About this Author
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

Chemistry and Drug Data: Drugbank
Chempedia Lab
Synthetic Pages
Organic Chemistry Portal
Not Voodoo

Chemistry and Pharma Blogs:
Org Prep Daily
The Haystack
A New Merck, Reviewed
Liberal Arts Chemistry
Electron Pusher
All Things Metathesis
C&E News Blogs
Chemiotics II
Chemical Space
Noel O'Blog
In Vivo Blog
Terra Sigilatta
BBSRC/Douglas Kell
Realizations in Biostatistics
ChemSpider Blog
Organic Chem - Education & Industry
Pharma Strategy Blog
No Name No Slogan
Practical Fragments
The Curious Wavefunction
Natural Product Man
Fragment Literature
Chemistry World Blog
Synthetic Nature
Chemistry Blog
Synthesizing Ideas
Eye on FDA
Chemical Forums
Symyx Blog
Sceptical Chymist
Lamentations on Chemistry
Computational Organic Chemistry
Mining Drugs
Henry Rzepa

Science Blogs and News:
Bad Science
The Loom
Uncertain Principles
Fierce Biotech
Blogs for Industry
Omics! Omics!
Young Female Scientist
Notional Slurry
Nobel Intent
SciTech Daily
Science Blog
Gene Expression (I)
Gene Expression (II)
Adventures in Ethics and Science
Transterrestrial Musings
Slashdot Science
Cosmic Variance
Biology News Net

Medical Blogs
DB's Medical Rants
Science-Based Medicine
Respectful Insolence
Diabetes Mine

Economics and Business
Marginal Revolution
The Volokh Conspiracy
Knowledge Problem

Politics / Current Events
Virginia Postrel
Belmont Club
Mickey Kaus

Belles Lettres
Uncouth Reflections
Arts and Letters Daily
In the Pipeline: Don't miss Derek Lowe's excellent commentary on drug discovery and the pharma industry in general at In the Pipeline

In the Pipeline

« Brief Items: Chem Wiki, Autism/Vaccines, Solar Cells | Main | Akt and Mek, But Not PDQ »

May 29, 2009

Ever Have One of Those Days?

Email This Entry

Posted by Derek

I've been evaluating an interesting and useful piece of equipment the last few days, and getting a lot of things done with it. At about 8:20 this morning, though, I marched into the lab and proceeded to clog, mis-plumb, and generally absurdify the thing, and I've spent the rest of the day trying to get back to the way things were at 8:15. You know, before I laid my magic hands on the apparatus and gave it the healing touch. Honestly, I couldn't have done a more complete job if I'd been wearing a rainbow wig and honking a horn.

At the moment, all seems to be working, but I've labored under that illusion several times today. If this doesn't do the trick, I'm going to bring in a troupe of Pomeranians and train them to jump over the thing. Sheesh.

Comments (16) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Life in the Drug Labs


1. Sili on May 29, 2009 2:35 PM writes...

I've had days where the diffractometer (and/or the crystals) just refused to coöperate.

And of course I've had days where it took me three or four hours to realise I'd forgotten to turn up the generator ...

Permalink to Comment

2. Fred on May 29, 2009 3:21 PM writes...

Absurdify will be another useful addition to my vocabulary.

Permalink to Comment

3. Anonymous BMS Researcher on May 29, 2009 3:37 PM writes...

Ah yes, I call such days my "left-handed baboon" days (meaning an ape would have done a better job than I did on such a day).

In his book Memoirs of a Computer Pioneer, Maurice Wilkes describes the moment when he "realised how much of the rest of my life would be spent fixing my own mistakes." In other words, he was among the first programmers to learn the painful art of debugging.

Permalink to Comment

4. Tot. Syn. on May 29, 2009 4:14 PM writes...

My usual take on these days is the disastrous reverse-phase column. You know the type - load your gear on, and start the run, finding that all the components come out together, over eighty fractions. And then spend the rest of the day removing the sodding methanol / water, and dealing with the times it decides to crash-out and bump, or form a gelatinous foam, and evenatually, eight hours later, end out with exactly the same crude, except minus 20% mass, and brown for some reason. Argh.

Permalink to Comment

5. JMB on May 29, 2009 7:25 PM writes...

When stuff like that happens on Friday, it's a sign that it's a good day to go home early.

Permalink to Comment

6. T on May 29, 2009 8:42 PM writes...

Do not despair. There are always the undergraduates in teaching labs who use magnesium sulfate in a futile attempt to dry and then proceed to rotovap their aqueous layer. Oopsie!

Everyone is entitled to their share of mistakes. Just don't let me catch you rotovapping your aqueous layer too often..............

Permalink to Comment

7. milkshake on May 29, 2009 8:52 PM writes...

Its not your fault: Nature resists the inquiry on some days more vigorously and any attempt to overcome the spell by persistence and hard labor only makes things worse. But few early-afternoon drinks, a big steak and a good sleep sometimes help to break the curse.

By the way, are you setting up a chiral prep HPLC column? It would be very nice if you could share the experience.

Permalink to Comment

8. dorf on May 30, 2009 6:36 AM writes...

Murphy was an Optimist...

Permalink to Comment

9. Norepi on May 30, 2009 4:37 PM writes...

#4 - I learned the hard way that my greaseball compounds do not run on C18 reverse-phase HPLC. Nothing is quite like having to switch between about four different solvent systems to get the thing out...

Permalink to Comment

10. Erich on May 30, 2009 6:14 PM writes...

#4, #9 - I work with really non-polar compounds, and i ended up just giving up on reverse phase HPLC.
I switched to semi-prep normalphase and, while it has some problems, i can actually separate the stuff i want out in a reasonable (~30 minutes) amount of time, using 6:1 HX:EA.
Course, we have a multiuser HPLC and i end up spending an hour at the beginning and end just cleaning it out, but i did separate the regioisomers.

Permalink to Comment

11. PorkPieHat on May 30, 2009 9:05 PM writes...

Methinks Derek was describing a flow reactor of some type. Perhaps hydrogenation? Oxidation? The first gen versions of these things (as recent as 2-3 years ago were desperately inadequate. Anyone had good experiences with them recently?

Permalink to Comment

12. anon the II on May 31, 2009 2:13 PM writes...

Flow reactor was my first guess also.

Over the years various devices have shown up in the lab in which unanticipated precipitation can have catastrophic (ie. lots of time and compound lost) results. There's always one person who gets it to work and pushes it but after a while even he gets tired of fixing it for every one else and the device goes to storage.

Permalink to Comment

13. RandDChemist on June 1, 2009 7:23 AM writes...

Yes I instance that always come to mind from the days of yore was one where I had a bad feeling about the day, right from the start. It eventually involved me starting a fire (unintentionally)! I did stick with it and got the chemistry done though.

Permalink to Comment

14. Bombauer on June 1, 2009 3:34 PM writes...

Another vote for the flow reactor here too. The only ones that seem to be reliable are the one ones custom made for a specific process -- like the ones occasionally mentioned in OPRD. I've tried out a few of the newer off-the-shelf ones in the past year and they've all been junky.

Permalink to Comment

15. wackyvorlon on June 17, 2009 7:12 PM writes...

There is a term that was popular in the 19th century that I like to use for this sort of situation. That is "derange the mechanism". Indeed, you appear to have deranged its mechanism. My sympathies are with you.

Permalink to Comment

16. anon on July 1, 2009 1:56 PM writes...

I did something similar with a Vapourtec flow reactor yesterday, mainly out of inexperience with the system. Looked like it was going well for a little while, then DIPEA.HCL crashed out during the course of the reaction (in AcN). Learned the hard way that I should have either used DABCO, wet AcN, or tributylamine according to my colleagues. Anyway, clogged the thing and managed to get all the solids flushed through the PTFE tubing. Solids appeared to be clogging the one pump head - the check valves and pump head were carefully cleaned and free flowing. Re-assembled everything, and it's not working. Can't prime the pump, has alot of trapped air and isn't pumping anything. Has anyone had this happen? Advice? We're trying to contact UK, but those guys have all gone home by now.

Permalink to Comment


Remember Me?


Email this entry to:

Your email address:

Message (optional):

The Last Post
The GSK Layoffs Continue, By Proxy
The Move is Nigh
Another Alzheimer's IPO
Cutbacks at C&E News
Sanofi Pays to Get Back Into Oncology
An Irresponsible Statement About Curing Cancer
Oliver Sacks on Turning Back to Chemistry