I have some down time here at the Hartford airport, which gives me a chance to talk about one of the routine, but pleasurable, things about doing organic chemistry: making stuff. By that I mean making something that most certainly wasn't there when you started.
For example, in the post the other day about the odors of various lab solvents, someone mentioned 2,2-dimethoxypropane. That's not in my top five, but it is pretty nice, and certainly distinctive. You can buy it by the liter, but it's also not hard to make (as grad students in underfunded academic labs know). You take some acetone, which as I mentioned the other day has a clear, strong solvent smell to it, and some methanol - thin and harsh. Add a couple of drops of sulfuric acid or the like, which you can forego enjoying the aroma of unless you're downright perverse), and heat it up.
After a few hours at a gentle boil, you can distill off the product. It's a clear liquid, and looks identical to the solvents you started with. The first clue is the different boiling point, and the second is the smell - strong and somewhat herbaceous. It's new, all right, and you made it with your own hands. (This sort of distillation has its own pleasures, which I'll go on about in another post sometimes - I really haven't done much of it in recent years, and that's a bit of a loss).
The effect is even more dramatic when you have liquid starting materials that produce solid crystalline products. All chemists enjoy crystals - if you don't, you either shouldn't get into synthesis, or you should strongly consider getting out. Having a forest of bright needles or beveled plates come out from what was, a few hours before, a mixture of thin, smelly liquids is something I've never tired of. It's something that would have passed for magic a few hundred years ago, and in a way, it still is.
Well, I've just been unexpectedly upgraded to first class, so this is already looking like a good trip. I'll try to blog some during the conference tomorrow, when I get a chance.