Monday, March 12, 2012


Now it's no real secret that I don't particularly enjoy doing labs at uni, so much so that it's one of the reasons I swapped onto the 3 year course as I didn't want to do a 4th year project!

Today has had me thinking about what exactly it is that I don't like about it. I've come to the conclusion that it's not the actual practical aspect of it. Give me a supply of good glassware and easy to find chemicals and as long as I vaguely know what I'm doing, even with dodgy arm, I'll happily get on with it.

Even when I did my work experience (where what I was doing was actually important to someone else's work!), once I was confident enough in what I was doing I was happy.

This morning for example, it was a bit tedious, but I spent 4 hours perfecting my product (which should already have been pretty pure seen as it came off the column!), with the help of the friendly demonstrator (yes there is only 1!) I managed to turn my slightly oddly coloured, small amount of gummy solid into around 80 mg of a really nice looking white powder. Now I'm apparently a bit of a perfectionist and no one else in my group felt the need to do any of this, but I did and definitely think it was worth it!

Rather sore arm by the end of it, never have I had to transfer so much liquid by pipette! My initial recrystallisation was in the suggested solvent which it turned out to not be particularly soluble in, but I persevered. Due to the rate of solvent boiling often equally or exceeding my rate of addition of solvent I may have got through half a bottle of ethyl acetate to end up with my product dissolved in 50 ml of the stuff! Product then refused to crash out so we had to try a few things to get it done. And then much rotor-vapping and transferring between flasks until we could get it in a solvent suitable for NMR!

Bit of a late lunch having worked hard all morning, but such is life. I then spent the afternoon waiting for my NMR to be ran. It still hadn't been done by the time I left (first annoyance of teaching labs - I wouldn't have minded if they'd have told me, but I'd been told it'd be done for me while I was eating my lunch!).

Having cut my lunch short to get back to the lab it transpired there was actually nothing for me to do. I have now officially got over my rotor-vap fear, spent much of the afternoon getting rid of solvents for my team members, and then doing their washing up for them. Why was there nothing else for me to do you ask? The next stage of our project required the products from the last bit of the experiment which were awaiting columning, and the machine was broken, and there were only 2 manual pumps. (second annoyance of teaching labs - never enough equipment).

As well as these more practical issues the general way that the teaching labs are ran stresses me out. Always seems very high pressure, with very tight deadlines, and yet there are so many factors out of our control! We were told at the beginning of the year that labs this year weren't about gaining practical skills (despite the fact there's still so many things we don't know) and that the experiments have designed to be easy so we can practise things like planning, report writing, data analysis etc. Fair enough, important skills to have but if you're going to design easy experiments, make them actually easy. Or give us enough time to do them so that we're not panicking the whole time! Or at least just reweight the marking so not quite so much rests on the products...

Not sure I like the way the demonstrating system works either (sorry, it really has bugged me today), there are few demonstrators that I would actually turn to and ask for help as many seem to not really know what they're doing. Fair enough because not everyone can know everything but there's not enough of the ones that know what they're doing enough of the time! And the one's that don't have a tendency to come and interfere, and ask lots of questions which aren't all that important and that I don't have time to answer because I'm trying to do six things at once! (how did I end up doing so many things when I had nothing to do for my own project?!)

OK, enough complaining! Today has reminded me that even if my curly arrow drawing often produces some nonsensical mechanisms, and I definitely have a lot to learn, if I was going to be a chemist (and you never know...there's always a chance), organic would be where I go!

Here's my product by the way. I didn't want to hand any over for analysis because I was so happy with it!

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