Friday, November 18, 2011

Old scientific equipment never dies...

Doctor, this HP1100 is not an aged man-o-war. Credit: ugo
...it just gets moved upstairs.

I'm reminded of a favorite quote from Master and Commander whenever I'm faced with an aged piece of equipment:
Dr. Stephen Maturin: By comparison, the Surprise is a somewhat aged man-o-war. Am I not correct? 
Capt. Jack Aubrey: Would you call me an aged man-o-war, doctor? The Surprise is not old; no one would call her old. She has a bluff bow, lovely lines. She's a fine seabird: weatherly, stiff and fast... very fast, if she's well handled. No, she's not old; she's in her prime. 
Some equipment, years and years on, is still just fine. I trained on a Varian 300 MHz NMR all throughout undergrad and graduate school. I'm really not convinced that a typical synthetic organic chemist needs anything more, but I'm sure that's just a sign of mental age more than anything else.

I love new equipment -- who doesn't? Lord knows, most labs these days need new stuff. But old Buchi rotovaps work just as well as the new ones.

Readers, what's your favorite piece of old equipment?

17 comments:

  1. Pharmacia FPLC systems. Having to re-plumb the instrument, interface it with a CPU, and rig a cheap sample pump gave me a great understanding of all the components.

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  2. We had a Kofler microscope hot stage for melting points that was ancient (and excellent). That and a small scale rotary evaporator that was really great for moving into your own hood if you were working with any thiols (or similarly smelly stuff).

    Also, I agree with you re the NMR - high frequency ends up turning nondescript multiplets into complex coupling patterns that you then have to assign.

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  3. I am a computational chemist, I am scared of instruments. ;-)

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  4. Old "abandoned" dryboxes - they scare students off and you can find some incredible things there.

    Not so sure about NMR though - we've switched to an automated system and it's incredibly convenient and much, much faster. Not having to unload your pockets is just the icing on the cake.

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  5. I had a Rotovap that I used all through my PhD that was most lovely. One of my labmates found it in the hall, outside one of the synthetic organic labs, waiting for the trash. He grabbed it, I gave it new O rings and cleaned it out, and it was the best working Rotovap in the lab for 5 years. I could get off water with that thing.

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  6. At my last place I had a buchi rotovap / rotary pump combo that despite looking like arse I had refitted so well I routinely pulled DMF off. Loved it. We also had a new Gilson prep LC sitting next to an ancient waters semi-prep, and the waters saw twice the workload.

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  7. I have a Rheometrics RDA II dynamic mechanical analyzer (it measures rheology properties). It is built like a tank. I always joke about how in the post-nuclear age, the cockroaches will be running rheology measurements on it.

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  8. A colleague told me they had awesome quartz-glass Schlenk vacuum line made in pre-war Germany and brought to Soviet Union from Jena, Germany by Red Army as a war trophy. That giant vacuum line was up and still running like a charm 50 years later. (This puzzled me because all the maniflod parts must have been non-standard and hardly anyone makes glass apparatus from quartz glass anymore because it is notoriously hard to glass blow.) So I asked my friend how they managed to keep it running for half a century - you know, one broken stopcock and the vacuum line is permanently out of business. My friend smiled and said "we had this very old German glassblower working at the institute - Red Army brought him from Jena too, to go with the apparatus."

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  9. I have a box cutter that I've had for well over 15 years now.

    Most used thing I have in the lab.

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  10. I have an old Rosemount/Dohrmann combustion TOC analyzer. It needs less maintenance than any new instruments I've worked with.

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  11. The Büchi Kugelrohr, c. 1965. Every lab I've ever been to has had the exact same model. They do not look pretty, and no one ever uses them but me. I can distill anything in 20 mins. Love everything about Kugelrohr. Hey, I even showed a colleague with 25+ years post-PhD lab experience how it worked for the first time this Thursday. She loved it.

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  12. CHROMATOTRON, baby!

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  13. We had an ancient rotovap, before grad school, that went to 11 for rotating speed, really. It was fantastic!

    With other rotovaps, when you were trying to take off DMF you got to 10, and you had nowhere to go. For us, we just went to 11, and it would fly off!

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  14. An old Buchi beats a new Heidolph any day!

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  15. I think we had that same rotovap. I was just becoming aware of Spinal Tap at the time and it blew my mind.

    In my new lab, there's a GC/MS that just had its acquisition computer die. Everything on the black box of the GC/MS is just fine though. What's more, all of our methods and data on the old computer fit conveniently on one of these new-fangled thumb-drives!

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  16. CV equipment in my lab. The whole thing works really just fine; the only inconvenience is that the software going along is not supported by Windows 98 and newer, so you still have to work with windows 95 and 3 1/2 floppy disks...^^

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