Friday, August 21, 2015

Nomination for the top 5 of the "Hiss and Ping" analytical techniques descriptions

It's taken almost two months, but finally, below are the entries for the contest for the funniest, most accurate description of an analytical technique.

Vote in the comments for your favorites. The top 5 vote winners will be judged by our panel of analytical chemists: 

The fine prize: A 1 pound bag of hard candies, a certificate fit for framing, 50 of the finest Chemjobber business cards, a handwritten thank you note (by me) and a $10 Starbucks gift card:

Biotechtoreador's NMR description: "Stick your molecules in a tube, then stick the tube in a magnet so the dipoles in the atoms in the molecules line up. Turn on a radio, and the atoms sway to one side while dancing with each other. Turn off the radio and watch as the dipoles in the atoms dance back. Repeat until you can draw it yourself."

Anon071720151225PM: "NMR is the chemical equivalent of StoryCorps. Tune into the right frequency and you'll learn something about a specific situation that can also teach you something broad and fundamental about the environment in which it occurs.

NMR is like radio-frequency-based molecular Twitter. Hit your sample with one short, pointed "statement" on a given frequency and then sit back listen to all the related nuclear opinions that come back at you. Fair warning: lot of it will just be noise."

Anon071720151225PM: "Sum frequency generation, where a surface becomes a Thunderdome: two frequencies enter, one leaves."

Brandon Findlay: "Dr. Evil: Alright, here's the plan. Here's the plan. Back in the 60's, I had a mass spectrometry machine that used, in essence, a sophisticated laser beam which we called an "Ninja Assassin." Using these "Assassins," we superheat the sample of interest "Bound" to a base coating of aromatic compounds, which we scientists call "The Matrix." "Animating the Matrix" creates a superheated plume of gas containing every ion in the sample, a "Cloud Atlas" if you will. By timing the "Speed" at which ions "Race" to the detector we can determine their mass with incredible precision. "Reloading the Matrix" with new analyte allows the same detecting plate to be used multiple times, lading to massive profits and a "Matrix Revolutions" in mass spectrometry.

Scott: Why did you pluralize the word revolution and use so many air quotes?

Dr. Evil: It's a V, for Vendetta, not an air quote, Scott. Okay? 

Scott: Huh?

Dr. Evil: Any ways, the key to this plan is controlling the rising gas. Like "Jupiter Ascending' it can quickly overload detector without proper safeguards. Because overall futuristic flair, and the polish source of "The Matrix", we shall call the device the Wachowski Starship. 

Number Two: [pause] That also already been created. It's called MALDI-TOF.

Dr. Evil: Right, people you have to tell me these things, okay? I've been frozen for thirty years, okay? Throw me a frickin' bone here! I'm the boss! Need the info."

Pete: "NMR- play BBC radio 3 at your sample, and record the screams."

The Iron Chemist: "EPR is like NMR but with electrons."

Peter Edwards: "IR is like a TV remote control. You shine an IR source (spectrometer or remote control) at your sample (chemical or TV), and the signal that you get in return doesn't usually tell you anything useful that you don't already know."

Molecular Geek: "FT spectroscopy is like listening to a grand piano crashing to the ground from a 10 story drop in order to determine which notes were out of tune."

qvxb: "GC/MS - Gas Chromatography/Mass Spectrometry: A mixture of compounds and internal standards is injected into the gas chromatograph . The carrier gas sweeps the mixture over hot metal surfaces, where the compounds of interest degrade or rearrange, into a column where they are separated. Molecules that exit the column (i.e., those not pyrolyzed in the injection port) and enter the ion source of the MS, where they are bombarded by electrons and ionized to form one or more positive ions. These ions are separated by a mass filter (typically a quadrupole or quadruple after spell-check) and the relative intensities of each ion with a particular mass/charge ratio is determined by the data system. (Senior citizens will say computerized data system.)

The retention times of compounds may change as the stationary phase changes due to deposition of residues from dirty samples and reaction with oxygen from leaks. For compounds with similar mass spectra (e.g., xylenes) errors in identification may occur. This usually only happens when data are to be published or the sample is a PT sample." 

SeeArrOh: "Sit down by the fire, kids, and let ol' See Arr Oh tell you about the spectral technique every O-chemist loves: Proton-decoupled carbon-13 NMR. You see, back in the 1950s, gents in well-tailored suits with big glasses posed next to giant, room-filling machines capable of only a fraction of today's tablet computers' power. These men - and they were always men, then - would place thin glass tubes of their molecule into relatively misshaped magnetic fields and send in specific radio waves, hoping out the other side to see their recorder pens transcribe a forest of little inky peaks. 

Now, this worked fine if you wanted ALL the information about each and every proton in the molecule, but what if all you wanted to do was count carbons? Sending in radio waves tuned to carbon sent back little patterns of 2, 3, 4 (or more) peaks, depending on how many Hs were bound to each C. Too much info! 

Instead, if you blast all the protons with one high-powered radio pulse, their coupling to C falls apart, and you can sneak in a carbon-only pulse just afterwards. Et voila! Simple, single peaks shifted to match the chemical environment of where you found 'em in the molecule. Carbons next to things that tug on their electrons are on your left. "Saturated" carbons with lots of protons or buried deep with other carbons are on your right. Easy as pie."

Unstable Isotope: "You put your precious sample in a complicated machine and out come lines of great meaning. (This applies to multiple spectroscopy techniques.)"

ForensicToxGuy: "Time of flight mass spectrometry is akin to a foot race between skinny kids and heavier kids. They all start approximately at the same starting line. The gun goes off and the race starts. The lighter kids travel faster and the heavier kids are slower through the race course. The skinnier kids get to the finish line first while the heavier kids finish later.

I can say all of this because I'm a fat kid."

Anonymous07182015142P: "Radiocarbon AMS dating:

You take an irreplaceable archaeological artifact, smash it, pour acid on it, burn it, then catapult any remains as fast as current technology will allow."

standrewslynx: "NMR spectroscopy is like making love to a beautiful woman. You start vertical, but then get excited and end up horizontal. Then you roll around a few times...and relax."

Jon Lam: "So imagine you're a circus performer in a room, standing by the doorway. Your act consists of you holding a fairly large butterfly net, ready to catch what ever miniature clowns run through that doorway. But the mini clowns don't actually run in, they are actually being shot out of a cannon. Through the door. Into your net. But your cannon is kinda crappy so if the clown is too big, it just kinda plops out of the cannon and doesn't make it very far... Probably won't even make it through the doorway. But if the clowns are small, they get launched from the cannon with impressive speed... Probably too much speed so that when you try to catch them, they rip the net right out of your hands and keep going on their trajectory straight into the audience, perhaps into that section of nuns. It turns out, for the trick to work allowing the audience to see your daring clown capture, you need clowns of just the right size. Since you don't have a scale, the only way to find clowns of the right size is trial and error.

This is essentially how a magnetic sector mass spec instrument works."

Poison Ivy League: "1Hokey-31Pokey

You make your sample up
You book your sample in
You let your sample down and you spin it all around
You send in some RF waves and let the atoms have a shout
That’s what it’s all about."

"Elemental Analysis is like weighing out your sample 
except the sample is on fire
and you're on fire
because passing CHN is Hell."


  1. Would be helpful to add the context provided in standrewslynx's original comment, where the writer made it clear that it was a tongue in cheek reference. Before I read that, it felt sexist and exclusionary (chemistry boys'-club-ish), and I was surprised to see it on the list.

    1. I didn't think it was intended that way at all, judging from the author's previous comments and her blog. The Swiss Toni reference did clarify things a bit.

    2. I'd be surprised if I was a member of "chemistry boys' club". For several reasons.

    3. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    4. Violation of the you/your rule. Deleted.

  2. Molecular geek's FT description gets my vote. I've also heard various FT techniques described as "Crashing two semi trucks together and analyzing the pieces to figure out what radio station they were listening to."

  3. My votes -

    Poison Ivy League and Molecular Geek for utility and pithiness.

    Peter Edwards and Brandon Findlay for sheer entertainment value.

    A shout out to standrewslynx for best reference to a running gag in a British comedy (and a vote of thanks for not having gone with "Are You Being Served?" which really would have put Mrs. Slocum's pussy among the pigeons).

  4. I like the porno one (standrewslynx) *Butthead laugh* ah yea.

  5. Naturally I'm biased towards one specific entry. But Jon Lam's gave me and my labmates a good chuckle

    1. Jon Lam's explanation is very good. For some reason it makes me think of "Time Bandits."

  6. Molecular Geek and Poison Ivy League are excellent.

  7. @CJ - Not to detract from the fun, but we've taken our eyes off the China stock market ball, which has deflated, and now there's talk of market contagion.

  8. standrewslynx for the win!

  9. Unstable isotope gets my vote - I'm all for pithy!

  10. I like ForensicToxGuy's MS and Biotechtoreador's NMR comments.

    I hope this week is better than the last one.

  11. Anon071720151225PM's StoryCorps analogy is spot-on.