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February 1, 2007
How Not To Do It: Ruining Stuff
Here's a question for the readership that should generate some interesting answers: what's the most valuable item you've seen someone ruin in a lab? I'll leave it broad enough to include both equipment and materials, and I expect to cringe numerous times on reading the comments.
I can put one into the hopper to start things off. Back some years ago, the guys down the hall from me had bought one of the largest Chiracel columns that were then sold. (For the non-chemists in the audience, this is a large packed column used to separate mirror image compound isomers (enantiomers) by pumping a mixture through). This was one of the ones where the chiral packing wasn't really bonded on to anything, but just sort of layered on another powdered solid support. And as the literature included with the column made clear, this meant that you could wash the stuff right off if you weren't careful with your solvent selection.
Well, it made it clear if you, like, read the sheet and everything. Which didn't stop someone from taking up their compound in methylene chloride and pumping it right onto the barely-used $15,000 (late 1980s money) column. And in the fullness of time (say, ten or fifteen minutes), out came the solvent front from the other end: cloudy, milky, swirling with opalescent shimmers like shampoo. Which shimmery stuff was, of course, the fifteen long ones of chiral resolving agent, scoured off the packing material by the cleansing wave of chlorinated solvent.
There: clean, simple, direct, and easily avoidable by spending two minutes reading a sheet of paper. That's the kind of thing I have in mind. Some additional examples?
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