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DBL%20Hendrix%20small.png College chemistry, 1983

Derek Lowe The 2002 Model

Dbl%20new%20portrait%20B%26W.png After 10 years of blogging. . .

Derek Lowe, an Arkansan by birth, got his BA from Hendrix College and his PhD in organic chemistry from Duke before spending time in Germany on a Humboldt Fellowship on his post-doc. He's worked for several major pharmaceutical companies since 1989 on drug discovery projects against schizophrenia, Alzheimer's, diabetes, osteoporosis and other diseases. To contact Derek email him directly: Twitter: Dereklowe

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« Here It Goes | Main | They All Get Real at Some Point »

August 18, 2002

And I Still Have Some of Those Shirts

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Posted by Derek

I found some old pictures taken in my grad-school lab the other day, and sat down to look them over. It had been at least nine years since I'd seen them (and it's some fifteen years since they were taken.) One thing that strikes me is how similar my hood looks - a mess then, a mess now. I'm not an orderly person in the lab, and it doesn't look like that's going to change. I don't spend nearly as much time in the hood as I used to, but it's still not pretty.

Another thing that stands out is how similar the equipment all looks. Of course, the stuff I have in industry is newer, and certainly of better quality overall, but the technology (at least in the hood) is nearly identical. One stir plate is pretty much like another, ditto the separatory funnels (which haven't changed in over a century,) flasks, vacuum manifolds, etc.

My current hood is home to a couple of multi-well shaker plates with heating/cooling blocks on them, and it's true that we didn't really have those back in the 1980s. But I wouldn't have used them much in grad school, anyway, since I was doing total synthesis of a natural product. I didn't have a lot of parallel reactions to set up; it was all going down one path most of the time. Actually, in some ways it was all going down one drainmost of the time, now that I think about it, but that's another story.

We get a lot of use out of the multi-well blocks now, though, when it's time to hang a dozen or two amides, ureas, sulfonamides, what-have-you off some defenseless nitrogen. That's the process known and loved throughout medicinal chemistry as "methyl, ethyl, propyl, butyl, futile." (Some variants of that joke have a "brutyl" group inserted, too.)

The innovations have come more noticably in analytical techniques: fancy new NMR techniques on a more routine basis, cheaper and more robust LC-mass spectrometer combinations, and so on. The NMR machines that I started grad school with would only be fit to be gutted and used as beer coolers today, for example.

Now, down the hall in biology, well, don't get me started. Those folks have done all the changing since the mid-80s. We've had plenty of new reactions and techniques added to the repetoire over in chemistry, but nothing compared to what's gone on in molecular biology. And perhaps that's one of the sources of the fix that the drug industry finds itself in these days - because all the drugs have to come from the chemists, one way or another.

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