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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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« A Question For the Crowd | Main | Chem-Geek Alternate History »

May 20, 2006

Minute by Minute

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Posted by Derek

Well, it's about two in the afternoon here on Saturday. I don't blog from work, but this isn't exactly a workday, is it? I'm here to set up my control experiments that I spoke about, and let me tell you, it's quiet around here. There's not a lot of work done on weekends in industry - in fact, it's discourated, for insurance reasons. Just from the standpoint of common sense, it's not a good idea to come in alone and set up a big dialkylzinc reaction or a high-pressure hydrogenation when there's no one in sight.

But I'm not using anything nasty in these experiments - heck, I could probably drink some of the solutions, although that would be a pretty expensive cocktail, and three hundred microliters wouldn't be very refreshing. Right now I'm waiting for some stuff from the freezer to come up to room temperature. Then, as Portnoy's therapist said, we may perhaps to begin.

(Ten minutes later): The frozen stuff is about thawed out, and in the meantime I went down and borrowed a half-mL of reagent from the biologists downstairs. (There's no sign of life in their labs today, either). It's a common enough chemical, but it's not something you'd find as easily in a chemistry lab. (Keep in mind that biologists have things like reagent-grade olive oil in their cabinets). They had a one-liter bottle of what I needed sitting around, so I think my 500 microliters won't be a problem.

(Five minutes later): OK, things look ready to go. I've got some fresh solutions made up, labled by hand on the sides of the glass vials in the traditional blue Sharpie. Now to get things in the vials. I'm running ten vials today - five experiments, each in duplicate. There's a repeat of the vial thirty-three run that looked good last Thursday, of course, and a repeat of the corresponding blank control. Then I'm running three more controls, each of which should knock my unusual effect back down to nothing in a different way. If these go off the way I hope, it'll be pretty convincing evidence that I'm right.

Of course, as I've written before, these are nerve-wracking experiments to set up, because (looking at them another way), what I'm trying to do is try as hard as possible to kill off my exciting results. If I were dealing in mystic revealations here, once would be enough - heck, that first moment of inspiration several years ago would be enough. But for scientists and engineers, no one believes in anything until it's been done again, over and over, and until it's resisted strenuous attempts to make it go away. If's perverse, but it works. Now to the lab bench.

(Over an hour later): Man, that was unpleasant. Took a lot longer than I figured. For one thing, I messed up one calculation and had to redo a few vials. Another problem is that since there are five arms to the experiment, each with two vials, it means that I couldn't save much time by making stock solutions and portioning them out. Each vial was more of a hand-crafted affair. But they're all done, and sitting on my lab bench, where they'll stay until Monday morning. During the day I should be able to get them analyzed, and if all goes according to plan, I'll know Monday afternoon if I'm looking at something wonderful, or yet another handful of dry leaves and lint.

Comments (7) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Birth of an Idea


1. Matt Restko on May 20, 2006 4:42 PM writes...

Wow. Even without know what you're doing it sounds so exciting that I'm even at the edge of my seat. I hope these experiemnts pan-out and I look forward to reading about your progress in the (very) near future!

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2. UndergradChemist on May 20, 2006 4:42 PM writes...

Ok, so I was curious about what one would do with reagent-grade olive oil and googled it. One procedure I found used it to create emulsions for dissolving lipoproteins and doing enzymology. It seems like olive oil would be a poorly controlled substances in terms of composition and would create a problem in terms of consistency across's not like one can distill olive oil, right? Is there some other use that I don't know about?

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3. Dan on May 20, 2006 6:41 PM writes...

Nice to see you're still having fun in the lab. My new job is fine, a change from research that I was looking for, but still interesting and challenging.

Hope you're well,


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4. Jason on May 20, 2006 6:58 PM writes...

Good for you, Derek! Keep us posted.

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5. JSinger on May 20, 2006 8:16 PM writes...

There's not a lot of work done on weekends in industry - in fact, it's discourated, for insurance reasons.

Whenever it's Sunday evening and I'm thinking the weekend wasn't long enough, I always wonder how I managed to survive all those years in grad school and my postdoc working six days a week, if not seven.

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6. Tony on May 21, 2006 6:07 AM writes...

Like Matt, I have no idea what you're doing, but you've managed to get me really interested in the outcome!

I hope it goes really well, and that you'll be able to relay what it is you're doing in terms that a layman would understan. Oh, and if it doesn't work out, you have might have found a knack for writing suspense novels! ;)


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7. weirdo on May 21, 2006 6:02 PM writes...


Olive oil is often used to make formulations for in vivo experiments. Have to be a bit careful in certain therapeutic areas (woman's health, for example), but it's very easy to work with.

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