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May 14, 2008
Summer Student Time
I have a summer intern this year, and she has (so far) not caused anything to burst into flames. That’s the first thing you ask of a summer student, and the fact that she’s gotten several reactions to work is just a welcome extra. A summer with no laboratory bonfires will be a successful summer, as far as I’m concerned.
That’s because I’ve experienced the alternative, as I’ve detailed here before. If most of the lab fire stories you hear start out with the phrase “We had this solvent still. . .”, the rest of them all seem to begin with “We had this summer undergrad student. . .” (You can imagine the flame-filled end to any story that starts out with a summer student distilling some solvent – that Venn diagram leaves you with no way out at all).
No, after watching an undergrad next door to me kick a four-liter jug of pyridine all over the floor, causing a shimmering wave of unspeakable pyridine vapors to almost knock me off my feet. . .and after watching another one walk away for two hours after setting up a reduced-pressure DMSO still, which inadvertently turned into a high-pressure apparatus and blew DMSO and calcium hydride all over the inside of a hood. . .and after watching them charcoal reactions by plugging heating apparatus straight into the wall outlet instead of into the Variac. . .and, well, you get the idea.
I should add that I was no great shakes as a summer undergrad myself. I did a summer after my sophomore year with Tom Goodwin, but didn't get a great deal accomplished (through no fault of his!) Then after my junior year, I worked with Dale Boger, back when he was at the University of Kansas, but I mostly (and rather slowly) found a list of conditions that don't work for inverse electron demand Diels-Alder reactions. But although I spilled some generous amounts of solvent, I didn't set anything on fire.
No, we're going to have a calmer and more productive summer around here. I have my student working on a problem I've had a longstanding interest in, one that needs some variables chased down and figured out. With any luck, enough data will be generated to make for an interesting publication late in the year, and everyone will come out ahead.
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