And because he lived in Copenhagen, I didn’t see him often, maybe once a year. So my memories of him are really a series of vignettes centred around our family holidays to Denmark or his visits to us.

Morfar was a chemists and horticulturist who believed in organic food production decades before it became a mainstream movement. And he shared his love for plants, science and all things natural with me.

When I was a kid he’d take me for walks through the rolling wooded countryside of English Home Counties or the flat expanses of the Baltic coastline and we’d graze on the edible plants that he’s extract for the headrows along the way. Sometimes we’d come across a waterway and we’d crawl to the edge and gaze at the pond skaters, water boatman and daphnia dancing below the surface. And maybe we’d catch a few in in our empty lunch boxes and examine then using the microscope that he’d whip from his pocket.

Then there was his allotment, well a small holding really. Well after he retired he carried on his research there, creating fascinating hybrid plants (his pear shaped yellow tomatoes were to die for). And I remember Morfar constructing a greenhouse there. Being a great believer of recycling he built it entirely from waste materials (he bought not so much as a single nail).

But it was his laboratory, situated in an old redbrick outbuilding (where he analysed chemical compositions of soils) that really grabbed my attention. To my 10 year old self this was a fascinating Alladin’s caves of…

Mark Lorch