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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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March 27, 2006

Cleaning Out the Hood: An Internal Monologue

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Posted by Derek

Man, is this hood of mine scuzzy. . .these things suck in dust all day long, and it all piles up in layers on the bottom. Spilling silicone oil back there doesn't seem to help much either, gotta say. Of course, if all the dust from the lab is being pulled in here, where's all of the dust out on my bench coming from, eh?

And this two-liter round-bottom flask, which has its share on it: that's from, like, 2003 or so. The project before the project before the project before this one. Give or take. I really should get this stuff out of it, but there must be fifty or sixty grams in there. And scraping that out would be a nightmare. And dissolving it wouldn't be a lot of fun, either. And I'm not completely sure that I remember what the stuff is. Argh.

Then there's this rig back here, my phosgene trap. I can get that out of here, 'cause with any luck I'll never have to use phosgene on that scale again. Of course, as soon as I break it down and clean it, someone across the hall will discover the New Wonder Lead Structure on our project, something so hot that we all have to switch over and start working on it, and the second step to make it will require a bucket of phosgene. Never fails. I haven't been doing this for seventeen years for nothing, y'know.

Or have I? You'd think by this time I'd learn to label flasks like this one over here. Those sure are some nice crystals. Makes me think that they must be leftover sodium sulfate or something. Take a bit out and see if it's water-soluble - if it is, it's junk, 'cause I haven't made anything water-soluble in I don't know when. Where were crystals like these when I needed them, back in grad school? Kept trying to grow some for X-ray work, and all I could get were these fluffy little needles, fine as frog hair.

This, on the other hand, is not as fine as frog hair. Look at that - whatever this brown junk in here is, it sure isn't doing that rubber septum on top any good. Live an evil life, and you'll come back as a rubber septum. Or maybe a vacuum pump trap. Oh yeah, that's that chlorosulfonic acid reaction. No wonder the septum looks like that. Reaction didn't do a thing, though - how can you heat something up in neat chlorosulfonic acid and not have it do something? Against the laws of nature, that is. But you know, taking grief from Nature is kind of the job description around this place. . .

Comments (9) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Life in the Drug Labs


1. Michael G on March 28, 2006 6:36 AM writes...

That's so funny. Pretty much everything you've said in your post is something I've thought in cleaning out my fume cupboard (which coincidentally, I finally decided to do today). The mystery crystals thing has happened a few times. The other one I often have is the half-readable label that you're not sure if it's an important compound or a failed reaction you should've binned weeks ago. Ah, the joys of chemistry.

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2. Kim on March 28, 2006 8:49 AM writes...

Sorry guys, this sounds a little too much like the time I spent last week cleaning out my fridge! No confirmed hazardous waste, but whew...what a smell and what a lovely laboratory for mold growth experiments. Maybe my 9-yr old would like to use some of this stuff for his upcoming science fair?

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3. Milo on March 28, 2006 8:11 PM writes...

I figure that if I really needed the goo in the bottom of the unlabeled flask, I would remember what it was.

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4. Kevin on March 28, 2006 8:52 PM writes...

When I cleaned out my hood last week, I discovered that the compound which had escaped through a cracked beaker several months ago has a unique ability to weld lab jacks to the hood surface. Hours of fun scraping off the aftermath.

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5. Chad on March 28, 2006 11:32 PM writes...

i'm now a member of an overcrowded lab (11 people, 10 4-foot hoods, and 8 benches), so we clean up monthly.... i haven't had any of those joys since my undergrad days.

you know, i think i left a couple of flasks with column flushes in them behind......

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6. Petros on March 29, 2006 2:23 AM writes...

Remember how the first succesful benzodiazepine was discovered (Librium). It was a crystalline residue in a flask that had been sitting in a fume hood (or more probably on the bench it was the 1950s)

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7. Joseph on March 30, 2006 10:18 PM writes...

A clean hood is a happy hood.

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8. Tot. Syn. on March 31, 2006 4:03 AM writes...

It's amazing how long stuff can hang around at the back of a hood, but after the former hood owner moves on, the new occupant doesn't have a clue what the jusnk in the RBF is. So they leave it sitting there - afterall, better safe that sorry et c. So it sits there for another three years, and gets passed on to the next occupant...
Our group recently moved labs, and the old one has now been refurbished. The builders keep finding stuff **under** the fumehood fittings. Eeeeh.

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9. Skatesailor on April 1, 2006 12:48 AM writes...

Derek: "[The] reaction," you say, " didn't do a thing, though - how can you heat something up in neat chlorosulfonic acid and not have it do something?" Obviously you didn't get it hot enough. Remember that destruction of the starting material is preferable to dishonor of the chemist who cannot make molecules react.

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