About this Author
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

Chemistry and Drug Data: Drugbank
Chempedia Lab
Synthetic Pages
Organic Chemistry Portal
Not Voodoo

Chemistry and Pharma Blogs:
Org Prep Daily
The Haystack
A New Merck, Reviewed
Liberal Arts Chemistry
Electron Pusher
All Things Metathesis
C&E News Blogs
Chemiotics II
Chemical Space
Noel O'Blog
In Vivo Blog
Terra Sigilatta
BBSRC/Douglas Kell
Realizations in Biostatistics
ChemSpider Blog
Organic Chem - Education & Industry
Pharma Strategy Blog
No Name No Slogan
Practical Fragments
The Curious Wavefunction
Natural Product Man
Fragment Literature
Chemistry World Blog
Synthetic Nature
Chemistry Blog
Synthesizing Ideas
Eye on FDA
Chemical Forums
Symyx Blog
Sceptical Chymist
Lamentations on Chemistry
Computational Organic Chemistry
Mining Drugs
Henry Rzepa

Science Blogs and News:
Bad Science
The Loom
Uncertain Principles
Fierce Biotech
Blogs for Industry
Omics! Omics!
Young Female Scientist
Notional Slurry
Nobel Intent
SciTech Daily
Science Blog
Gene Expression (I)
Gene Expression (II)
Adventures in Ethics and Science
Transterrestrial Musings
Slashdot Science
Cosmic Variance
Biology News Net

Medical Blogs
DB's Medical Rants
Science-Based Medicine
Respectful Insolence
Diabetes Mine

Economics and Business
Marginal Revolution
The Volokh Conspiracy
Knowledge Problem

Politics / Current Events
Virginia Postrel
Belmont Club
Mickey Kaus

Belles Lettres
Uncouth Reflections
Arts and Letters Daily
In the Pipeline: Don't miss Derek Lowe's excellent commentary on drug discovery and the pharma industry in general at In the Pipeline

In the Pipeline

« Special Off-Topic Weekend Irrelevancy | Main | Now With The Great Taste of Fish »

October 31, 2004

Well, Sonny, That's Not How We Did It

Email This Entry

Posted by Derek

I don't even want to try to estimate how many chromatography columns I've run over the years. I remember some of my first ones, from the early 1980s, an era that is beginning to sound alarmingly distant. I ran them at a fierce rate for the rest of that decade and most of the 1990s, only tapering off in the last few years.

For those outside the field, organic chemists spend a lot of time purifying compounds by running them through silica gel, which is similar to very pure, very finely ground sand. Usually that's done by dissolving the impure mixture in some solvent and pumping it through a column of the stuff. In the old days (up until the late 1970s/early 1980s) this was often done just by gravity, but then the fashion came in for "flash" chromatography, where you force the solvent through by air pressure. Younger chemists who've never done any other kind don't appreciate the flashy aspects of that method, since they've never sat around all day while a gravity column drips - it's like waiting for a stalactite to form.

The most refined form of column chromatography is HPLC, high pressure liquid chromatography, which uses metal columns, highly refined silica (and other solid supports), and special pumps to ram mixtures through at hundreds or thousands of pounds/sq. inch. But HPLC machines aren't cheap, and neither are the consumables, and they can be finicky to operate, no matter what the sales rep says.

Recent years have seen the advent of various pre-packed flash columns for benchtop use. Back in graduate school, those would have been the equivalent of having your compounds purified by dancing girls while the chef whipped up some appetizers - even if these things had been available, there's no way we would have been allowed to order such degenerate labware. So I went through my peak column-running years doing it the old-fashioned way, and now that I only do one once in a while, there are all these premade gizmos just sitting around. 'Twas ever thus.

Comments (3) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Life in the Drug Labs


1. The Novice Chemist on October 31, 2004 8:50 PM writes...

In my lab (a mid-sized midwestern private university), we have four (count 'em, four!) Biotage Horizon systems that have pre-packed columns and a fraction collector as well. I could describe this in terms much like Derek, but well, this is a family blog. Let's just say that my group's T-shirt says: "If the Biotage could cook, I'd marry it."

Permalink to Comment

2. Dawn B. on November 1, 2004 12:53 PM writes...

Yeah. I also learned with gravity columns, though I was quickly upgraded to the flash method. But the pre-packed stuff just drove me bonkers, and I'd only been doing columns for two years or so.

My current job doesn't involve columns and now I'm all afraid I've lost my touch.

Permalink to Comment

3. Peter Ellis on November 1, 2004 1:13 PM writes...

At work I hear tell of the days when they had to purify DNA and RNA via multiple rounds of density gradient centrifugation. I'll take the 3-minute column prep, thanks.

Permalink to Comment


Email this entry to:

Your email address:

Message (optional):

The Last Post
The GSK Layoffs Continue, By Proxy
The Move is Nigh
Another Alzheimer's IPO
Cutbacks at C&E News
Sanofi Pays to Get Back Into Oncology
An Irresponsible Statement About Curing Cancer
Oliver Sacks on Turning Back to Chemistry