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July 4, 2006
Now With the Great Taste of Fish!
When I was in grad school, I tested out some new-fangled separatory funnel idea that some small company was trying to launch. I can't locate a picture of one of the things, but it had a sort of piston/reservoir arrangement at the bottom, which let you draw the lower layer down and pour off the upper one. I tried it out some, and didn't find it any more convenient or effective than the good ol' standard model.
Even if it had been, so what? How much better could it have been? I'm not sure how much improvement there is to be had in the classic sep funnel design. Those things haven't been around for a century or two for nothing. What led this inventor to think that the world was waiting for him to fix this nonexistent problem, I don't know. And that's something that everyone who's trying to invent something needs to keep in mind: even if your brainchild works, will anyone want it?
I think that some innovative types miss this in their drive to get all the kinks out of their latest invention. It's easy to misdirect this sort of energy, particularly when all that hard work can be employed to keep you from dwelling on such disturbing questions. I'm not suggesting that people sell themselves and their ideas short - just that they think them through as much as they can. If you're not attacking a real problem, it's likely that no one is going to be interested.
If someone tried to sell me on a wonderful new gizmo to, say, spot my TLC plates for me, I don't think I'd be jumping up and down to try it out. A glass capillary, home-made or store-bought, works just fine, and I rarely have any cause to complain. And besides, it only takes a second or two. How much time and irritation could a new device save? On the other hand, I would be very interested in a fivefold-faster rota-vap, should some bright person figure out how to make one. Moving up the scale, if you have something that will allow me to predict (really predict) oral absorption for a new drug candidate, then you can name your own price.
But no one's offering me either one of those, as far as I know. So in the interim, remember: not everything new is improved, and not everything is improved enough to be worthwhile.
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