Friday, February 25, 2011

12 things I love about chemistry

Photo credit:
This employment/unemployment stuff is rough.

1. As always, fluffy white crystals.
2. The very occasional pleasant surprise in your data.
3. The plethora of really smart folks.
4. Big complex equipment that makes your life easier.
5. Seeing that peak at the right retention time
6. That water can have so many uses: solvent, scapegoat, reagent, to cool, to warm...
7. A rousing discussion of reaction mechanisms.
8. A well-written supplemental information section.
9. When older chemists talk about life in the "good old days": smoking at the bench, ether in the sink, etc.
10. Hearing good hiring news from friends,  as in: "I got a job!"
11. (ever-so-rare) Projects that go well from beginning to end
12. The sound of samples going in and out of an NMR.

I'm tagging a few folks here: biochembelle, Leigh, ScienceGeist, ChemBark, Icanhasscience, Lab Monkey, The Haystack and Transition States. What are your favorite things? Even if I didn't name you, join in! Y'all come, so to speak.


  1. 1) Tiny crystals growing in the bottom of a crystallization dish
    2) Reversible electrochemistry
    3) A single, uniform peak in a chromatography trace
    4) Straightforward protein mass spectra
    5) Single exponential fluorescence decay curves

  2. @CJ: Is it just me, or does the sound of an NMR sample ejection sound like the stage transition in the video game "Tempest"? Dude, I know...I'm old.

    So as not to preempt the tagged bloggers:
    5a) An X-ray crystal structure with clean thermal ellipsoids...pure nirvana.
    5b) Hearing a faculty member (not necessarily your own advisor) say, "Nice work."
    5c) Seeing one of your undergrad researchers get good results and therefore be encouraged to pursue the chemistry PhD...muhahah!

  3. We did a favorite things meme a while back. I'll add to that, though:

    11) R2 = 1.0
    11b) wR2 < 0.05 (If I'm solving a crystal structure)
    12) the smell of vanillin

  4. I miss lab equipment - IKA stirrers with the cute colored combi-chem plates on top, the click of a pipettor picking up a tip, those convenient 1000 mL round bottoms with the flat bottoms. I was an equipment junkie when I was working in the lab.

  5. 1. The strange, alluring mix of part rigor part empiricism
    2. Sounds, colors, smells and crystals better than celluloid can deliver. Then there's celluloid itself, a chemical
    3. The constant opportunities to spar with physicists about the limitations of reductionism
    4. The pleasure of being able to appreciate Roald Hoffmann, Philip Ball, Sam Keane and others
    5. The recurring challenge of striving to explain to the public why not all "chemicals" are bad
    6. The unceasing, perpetual sense of astonishment that molecules as simple as serotonin, amphetamines and dopamine can cause profound behavioral changes
    7. The sheer reach of chemistry- from the innards of a superconductor to those of a supernova
    8. The sense of satisfaction (often sadistic) from the constant bickering about the Nobel Prize in chemistry that simply reinforces the astonishing diversity of the discipline
    9. The fact that all of life lives and thrives within a 3 kcal/mol window
    10. The pleasure of pointing out to biologists that knowing the pKa values of organic compounds can be very useful
    11. The fact that the origin of life is a quintessentially chemical problem that will keep chemists busy until the end of time
    12. The smug satisfaction that comes from carrying around a bottle of sodium hydroxide in your pocket, just in case there's that freak acid spill

  6. 1. A tidy TLC plate - one spot for product, no spot for starting material
    2. When you can tell your reaction worked by the smell (esp. when making a yummy aldehyde)*
    3. Lab giveaways that feel like a treasure hunt
    4. An NMR spectrum with no blips of water or grease
    5. Hammett plots that make sense
    6. The smell of cinnamyl alcohol*
    7. Proposed mechanisms supported by data at every step
    8. When you have to take apart a GC to fix it, and then it actually works when you reassemble it
    9. The smell of camphor*
    10. Fluffy yellow PdCl2(PhCN)2

    *it's bad practice to smell your chemicals/reactions [stern look]

  7. @Sharon: Weren't you ever told to gently waft a volatile chemical on order to note its odor?

  8. I'll keep updating our list with new entrants :)

  9. @anonymous Haha yes... gently waft. Nevertheless, it's not the best practice. ;) The smell of the aldehyde I used this morning is still lingering in my nose, I think....

  10. I just do it for the chicks, fame and riches. (Like, you just say at a dance "Listen, I just run a big-ass Swern today" and suddenly everyone wants to have a piece of you.) And, of course, for the drugs.

  11. Hmmm certain things are a matter of perspective. Working in Process/GMP (or being a pessimistic type) my reaction to some of items you love is not really the same:
    1) white crystals great but fluffy means packaging headaches and sure to get complaints from the formulations folks.
    2) in GMP realm surprises in data rarely are of the pleasant kind.
    3) too many really smart people that lack common sense.
    4)complex equipment does not make life easier if it breaks down frequently and/or is hard to use correctly.
    5) Agree- that's a winner!
    6) someone used the wrong grade of water, jeopardizing an entire batch of product.
    7) love exercise too but still doesn't tell me where that dang new impurity came from.
    8) Patents rarely contain sufficiently usable info to repeat well as they are supposed to by those "skilled in the art".
    9) I'm probably one of those so reminds me I'm getting old.
    10) Great- only hope they found a good place to work or supervisor who is not an @%#$.
    11) I've only heard rumors that such projects exists- sign me up please
    12) Pleasing until one realizes the last person cranked up the air pressure so your sample shoots out like a missile and you have to clean up the mess.

  12. 1. The "fragrance" of some solvents like ethyl acetate, THF, diethyl ether etc.

    2. Just the whole business of material transformation; starting with a bunch of raw materials and ending up after a series of steps with a product that is so different from the starting materials.

    DP Chalasani

  13. - Achieving the perfect aqua marine blue or emerald green reaction solution (making a nice change from the white or yellow...or brown if it's gone real bad...)
    - The smell of "accidentally"-spilled EtOAc
    - Scrolling through hundreds of email alert paper titles and coming across the occasional gem: 10.1021/cr900105w (Chem. Rev., 2010, 110, 2313)
    - Running a speculative reaction with absolutely no lit precedent “under the bench” – and it working almost peak-to-peak
    - The look on your student’s face when they make their first breakthrough
    - The discovery of Spotify in a lab with no radio reception and an eclectic mix of musical tastes
    - The camaraderie of staying late with others (or, hell...even on your own!) because you’re waiting for the NMR/LCMS to deliver a game-changing result
    - Lab consumables catalogues thicker than the Argos book (this may be a UK-thing...)

  14. The beautiful sound of NMR sample changers, it soothes the soul. Until you set up a dozen samples, come back in an hour, and find the second one stuck in the upper barrel.

  15. 1) The TLC / NMR / GC / HPLC that tells you for the final time that your reaction went 95% and is clean as heck....go publish that paper, son!

    2) Transition metal reactions that go green-to-yellow-to-blue-to pink, depending on oxidation state. Bonus if you didn't expect it!

    3) "Dump-and-stir" reactions that work every time (looking at you, pyr-SO3)

    @DP, @Sharon - smells that remind you of something else, like "hey, this smells like fresh-cut hay!" "Coffee!" "Old meat!"*

    *all smells I've personally synthesized, most by accident

  16. @See Arr Oh: I'm a fan of the Parikh-Doering oxidation too, although I've been foiled by reagent that went bad because some folks forgot to parafilm the bottle and store in a desiccator.

    I would also add these to the list of chemistry favorites:

    1. A pristine KBr plate for IR spectroscopy.
    2. The smell of (Boc)2O...I think it smells like Sprite, although its probably bad for you.
    3. A 2DNMR spectrum without T1 noise or cross-peak artifacts.
    4. Generating 6000 °C argon plasma for ICP-analysis.
    5. Total synthesis exercise for group meeting. Nothing better than presenting some hokey routes over beer and chips, with occasionally a well-designed (i.e., lucky) project arising from the banter and brainstorming.

    " the hell are you going to reduce that ketone form the concave face?"

    "Dude, L-selectride can do anything! Besides, the TBDPS group on the C16 alcohol is going to induce a ring flip."

    "Yo mama is a TBDPS group!"

  17. 1. When you use a new element in the periodic table that you haven't used before.

    2. When you identify that unknown peak on the LC/MS and you find the answer to why your reaction went screwy.

    3. Using any new multi-reactor system and it has either computer control or a big touch screen.

    4. Receiving that oddball chemical that you need to try a new reaction. It's like Christmas.

    5. Being able to deliver your batch of API and be able to see the fruits of your labour to produce one kilo of material or more. (one kilo is nice, more is better).

    6. Being able to solve a process-related problem (solubility (wrong solvent), wrong catalyst, wrong in-process test, etc)

    7. Having a percent assay result that is over 98 % purity.

  18. Love that last comment, drunk conversations about chemistry are awesome! I also like the fact that a lot of people use the smell test in chemistry labs. Excellent stuff.

    I've just written a list of my own...

  19. sascha_stoltenow@yahho.comMarch 24, 2011 at 1:18 PM

    1)my wife is a chemistry teacher by education
    2)in 11th grade I stopped learning chemistry in school with the worst possible grade, but learned to love it now
    3)the most interesting things in my professional career as pr consultant are chemistry related
    4)chemistry made a major contribution for Bill Brysons most inspiring book "A short history of nearly everything"
    5)Uncle Tungsten is one of my favorite books
    6)the periodic table of elements is, well, elemental

  20. Hate chemistry and guss what i am a chemist,
    dont know how to get out of lab help meeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee


looks like Blogger doesn't work with anonymous comments from Chrome browsers at the moment - works in Microsoft Edge, or from Chrome with a Blogger account - sorry! CJ 3/21/20