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February 14, 2012
Synthetic Electrochemistry: Who's Done Any?
Looking through the literature this morning, I thought about another technique that, although you see it published on, no organic chemist I know has ever actually used: electrochemistry. There are all sorts of odd reactions that can apparently be made to go at electrode surfaces, but what synthetic organic chemist has ever run one, besides someone in a group that concentrates on publishing papers on electrochemical reactions? Since a few inconclusive cyclic voltammetry scans in 1984, I sure haven't.
That's more harsh-sounding than I intended. I definitely don't think that the technique is useless, but it surely doesn't get used much. One problem is that there are so many different conditions - solvents, electrolytes, electrode materials, voltage/current regimens. If you've never done the stuff before, it's hard to know where to start. And that leads to the next problem, which is that so much of the equipment in the field has been home-made. That makes the activation barrier to trying it yourself that much higher: do you want to do this reaction enough to want to build your own apparatus and troubleshoot it? Or do you have something else to do? If someone sold a standard electrochemistry kit (controller box to run different conditions, set of different electrode materials, etc.), that would free some people up to find out what it could do for them, rather than wondering if they've built a decent setup.
Then there's the scale-up problem. When you're working at a surface to do your chemistry, that's always going to be a concern. What's the throughput? Enough to meet your needs? And if not, how exactly are you going to increase it, without having to rebuild the whole apparatus? There's probably a way to integrate flow chemistry with electrochemistry, which might solve that problem. But that mixture is, as yet, still in the realm of a few dedicated tinkerers - which is what one could say, sometimes, of the whole electrochemical field.
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