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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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July 26, 2013

Instrument Nostalgia

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Posted by Derek

Andre the Chemist is talking Lab Instrument Nostalgia at his blog. I know what he means, but mostly, when I think of old equipment, I'm just glad that I'm not using it any more. I remember, for example, the JEOL NMR machines with the blue screen and light pen, and a water-cooled 80MHZ NMR made by IBM, of all people. But if I saw either of them today, I would react with a sort of interested horror.

Update: a little searching around brought me this picture of the IBM machine. Check out the cool 1980 tech!

Comments (60) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Life in the Drug Labs


1. bboooooya on July 26, 2013 11:07 AM writes...

We had an ancient rotovap with a dial for spin speed that went to 11. Not even making that up.

Wasn't great at removing solvents, but we could go to 11.....

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2. anon the II on July 26, 2013 11:51 AM writes...

I liked the old JEOL NMR with the light pen. We had one in grad school and after a steep learning curve I got to be lightning fast at setting up experiments. Because most people felt the same way you did, it was almost always open and gave very nice 13-C spectra without someone whining about you running too long. Occasionally one had to reboot the computer. That required going through a sequence of steps where you set each of the eight little toggle switches on the computer front panel, then uploaded the data, one Byte at a time. Good times.

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3. Hap on July 26, 2013 12:09 PM writes...

Did the water-cooled NMR also include a waterwheel? Maybe you could have put a little model railroad-type setup with dwarves and trolls to appease the spirits of the NMR...

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4. newnickname on July 26, 2013 12:13 PM writes...

In many cases, I miss the old equipment. I loved the JEOL FX-90Q. You actually learned physical principles as well as principles of operation on a lot of old equipment. The hardware made sense and, if it didn't work, you could fix it yourself. Students today have NO IDEA what's inside the box and approach a lot of instruments as if they were iPods or PlayStations.

Today's computer interfaces are full of design "flaws", actual defects (bugs) that prevent you from measuring or accomplishing what you need to do. Let me qualify that: If you are in industry and have full time dedicated analytical support staff using the software all the time, THEY can run your samples and debug all the software glitches 40 hours per week. In academia, you may use instruments a few hours a week, a month or even only a few hours per year. Software esoterica makes that very difficult. Software glitches can make it impossible.

Maybe I should buy a chart recorder on eBay before they all disappear.

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5. ClutchChemist on July 26, 2013 12:39 PM writes...

Just 3 years ago I was using a potentiostat on a computer that was running Windows 3.1, and one of our departmental IR's used a chart recorder. Since I'm still pretty young, thats about as old-school as I get from first hand experience.

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6. Youngling on July 26, 2013 1:07 PM writes...

"I remember, for example, the JEOL NMR machines with the blue screen and light pen, and a water-cooled 80MHZ NMR made by IBM"

I don't know what you're talking about BECAUSE I WAS BORN AFTER 1980!!

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7. Chrispy on July 26, 2013 1:32 PM writes...

The machine I never use now that I used to use constantly is the Xerox. That's when doing a literature review meant going to the library and straining your back carrying all the journals to be copied. It was very repetitive and hypnotizing. Or maybe that was the solvents from the copying...

I do miss real paper journals, mostly because you'd accidentally come across more stuff.

Another use of that Xerox was to copy the printout of a chromatography column's chart recorder so that you could cut out and weigh the peaks to integrate them. Of course half the time the signal would be too low or pegged so you'd need to rerun the column until the peaks were just right.

Science seemed slower and more thoughtful then. Well, slower at least.

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8. Derek Lowe on July 26, 2013 1:37 PM writes...

#7 Chrispy - I well remember the flip-and-turn move that I would use when copying papers out of the bound journal volumes. There wasn't always a fancy copier around that would do both facing pages in one swoop, so I got used to having alternate pages of my copies coming out upside down, and automatically just sifting and sorting them out when I picked up the stack.

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9. Anon on July 26, 2013 1:51 PM writes...

I thought these were old school but apparently they are still for sale:

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10. B on July 26, 2013 2:13 PM writes...

@9: God, I hated those things. Almost as bad as the 3-way pipette bulb. Not really old-school I guess, but certainly cheap.

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11. Myma on July 26, 2013 2:16 PM writes...

the Spec 20
about as simple as it gets

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12. MTK on July 26, 2013 2:19 PM writes...

My little trick when xeroxing from journals was to set the original at 8.5 x 11 and the number of copies at 2 then in between the first and second scan slide the journal over so you copied both pages in succession.

I always started from the back page of the article also, so that the pages came out in proper order and not backwards. That and the above would have all the articles come out in right order and orientation lickety-split.

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13. featherson on July 26, 2013 2:33 PM writes...

I agree with anonII

Jeol nmr ca. ,80-82, I got so good at that instrument I would punch out 20 H1s and C13s a day without any one bothering me because they thought it was so complicated. It was like having my own personal NMR. Great spectra!

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14. Anonymous on July 26, 2013 2:33 PM writes...

Derek, I think you're missing a in the 'Update:' line.

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15. Anonymous on July 26, 2013 2:40 PM writes...

^ meant to say a close-italic tag...

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16. MTK on July 26, 2013 2:45 PM writes...

Andre the Chemist's blog post mentioned the HP 5890 GC as nostalgic. Nostalgic!? I was regularly using one as recently as 2 years ago. No thermal paper recorder, but still...

Of course we were also using an old Bruker 300 MHz NMR which stored data on 8" floppies too. Try finding some of those when you run out of memory.

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17. newnickname on July 26, 2013 2:57 PM writes...

@7 Chrispy: "Or maybe that was the solvents from the copying." One of Cambridge, MA's major university libraries was still using wet-process copiers MANY years after laser copying was well established. (I always thought there was some kind of kick-back deal going on.)

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18. oldnuke on July 26, 2013 3:44 PM writes...

On the other hand, what's wrong with old stuff if it still gets the job done?

I visited my research advisor a few years ago. He was still using a piece of stopped flow equipment which I machined for him 40 years ago! We didn't have any departmental support staff (machinist, glassblower, etc). Since I had 5 years of metal shop in secondary school, I went over to the physics machine shop and made us what we needed.

His current students got a few laughs about the old fossil, er, visitor over dinner.

When they found out I was a fair glassblower and could blow spiral columns, I almost didn't escape alive... gr

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19. TX raven on July 26, 2013 3:56 PM writes...

Sorry guys... In terms of NMR, nothing beats the Varian XL100.

Phasing a spectrum on a oscilloscope before plotting was unforgettable...

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20. patentgeek on July 26, 2013 4:06 PM writes...

#7 Chrispy: "I do miss real paper journals, mostly because you'd accidentally come across more stuff."

Yes! Going to copy a paper or two, and spending an hour or more curled in a chair, browsing stuff that caught your eye from flipping the pages...and then following the interesting cited references. I probably got more serendipity strikes from this than any other work activity.

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21. Hap on July 26, 2013 4:07 PM writes...

Because you don't want to or because you can't?

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22. SK on July 26, 2013 4:28 PM writes...

When I was a postdoc (mid-late 2000s), I rigged together an old HPLC whose software ran off of DOS. None of the undergrads had any idea was DOS was. It also had an old dot-matrix printer.

I also miss the old MALDIs that had a joystick to move around fire the laser. That made it more fun.

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23. Foxys Geek Mom on July 26, 2013 4:46 PM writes...

In 1993, I was completing my thesis and a fellow graduate student was trying to get CD data (as in circular dichroism data) off an old floppy disk, an actually floppy 8" disk. They had to plug one in that had been used as a foot stool for a few years and write some code. By the way, if you weren't born yet, you should just read, not comment.

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24. LeeH on July 26, 2013 4:50 PM writes...

Luxury! I had a T-60 for user-run NMRs. Had to send the send the sample for special treatment by the technician (on a 100 MHz, at least at first).

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25. Anonymous BMS Researcher on July 26, 2013 5:17 PM writes...

The labs in my grad school department, like many an academic lab, had some really old stuff gathering dust on the upper shelves. Such as a clockwork kymograph, which had been replaced by the analog electronic strip-chart recorder long before I got there. Since then, of course, digital methods have replaced the analog electronics.

As an undergrad, I did run a few simulations with analog computers; those too are totally obsolete nowadays.

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26. D.E.I. on July 26, 2013 6:53 PM writes...

I learned 13C-NMR in the late 70's using wide-bore tubes (1 cm diameter, I believe) in an old Varian instrument. Then the department got the kind of JEOL machine mentioned in the post. Big improvement. We could even save spectra on cassette tapes.

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27. Lu on July 26, 2013 8:17 PM writes...

11. Myma on July 26, 2013 2:16 PM writes...

the Spec 20
about as simple as it gets

The Spectronic? We still use them for teaching labs.

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28. samadamsthedog on July 26, 2013 8:35 PM writes...

I miss Jack Aviv and the Cary 14.

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29. Anonymous BMS Researcher on July 26, 2013 9:50 PM writes...

I notice that old advertisement says at the bottom "Circle 122 on Reader Service Card." Younger readers may not remember these, which most of us called "bingo cards" and were present in many magazines in that era.

One circled the numbers from ads for products of interest, added one's mailing address, and dropped the card into a mailbox. The publishers would forward your address to the advertisers whose numbers you had checked, and in a few weeks you would get product information by snail mail.

Now of course you just go to the company website for such information.

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30. schinderhannes on July 27, 2013 1:16 AM writes...

Has anyone of you ever used a chromatotron? They were (are) the coolest piece of equipment I knwo!

(You had Tom make your own spherical TLCs though, and by that I mean coat them with silica and clay....)

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31. Martin on July 27, 2013 1:53 AM writes...

Hey that IBM NMR had a carbon 90 of

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32. Martin on July 27, 2013 1:57 AM writes...

Hey that IBM NMR had a carbon 90 of less than 15 microseconds on a tunable broadband channel. Not too shabby for the 80s

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33. newnickname on July 27, 2013 8:49 AM writes...

@30 schinderhannes: "Has anyone of you ever used a chromatotron?" Actually, Analtech still has the award winning(?) video of the Adventures of Ana L'Tech defending The Realm using the Analtech Cyclograph, their version of the original Harrison Research Chromatotron, that they still sell. Commercial pre-coated plates ("rotors") were available from early on.

It may delay the post, but I'm including URLs AND a disclaimer: I do not work for Analtech. I get NOTHING by mentioning their products or videos.

Ana L'Tech:


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34. John Wayne on July 27, 2013 9:10 AM writes...

@30 - I did indeed use a Chromatotron back in the day. Some of my current coworkers came across one and asked me what it was; they thought I was pulling their leg because 'Chromatotron' sounds like the name of a Decepticon, not equipment for purification.

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35. anon the II on July 27, 2013 9:11 AM writes...

I remember when IBM decided for a short while to get into analytical instrumentation. Their stuff looked like somebody else's stuff only painted black. That's because that's what it was. That IBM NMR console looks a lot like the old Bruker console, circa 1984, only painted black. So their analytical R & D was mostly a guy with a bucket of black (and white) paint.

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36. Sili on July 27, 2013 9:13 AM writes...

I do sorta miss the Weissenberg camera for x-ray crystallography, but I'm happy that I'm young enough that I never had to actually measure intensity data from film. The diffractometer I trained on was even younger than me! (Same age as my sister.)

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37. Anonymous BMS Researcher on July 27, 2013 9:32 AM writes...

@Lu "The Spectronic? We still use them for teaching labs."

Wow, those were considered "old but still useful" when I was in grad school, I guess they are the DC3s of spectrometers.

A quick Google search turned up the web page for a newer device about which the manufacturer says "The new SPECTRONIC 200 spectrophotometer couples the simplicity and reliability of the SPECTRONIC 20 and GENESYS 20 instruments with 21st century technology and a bold new design that promises years of trouble-free performance."

I wonder if the Spec 200 instruments will last nearly as long as Spec 20 devices have?

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38. DLIB on July 27, 2013 9:48 AM writes...

Ah the good old days....

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39. NicK K on July 27, 2013 10:11 AM writes...

#3à, 33: I remember seeing one of the first Chromatotrons imported into the UK, back in 1982. It had a silica plate over the rotor so that, with a UV lamp, one could actually see the bands of UV-active compounds separating during the elution, whiich was neat. Other than that, it didn't seem to have any great advantages over a column.

Personal favourite pieces of obsolete equipment 1: the Hitachi Perkin Elmer 60MHz NMR. Incredibly quick and easy to use, when properly shimmed gave beautiful, needle-sharp spectra with better resolution in Hertz terms than any FT instrument. 2: The old CW infra-red spectrometers, and the grinding and whirring sounds they made in operation. They had to be referenced to the 1602 band of polystyrene by rewinding and manually placing a film of the polymer in the beam.

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40. BG on July 27, 2013 10:30 AM writes...

There should be a museum for retired instruments, if there isn't one already.

What happens to old instruments anyway? Especially NMR magnets- the niobium in the superconductor is valuable. Do they just go to a landfill or junkyard?

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41. Secondaire on July 27, 2013 10:38 AM writes...

Love the NMR brochure (complete with misconception that scientists are all old white men who wear lab-coats while doing NMR!).

We have three HPLCs in my lab, old Beckman models. Machine #3 recently went down with a burnt UV detector module, and iirc, we found out the parts weren't available anymore because the machine was from ~1979. With that knowledge, I'm surprised it works at all.

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42. JBosch on July 27, 2013 4:01 PM writes...

An excellent place to look at old instruments is the Deutsche Museum in Germany, Munich.

I never managed to go to the Bell Museum, but I expect them to have interesting old stuff as well.

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43. Anonymous BMS Researcher on July 27, 2013 6:31 PM writes...

I said to Mrs. Anonymous BMS Researcher, "there's a great thread on Derek's blog about obsolete instruments." She replied, "do you mean obsolete lab instruments, or do you mean obsolete MUSICAL instruments?"

I replied, "lab instruments, but now I've gotta post a comment about the theorbo, sackbutt, cornetto, crumhorn, serpent, ophicleide, rauschpfeife and shawm!"

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44. JBosch on July 27, 2013 7:26 PM writes...

@43, not to forget the harpsichord or spinet.
Are you sure "Rauschpfeife" is an Instrument, the German translation is something different for me. The word Rausch has something to either do with lots of alcohol or drugs and Pfeife is an smoking pipe. If you put both together this can give an interesting drug discovery option

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45. lelldar on July 28, 2013 12:44 AM writes...

Somebody mentioned using a potentiostat with win 3.1 a few years ago, I did that last summer in our uni. There's also a very old UV-VIS for measuring thickness of thin films. It's controlled by a DOS computer and ancient homemade software (yet still gets the job done). Some of the atomic layer deposition reactors used to grow those thin films are from late 80s/early 90s (and I was told they are more reliable than the newer ones).

In the analytical chemistry lab they also have a HP 5890 GC in use.

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46. DLIB on July 28, 2013 1:37 AM writes...

In the fab I used to work in they still use a PDP11 from Digital to write the masks on the pattern generator...We used to use reel to reel tape.

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47. Anonymous BMS Researcher on July 28, 2013 1:49 PM writes...


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48. Another dead analog on July 29, 2013 7:37 AM writes...

Thanks for mentioning th Chromatatron! Nothing like scraping off the old silica gel, and pouring your own new disks.

As far as Xeroxing goes...I always made sure that I copied the latest, greatest articles Friday at 5:00 on the machine outside of my boss's office. It sometimes led to me being invited in for happy hour drinks.

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49. petros on July 29, 2013 7:44 AM writes...

I remember the first HPLC I ever saw. Column was 4 to 5 feet long and about 3 inches in diameter. (mid-70s). I doubt that the resolution was very good compared to modern columns

Most of my early NMRs were run on Hitachi 60Mhz machines, at least the oscilloscope didn;t need using routinely.

And then there were the Berthold devices for radiochromatography both for columns and TLC plates, complete with Apple II computers attached!

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50. petros on July 29, 2013 8:46 AM writes...

For really old (non-commercial) instruments the Cavendish Museum in Cambridge (UK) is fascinating.

Wilson's Cloud chamber
Aston's mass spectrographs
Bragg's X-ray diffractometers etc

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51. cynical1 on July 29, 2013 9:26 AM writes...

I used one of those Jeol FX-90Qs back in the day (mid-80s) as well. Problem was that the magnet was water-cooled and the water supply in NJ at the time was so filled with crap that the filters would always clog up. Since where I work now doesn't even have an NMR, I'd take it over nothing.

As an aside, there is a Bugs Bunny episode where he's on the moon dealing with Marvin the Martian and he asks him 'What's up doc?" Marvin replies, "This is the Eludium FX-90Q Explosive Space Modulator" using his characteristic voice. We always wondered whether the folks at JEOL were Bugs Bunny fans. We were and, of course, parodied that voice often when using the instrument. Of course, I'm guessing there are a bunch of people reading this asking themselves who Marvin the Martian is too.

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52. newnickname on July 29, 2013 10:21 AM writes...

@35: More IBM equipment: We had an IBM HPLC with three pumps for ternary gradients. I can't remember who OEMed it, but it was pretty good, easy to use, etc.. It was analytical only, 0-10 mL. I think IBM stayed in the HPLC business for about a year and half.

@39: the cover was a quartz plate, which is purified silica, but Pipeline has many non-chemist readers so I thought I'd make the distinction: "regular" glass is also silica but not as pure as quartz. Regular glass blocks the UV light 39 was talking about but quartz is UV transparent.

@40 and others: There are MANY Museums of Sci Instruments. Harvard has one. Chem Heritage Foundation (Philadelphia) has one. Many other universities (and some businesses) have some collections, sometimes specific to their own contributions ("Instruments from Nobel Winner X's Lab; Prof X's lab coat; ..."). The Smithsonian in Wash, DC also has lots of old instruments.

If readers could PLEASE help me with this Q: There is someone who collects "rare" chemical SAMPLES. That is, mundane (to us) chemicals that have a particularly interesting history. E.g., I have seen a sample of chlorophyll (big whoop) PREPARED BY WILLSTATTER HIMSELF that has been passed down to Stoll and then to Stoll's descendants. WHO MAINTAINS THAT COLLECTION? ANY CONTACT INFO? (I heard about that collection on a CBS Sunday Morning broadcast many years ago. I did contact Sunday Morning staff and none could help me find the story or the museum they spotlighted.)

Thank you.

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53. Nick K on July 29, 2013 1:39 PM writes...

#52: Thanks for the correction, and apologies. I meant to write that the Chromatotron had a quartz cover, not silica. Brainfade on my part.

Are there any Chromatotrons still in use?

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54. ellita on July 29, 2013 1:44 PM writes...

My personal favorite: The AEI/KRATOS MS9 that was still in use in the basement of the Harvard Chem dept back in the 80's. This instrument was state-of-the-art (for the early 60s). It had vacuum tubes, lots of "Danger!--High Voltage" signs, and used a humongous direct insertion probe. One of my grad student buddies knocked himself unconscience while trying to pull the probe out.

I guess even Harvard profs were too lazy to write equipment grants.

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55. BG on July 29, 2013 4:14 PM writes...

An instrument named Kratos, like the character in the God of War video game series. Genuine LOL. It makes sense that this particular mass spectrometer knocked your friend unconscious!

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56. Famous on July 30, 2013 1:46 AM writes...

Typical GK move to sit out Faried and almost lose it. That's why it's a good idea not to get too excited for the playoffs he will once again get outcoached by whoever we face and that will be unsurmountable against the top 4 teams.

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57. Kent G. on July 30, 2013 10:31 AM writes...

I'm an astronomer/computational physicist, not a chemist, but this still brought back some memories.

One was of the PDP-11/40 I first learned to program on in high school. It had a whopping 256K of memory (of which each user was generously allocate 32K; yes, it was a timesharing computer) and the mass storage, a hard disk cabinet the size of a washing machine, had an even more generous 10 megabytes of memory or so. Still, playing Star Trek on the machine could be a bit slow if a lot of students were logged in. I still retain a fondness for that machine, if only because it had a beautifully orthogonal instruction set, the nicest I've ever seen.

Then there was the spectrograph at La Serana, Chile, back in 1987. It used the kind of powerful photomultiplier that requires massive cooling, and warming the thing up and shutting it down was an elaborate procedure that left me feeling like a nuclear power plant operator. But, man, was it fun to get a spectrum on -- you could see the individual photon hits on your computer monitor and watch a ghostly spectrogram begin to emerge. Great fun.

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58. TDA on July 31, 2013 7:57 AM writes...

#53: We have working chromatotrons and the silica. Just can't convince any grad students to make the plates.

We also have an operational JOEL 270 from 1988; still a work horse.

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59. newnickname on July 31, 2013 9:16 AM writes...

@58: chromatotron plates: you can still BUY PRECAST rotors (plates) from Analtech; see the URLs above in @33. Just fully elute your products, follow with a polar flushing solvent and dry them. No need to scrape and ready for re-use.

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60. Elva Koscielak on January 3, 2014 12:04 PM writes...

Gwoli bardzo szerokich spółek posiadamy świetnie konstrukcję, której bazą jest wprawne urządzenie, inaczej wyrobiona iluzoryczna główne biuro

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