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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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December 11, 2006

Old School? Same School!

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Posted by Derek

I was looking through some old pictures the other day, and found a set that were taken in my grad-school lab, back in the mid-1980s. One thing struck me, because I'd always had a mental picture of my bench being an impossible mess: it wasn't that bad. "You call that clutter?" I thought. "I'll show you clutter!" My desk, on the other hand, was indeed a mess, and I haven't been able to surpass it. (Equal it, yeah, OK, every few months. But not surpass it).

I think one reason the bench didn't look so bad was because there just wasn't enough money for it to reach its full potential. After all, I only had a certain number of round-bottom flasks, with no more set to arrive, so I had to be vigilant about transferring things to vials and doing the dishes. When you have drawers full of the things, though, you can afford to cut loose a bit. The same goes for other lab supplies - I didn't have a lot of spare boxes of pipets and disposable test tubes sitting around back in the old lab, because we tried not to dispose of them so cavalierly.

The other thing that hit me about these shots was that I could easily do what I do now using that same equipment. I'd like a Biotage or Isco chromatography system, true, neither of which had been invented back then. But most of the equipment is exactly the same - round bottom flasks, Erlenmeyers, rota-vaps, sep funnels, TLC plates - everything you need. (Bet you didn't know you could buy some of that stuff at Amazon, eh? That sure hadn't been invented yet, either. . .)

I don't know whether to be happy that all the things I've learned have stood by me so well, or to be a little worried that my field isn't a bit more dynamic. It's a good thing I don't have any lab photos from the 1960s for comparison, because that might just tip the balance.

Comments (4) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Life in the Drug Labs


1. yepyep on December 11, 2006 1:00 PM writes...

"or to be a little worried that my field isn't a bit more dynamic."

I wouldn't be too worried about that. I'm glad that most of the lab equipment isn't like PCs. It would be really annoying to throw away all the stuff every 3 years or so, and buy new ones because you just really need to have a rotavap which let's you rotate the flask 500 rpm, not just 300 rpm like the old one.

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2. Anonymous BMS Researcher on December 11, 2006 8:16 PM writes...

Betcha the clutter in my office can beat yours any day :-) Been like that ever since Grad school, only big difference is frantic searches for some specific item among the piles of paper are much less frequent because usually I just locate the electronic copy if I can't find the hardcopy.

Now my lab notebook I can always find, because they audit those to make sure we keep them up to date. Was considerable wailing and gnashing of teeth when they announced they would start enforcing the notebook policy...

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3. NJBiologist on December 13, 2006 7:27 AM writes...

There's a third option: technology is just technology, and the important, innovative parts of the work are not critically dependent on it. From the biologists' side of the building, I'm happy rotarods haven't changed much; that way, I spend less time re-validating methods and more doing new science.

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4. NancyB on December 23, 2006 11:24 PM writes...

I read that when they filmed Young Frankenstein with Gene Wilder, etc., in the mad scientist's laboratory they used many pieces from the set of the original Frankenstein movie with Boris Karloff that someone had lovingly preserved.

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