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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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August 24, 2011

Disappearing Information, Courtesy of Aldrich Chemical

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Posted by Derek

I've been in the lab all afternoon setting up reactions, and that prompts me to write about something that I've been noticing. Is it just me, or does Aldrich seem to be abandoning the practice of putting any useful information on their labels?

This has been creeping up for a while, but I worry that instead of an anomaly it's the way of the future. I just got in several bottles of reagents from Aldrich, and basically all they have on their labels are the names of the compounds. No molecular weight, no density, no melting or boiling point: nothing but a line of type surrounded by an Aldrich label. And while I can go look these things up, and while my electronic notebook often is able to provide the information, it would still be a lot more convenient to have it on the label as well. You know, like it used to be.

I assume that this is a cost savings. As a rule, I assume that the most likely answer to any question that starts out "I wonder how come they. . ." is "money". But it's a shame.

Comments (53) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Life in the Drug Labs


1. Bogdan on August 24, 2011 3:00 PM writes...

What about the safety warnings, are they still present on the labels?

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2. Andre on August 24, 2011 3:09 PM writes...

I've noticed this trend for a while. Even safety is down to one or two symbols- no more "Warning: Lachrymator" or target organ warnings or anything like that any more. I suppose that the idea is that you can look all of this stuff up online, but that seems a tad silly to me.

And considering that it only costs them a few ten thousanths of a cent in ink costs to print the labels, cost savings doesn't seem to be much of a reason either.

My best guess would be a change in philosophy. Everyone is trying to go more and more paperless. I would suspect that eventually the label will simply be a QR code that takes you to a page which has all of the info. I've even been noticing things like purity and concentrations are not being put on labels anymore, which is particularly annoying. When you go to Aldrich's page for the compound, sometimes the info is there, sometimes you need to dig through to find it.

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3. Tony on August 24, 2011 3:11 PM writes...

Yeah it's terrible. It wasted so much of my time to have to look the info all the time. Probably some genius idea by an MBA geek by how much money will be saved by using less ink

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4. Anonymous on August 24, 2011 3:12 PM writes...

Yep, no molecular weight on any bottle from anybody. I've had to resort to emailing every single vendor and even then they don't always provide it.

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5. Joris on August 24, 2011 3:19 PM writes...

It might be a clever scheme to try and stimulate people to actually look up proper safety information before using the chemical.
Or perhaps they are preparing for a nice new program that contains all the information we need.

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6. Morten G on August 24, 2011 3:24 PM writes...

Whenever you have three minutes of nothing to do, pull something off the shelf and call them to hear what the melting point, MW, whatever is. It'll probably take a couple of years before labels come back but at least you will be doing something about it.
Heck you don't even have to have something near you - just pull it out of your head. What is the melting point of sodium chloride anyway?

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7. You're Pfizered on August 24, 2011 3:38 PM writes...

It's when the labels are all printed in Chinese that I'll really start worrying....

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8. flavor on August 24, 2011 4:02 PM writes...

@7 the plus side there will be better order processing just phone them up for a #4 and #15, hold the hot sauce and the guy will there in 30 min max.

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9. Anonymous on August 24, 2011 4:12 PM writes...

I bet the database Aldrich uses to print the catalog is no longer compatible with their new label printing software or vendor.

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10. Martin on August 24, 2011 4:43 PM writes...

@5 I don't think you're too wide of the mark here. There is a school of thought that says if you provide half the safety information on the bottle then the customer is entitled to think that's _all_ they need to know about the stuff. If you don't tell them that it's a chronic problem to inhale the stuff on the label then they may well sue you. Put all the stuff on the web for them to look up, devolve all responsibility to the customer and you may in fact be better covered, as long as of course the customer provides informed consent that the responsibility has been hand-balled to them.
The other thing I have noticed is that even last night at a Sigma sponsored function the sales rep asked about "Do you use ChemNavigator" I suspect that this is where they want you to spend most of your time

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11. Martin on August 24, 2011 4:47 PM writes...

PS. going back many a year my personal "favourite" as a grad student was my bottle of trimethyltin chloride with 13 exclamation marks on the label. Was a record in our labs at the time.

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12. Anonymous on August 24, 2011 4:52 PM writes...

SIAL marketers want us to go look up the information on the Aldrich website (which I do quite often when I "work off the books"). That way they have an opportunity to sell more junk to me.

I too find it truly annoying.

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13. imatter on August 24, 2011 5:05 PM writes...

I just started manually writing the molecular weights on the bottles. I'm not a happy about this.

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14. G2 on August 24, 2011 5:10 PM writes...

When I was working in the lab I downgraded the vendors on my priority list which didn`t supply the density or molecular weight.

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15. Andre on August 24, 2011 6:10 PM writes...

I just remember reading a letter a few years ago from Johnson and Johnson in response to a letter from a racist idiot. The original writer was complaining about how she didn't care whether or not her food was kosher, and didn't see why she had to pay in increase in price in order for them to print an OU or a K on the product. J&J wrote back that it cost roughly 1/10,000th of a cent to print it on a single item, and they did not view this as a significant enough cost to increase the prices of their products.

Now, admittedly, this isn't Aldrich, but I am hard pressed to see how it can possibly be all that different in principle. But then, Aldrich has been a bit skeevy for a very long time.

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16. AlexG on August 24, 2011 6:24 PM writes...

I've found that a lot of newer solvent bottles tend to have smaller labels- which annoyingly means less space to write "NON-CHLORINATED SOLVENT WASTE" or similar when using the old bottle as a waste bottle.

Oh, and #15: Today I was using some "Pyrazine- 99%- Kosher" (I think from SAFC). It also bore the usual "for R&D use only" warning.

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17. jk on August 24, 2011 7:00 PM writes...

Very annoying. How about the shrinking font size? And yes, I have had my eye prescription checked recently.

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18. pharmadude on August 24, 2011 7:18 PM writes...

Every time I look at a bottle without a MW on it the running narative in my head is "what the F$%K? Where's the MW?" while I spin the bottle around and around in circles in disbelief.

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19. azmanam on August 24, 2011 7:27 PM writes...

I wrote a Wolfram|Alpha widget a while to report reagent properties and a widget which calculates across a row of your reagent table if you input the amount. Read about them and use them here.

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20. T on August 24, 2011 9:23 PM writes...


How many PhD's at your level do lab work at your company? At my company site, one or two PhD's at the group/project leader spend 25-50% of their time doing lab work and their colleagues think that they are totally crazy.

Probably worth a post all in itself.

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21. orion on August 24, 2011 9:58 PM writes...

I'm siding with #9 on this one. This is a common form of absurdity.

I noticed this decline in label info when I used to be in the lab too. Probably old label batches running out and being replaced with the new info-free versions.

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22. Wile E. Coyote, Genius on August 24, 2011 10:09 PM writes...

I suspect that this is lawyer driven. If a chemical company mislabels their product via typographical errors a time or two, experiments are messed up because the "stupid" chemist believed what was printed on the bottle and didn't verify it him/herself, then blames the producer, the lawyer has an easy fix: don't print what might be wrong and let the chemist figure it out for themselves. They bought the stuff; they ought to know its chemical properties. They are the chemists, after all.

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23. Rock on August 24, 2011 11:16 PM writes...

I noticed this started happening after the merger of Sigma and Aldrich. I think it is a Sigma influence.

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24. weirdo on August 25, 2011 12:07 AM writes...

Remember, like all companies, Aldrich is consumer-driven. Let's face it, for most of us the information on the lable is no longer needed. We type a Cas#, or draw a structure into, our ELN system, and the computer supplies the rest. Another example of taking the thinking out of our hands.

Oh, and Anon#4, I have to ask: if you know the structure of the chemical you are using, why the hell do you have to ask someone it's molecular weight?????

If you don't know the structure, why the hell are opening the bottle at all?

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25. Student on August 25, 2011 12:39 AM writes...

My guess: Marketing. They know you are going to search the product # and not for the chemical itself. That puts you on the Aldrich website and likely to make a transaction while you're there.

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26. IchDich on August 25, 2011 1:32 AM writes...

This is not only Aldrich, same goes for Acros, no more MW, density or elemental compositions on the new bottles so perhaps the trend is general.
Should the argument of "legal responsibility" be used, they do print it in their catalogues, which you then use as reference. So the responsibility stays pretty much the same?

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27. Kevin on August 25, 2011 2:42 AM writes...

Annoying, isn't it? They are being cheap as opposed to trying to do something well. Here's an idea; they invite reviews for chemicals, so review the stuff, give it no stars, explaining that this is because of the lack of useful information.

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28. Jose on August 25, 2011 3:53 AM writes...

I simply cannot imagine that ink/printing costs are any serious motivator, even for SA. That leaves (at least) two real possibilities: asshat way to generate website traffic (thank you, marketing types), or idiotic liability/litigation fears (thank you, lawyer-types). Or maybe a perfect little combination of the two?

Huh! A negligence lawsuit! Did anyone at that IP address download the MSDS? Poof! We're not liable! Neener-neener!

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29. dearieme on August 25, 2011 3:59 AM writes...

Come the day, someone will sue them for the dangerous practice of not putting redundant information on their labels.

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30. in shock on August 25, 2011 4:49 AM writes...

You mean to tell me that your E-Lab Notebook auto populates this type of information? That was the second thing our braintrust eliminated.

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31. Dalibor on August 25, 2011 6:58 AM writes...

In my lab we dont worry to much about the data on the bottles of reagents, its the data we generate on the products I like to keep a close eye on!

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32. Iridium cat on August 25, 2011 7:04 AM writes...

On another note, I recently purchased a chiral (not so cheap) reagent from SIAL that was supposed to contain 5g...and for whatever reason I was curious as to whether or not the bottle actually contained didn't....I was short about half a gram. I guess that's another way of cutting costs.

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33. Anonymous on August 25, 2011 7:28 AM writes...

#32 In fairness I've often had stuff that's been way over what it says on the bottle. Don't think the machines are that accurate.

Got an extra 50% of R-BINOL once, which was nice

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34. entrepreneur on August 25, 2011 7:41 AM writes...

#32, I agree with you, we had that experience couple of times recently. And, SIAL is not cheap at all (to save the cost of printing labels), you may find other vendors selling the same chemical for almost 1/2 the SIAL price sometimes.

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35. peptidechemist on August 25, 2011 7:48 AM writes...

As stated above, the practice of printing sparse labels on chemical bottles is not limited to Aldrich. NovaBioChem has been doing this too, albeit inconsistently. At least the resin loading concentrations are still printed, albeit in microscopic font. I just hate seeing all that white space...can't these companies just print smaller yet more informative labels?

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36. fragment_boy on August 25, 2011 8:11 AM writes...

I thought as everyone was on electronic lab notebooks it took all the salient info from your inventory system and told you how much to use

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37. Old Timer on August 25, 2011 8:31 AM writes...

What about those of us without e-notebooks :(

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38. enzgrrl on August 25, 2011 9:09 AM writes...

That's what Sharpies are for! If I have to look it up once, I write it on the bottle so I won't have to check again. But yes, it is aggravating.

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39. HelicalZz on August 25, 2011 9:12 AM writes...

I can be a little forgiving for very small unit sizes, where label space is tiny and a font size of 3 isn't going to help me much anyway.

What drives me as crazy is a larger, say 500 g bottle that has a 3 X 3 inch square of nothing but white space, and still prints information in a tiny font. I'm getting older and only occasionally need reading glasses, so seeing something that is a struggle to read when it doesn't need to be grates on me.


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40. Iridium on August 25, 2011 9:32 AM writes...

MW is not important: drawing programs or E-lab noteboks will give you that information.

But density is the one I miss!
And also bp when compound is kind of volatile (below 100-150C) would be nice.

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41. Anonymous on August 25, 2011 9:44 AM writes...

I think structures on labels would be nice as well.

Even better would be a structure label on the cap, so I can find it quicker in my stockroom shelves.

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42. anchor on August 25, 2011 10:48 AM writes...

In the past especially during the ACS meeting, I told many SA representative, the importance of putting these data (MW, formula, density etc.) on the bottle. They would nod their head and pretend that they are taking notes, but noting happened beyond that.

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43. anchor on August 25, 2011 10:51 AM writes...

In the past especially during the ACS meeting, I told many SA representative, the importance of putting these data (MW, formula, density etc.) on the bottle. They would nod their head and pretend that they are taking notes, but noting happened beyond that.

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44. ProteinChemist on August 25, 2011 10:53 AM writes...

I got curious and checked my Aldrich bottles - I must be lucky since mine are still chock full of info. For me it is the small containers that have nothing. We order a lot of secondary antibodies for westerns and they don't even come with concentrations even when they are liquid. Or the assay kits that come in a 24"x24"x24" box when they are 10x6x4 and the reconstitution volumes are only on their web site. Something doesn't make sense. Of course we pay for shipping the overgrown box...

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45. CR on August 25, 2011 12:02 PM writes...

Have to agree with weirdo @24:

It's up to the chemist to know that information before using the chemical. Get off your lazy asses and look it up. It's not like you have to go to a printed catalog - whether you have ELN or not, everyone has google. While you are waiting for the chemical to come in, you can easily get this information. Unless, of course, you are prodigious orderer.

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46. Nano on August 25, 2011 12:09 PM writes...


People are getting used to buy from a cheaper place and look up to Aldrich for specs!

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47. Deep Lurker on August 25, 2011 2:45 PM writes...

I asked an Aldrich rep about this a few years back, when I first started noticing information disappearing from their labels. The answer I got was that the useful information was getting crowded off the labels by the various legally-required warnings.

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48. S on August 25, 2011 8:33 PM writes...

@19: That's a cool widget. And thanks for the chem dictionary for MS Word. Worked wonders for my dissertation and papers.

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49. Anonymous on August 27, 2011 11:53 AM writes...

Much information has disappeared from the SA website since it has been reworked. Loads of organic liquids don't have mp, bp, or density listed. So for those of you who argue that removing information from labels is a ploy to drive traffic to the SA website, it seems to me rather that Wikipedia might benefit from selling fine chemicals.

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50. Anonymous on August 27, 2011 11:57 AM writes...

Must be nice to not be a grad student and have electronic notebooks!

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51. Anonymous on August 28, 2011 10:29 PM writes...

I recently encountered this problem with a bottle of THF from Merck with minimal information. To determine if the solvent was stabilised, It took a significant search of the Merck website to find one line of text in the MSDS "stabiliser: 2,6-di-tert-butyl-4-methylphenol" without giving a concentration.
The presence or lack of a stabiliser has a significant impact on the handling requirements and safety of THF as a solvent. This information should be clearly provided on the label.

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52. Healthy on August 30, 2011 5:28 PM writes...

Hum... I usually buy reagents from Aldrich and Idon't remember such thing but it may be that they were sending me stock and they just changed the labelling format. Anyway, it's not like Aldrich pricing is very tight. It's quite weird that they remove something as basic as molecular weight. Maybe they are covering their backs? Don't know but they certanly should include them again. I hate having to look at the datasheet just to write it with me horrible homemade handwriting hehe.

To find funding and research peers please check the non-profit Aging portfolio.

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53. bad wolf on August 31, 2011 9:58 AM writes...

Well, i asked a rep at the expo in Denver and she said that the last batch of labels was printed as part of an ongoing 'harmonization' with international standards, although she seemed to mean safety info primarily. She also said there would be new (finalized?) labels starting this fall so i guess we'll see if anything improves.

i am sorry i forgot to bug them about the new website interface also, as the others pointed out it is also less informative!

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