Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Lab smells

The 5 steps of a lab smell detector:
1. What is that smell? Hey, do you smell that?
2. What the (**&(*& is that $#$#$!! smell?
3. Did something crawl in your hood and die?
4. You $#$#$#!!! moron! Did you try bleach?
5. Dude, you stink. Go away.

The 5 stages of a lab smell generator:
1. What smell? I don't smell anything.
2. Okay, it's not that bad.
3. Seriously, how much of a wimp are you? I've smelled things much worse.
4. Yes, I've heard about the #$$%! smell. Yes, I closed the doors to my hood.
5. What smell? I don't smell nothin'.


  1. Given that I work with thiol-ene polymerizations quite a bit, you can guess which list I am part of.

    And these are not just any old monofunctional thiols - I'm looking for polymerization and crosslinking, so I get the joy of working with dithiols, trithiols and even tetrathiols.

  2. Having been guilty, at different points, as a detector and generator:

    "I hope all I'm smelling in this room is piperidine!" (Detector, said jokingly late one night to a coworker working by himself.)

    "Don't worry, the smell means the reaction's working." (Generator)


  3. It would be cool to work in a flavor or fragrance lab and have someone tell you your reaction smelled like roses or fruity . Unfortunately, I have been on both sides of the fence as the detector and the generator as have others. I still have a keen sense of smell after all these years. At least, I have never smelt almonds.

  4. HCN has quite a characteristic smell and you can smell it quite easily - just sniff at the cap of a bottle with NaCN or KCN - these always have some free HCN present due to hydrolysis (but not enough - 100mg or so - to do you in). It is not much almond-like actually, just bitter-burnt, a bit like pyridine. Also cyanoborohydride smells of HCN.

  5. I find the smells of certain TLC stains, particularly anisaldehyde, to be nauseating.

    @Milkshake: What about the Org Syn Prep for anhydrous HCN that advises the operator to smoke while distilling the product because HCN "imparts a distinctive taste to cigarette smoke"?

  6. I can't think of a reason to use neat HCN in the lab (one would rather generate it in situ from TMSCN and 1 equiv of iPrOH) but I have done a 50g-scale Strecker that involved spooning solid Zn(CN)2 into a solution of aniline and an alkylpiperidone, in straight acetic acid, and it needed cooling on ice to keep HCN from distilling out...
    By the way, getting drunk is the best way to treat a headache caused by HN3 poisoning - old peptide chemists that were routinely using azide coupling liked to have a bottle at hand

  7. As an organic lab TA, I wasn't too fond of the obligatory Fischer esterification and aromatic aldehyde labs. Anthranilic acid had a pleasant grape odor, but the banana oil and often-failed raspeberry oil syntheses...blech!

    While doing research, I could tolerate most 1° and 3° amines and silanes, but the dimethyl sulfide workup of ozonides was disgusting. Had a coworker who once used a lot of pyrrolidine...eew!

  8. A7:41p: The worst part of those labs was the kids stickin' the beaker under your nose and saying "does this smell right?" After the 30th wafting, you can't smell a thing.

  9. I had a colleague in organis freshman lab making some greasy aliphatic aldehyde, lauraldehyde I think. The stuff is used as coconut flavor - and because of its lousy volatility the smell never goes away. Fucking coconuts.
    One of the more nauseating experiences was working with large quantities of Me3N.HCl : it smells just like the parent amine (=fish and public urinals) and is hygroscopic and has low volatility: a little bit of it spilled around balances soon melts and "disappears" but the working cloths get permeated by the stink and one smells seriously like someone with lack of personal hygiene


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