Undergrad Fails

@_Byronmiller, who blogs at Behind NMR Lines, @clay_owens and I recently (ahem months ago now) had a discussion about accidents and funny stories that we have witnessed whilst teaching undergraduates. This led us to start the hashtag #undergradfail where we, and others, described amusing and somewhat concerning stories from the lab. Andrew already wrote a blog post with about this but I thought I would also share some of my own experiences.

My personal #undergradfail moments:

  • Thinking that polystyrene and acetone/dry ice are a good combination (*Hint* they aren’t)
  • I have been guilty of forgetting to close my separation funnel tap before adding the solution. Come on people, we have all done that at least once!
  • As a bright-eyed, energy efficient undergrad I turned off the vacuum pump connected to my Shlenk line reaction over lunch. Disaster was averted. The lesson here is, never turn something off before asking a demonstrator/academic.

#Undergradfail moments that I have witnessed:

  • I saw someone make up a column with sand instead of silica. His thinking was that since sand is made from silica that it must all be the same stuff. Error. Similarly, I saw someone make up a column firstly with sand, then silica, then sand, then silica, then sand etc. It looked like a chromatography zebra. Most amusingly, the column still worked!
  • A lab demonstrator friend of mine had someone ask them “what is the stuff dripping on a Buchi.?” The demonstrator told him to try and figure it out. The student then asked “ is it liquid CO2 from the melting dry ice?”. Silence from the demonstrator.
  • Apparently dry ice and thermos flasks are also a bad combination. Broken glass. Everywhere.
  • I saw someone scratching the outside of a beaker to try and promote crystallisation of their product. I then had to point out, with a straight face, that it would be better if he scratched the inside of the beaker.
  • I caught someone cooling down their hotplate by throwing ice on it. Not smart.

#Undergradfail moments that others have told me about (sorry, I have forgetten who exactly but do point out if it was you so I can cite you):

  • Some one set their condenser to a 45 degree angle. They were supposed to set their apparatus up for a 45 degree (temperature) reaction. this was too brilliant not to mention. Please let me know if you are the one that told me.
  • Ever seen anyone use a suba seal as a pipette teat? I think @Azaprins told me about this one.

Do you have any funny #undergradfail or #postgradfail stories to share? Comment here or use the hashtag over on twitter.

#Realtimechem Carnival Round up: The weekend

So today is my final #realtimechem week round up post, well, because #realtimechem week is pretty much over and done with.

A BIG thank you to everyone who has blogged this week, you have all been super.

This weekend has had some posts for new and old bloggers alike. Chad even started blogging just for the #realtimechemcarnival. How fabulous is that?

Right, enough with the chinwag, here are the weekend #realtimechemcarnival posts.

1) Andrew gives us a #realtimechem week and #chemclub round up. It is great to see two twitter hashtags so lovingly intertwined.

2) Kat completes her week’s blog diary with a bit of an NMR mystery…

3) Chad gives us a tour or his lab and a sneaky peek into the life of an analytical chemist.

4) Over at Just Like Cooking, SAO closes up his #chemmoviecarnival series. He has had many a blog entry on a huge range of movies all have which have been a delight to read.

5) The Collapsed Wavefunction does a lovely round up of the blog posts from this #realtimechem week.

Don’t forget that Jay continues to announce the winners of the #realtimechem tweets of the week. There are many winners so be sure to check out the results. You could be in the chance of winning a free ChemSpider lab coat!

#Realtimechem Carnival Round up: Day 4 and 5


Here are the #realtimechemcarnival posts for Thursday and Friday (so far). If you haven’t blogged yet, you have until Sunday evening to get something written. Feel free to write about your thoughts on #realtimechem week or anything chemistry related.

If I have missed anyone’s blog posts on any of the days, then just holler.

The great bloggers who have been blogging every day have proven themselves again. Thanks Andrew, Joaquin, Kat and Penny!


1) Joaquin celebrates DNA’s birthday. How serendipitous that #realtimechem week landed on such a special birthday.

2) Kat continues to share her open experiments with us. It is great to see such clean NMR spectra and the start of crystal formation.

3) Alasdair over at At the Interface blogs about his favourite PhD result. I love the carbon NMR spectrum.

4)  Some great pictures on Penny’s blog today. Another great post by her, this time on fossil teeth.

5) Andy guest blogs here on his favourite chemicals. Do you have a favourite chemical, if so why is it your favourite?

6) Todays “Chemistry Classics” posts is errr another classic! Today’s posts is on X-ray diffraction.

Friday (So far):

1) A new blog, Chemically Cultured by Tom, to add to the list of #realtimechemcarnival-ers. He shows his artistic side by writing us an awesome #realtimechem themed poem

2) Another new #realtimechemcarnival-er, Fragment-Based Drug Discovery & Molecular Design, reviews a publication on non-additivity of functional group contributions to affinity especially for ‘#realtimechem week.

3) It is lovely to see Penny round up her #realtimechem week experiences. She points out that, like most of us, she is fuelled by caffeine and “we’re just ordinary people with jobs that are slightly off the beaten path”. I couldn’t have put it better myself.

4) Andrew rounds up his blog series nicely with a post on the Foundations of Organic Chemistry. If you haven’t read all of his posts, then go, now! As an aside, he also has the best chemistry blogroll ever.

5) Here at The Organic Solution, I summarise some of the #freehandrings tweets that started yesterday. Do you think you can do a better job?


Any more for any more? You have two days and counting…


#Realtimechem Carnival: Friday #Freehandrings

On Thursday morning a lab mate asked me how good my freehand drawings were. I obviously accepted the challenge and gave the drawings of benzene and cyclohexane a go. As I often do, I then tweeted about it to see if anyone else was up for the challenge (#freehandrings)



@Realtimechem and I were then inundated by tweets with people giving #freehandrings a go. Here are a selection of the attempts. If you haven’t had a go at drawing, then feel free to tweet a pic using #realtimechem and/or #freehandrings




Again, the @Naturechemistry gang and @Carmendrahl show us how it is really done and even throw in some 7-membered rings




Only to be shown up by @seearroh and then @Reedroberts


We have had a lot of different #freehandrings from many a tweep. Please continue to have a go at the simple and more complex rings!




#Realtimechem Carnival Round up: Day 3

It is great to see even more blog posts in aid of #realtimechem week. So many of you are tweeting and blogging some awesome chemistry.

Here is a run down of Wednesday’s blog posts. If I have missed any then just let me know.

1) Ferniglab’s Blog shares a more serious point of view with a post on “Data re-use warrants correction at Nature Materials”

2) Joaquin gives us yet another excellent post on life in the day of a computational chemist. I particularly like the picture of the electrstatic potential surface of a calix4arene.

3) Over at The Collapsed Wavefunction there are a lot of pretty calculations that I don’t understand and some really cool pictures!

4) Andrew continues his superb Chemistry Classics series with a lesson on prebiotic chemistry. He really is teaching us something new everyday.

5) Penny over at Paleopix continues her geological chemistry theme with a post on powdering rocks.  I warn you, fish scales meet their doom 😉

6) Kat continues to wow us with her open lab book posts.  It is a fabulous post on the joys of column chromatography.

As an aside, make sure to keep an eye on Doctor Galactic’s place as he is showcasing the top tweets of the day. Who knows? You could be a prize winner!

#Realtimechemcarnival Guest Post: My Favourite Reagents


Today we have a guest post by @Andy_Nortcliffe. He asked me very nicely if I could host his post and I was more than honoured to do so 🙂 If anyone else wishes to have their post hosted, then just get in touch.


My Favourite Reagents.

First of all, before I start harping on about the stuff in the lab I like to use, I’d like to thank @jessthechemist for hosting my guest blog post, much appreciated.

Now, onto the good stuff- reagents. We all use them, and we all have our favourites, along with the ones we hate to use.

I have a handful of them which are always a pleasure to use and I’m going to share them and hopefully you will all do the same.

1.) Ammonium formate.

Oh, I’ve just heard you all do a sigh of disappointment as you expect something magical as my first favourite, well, sorry. Yes, ammonium formate– super versatile reagent. I rarely do a balloon hydrogenation, following my time in industry where they were pretty much outlawed I’ve learned to get by without them. So my first port of call for needing to do a hydrogenation is trusty ammonium formate. From nitro- reductions, to Cbz/Bn deprotections, it always works a treat for me. Dry it under vacuum, whack in a shed load (it’s cheap as chips) with a tickle of Pd and come back overnight to a spot to spot conversion.

2.) HATU

For any of you with expertise in peptide coupling reagents, you will know that there is a growing list as long as your arm. So I’d like to recommend HATU to you all. It’s not as cheap as some of the others (Alfa Aesar sell at a good price), but it’s worth it for its effectiveness. Combining the reactivity of a racemisation suppressant and a carbodiimide, all in all a good egg. Couple of equivalents with same of Hunigs base and you’re onto a winner.

Last but not least…

3) TFA

So, I choose TFA as I have a thing for tert-butyl esters. I always find stuff survives a lot better stirring in a dram of TFA overnight, than in base for half an hour. So TFA, nasty stuff, but good results.

So if you have any reagents you’d like to share (good or bad), please add to the comments and maybe we can all find a new thing to play with.

Thanks and happy science’ing


#Realtimechem Carnival Round up: Day 2


Here is the #realtimechemcarnival summary from day 2. Come on people, get blogging about chemistry and join in the carnival. If you don’t have a blog then just ask and I will host you.

1) Vittorio at Labsolutely responds to my favourite kit post by sharing what the things that have been with him for a long time

2) Joaquin again gives us a really great post on what his day involves. I really like the diary format he has chosen.

3) Andrew at Behind NMR Lines continues his Chemistry Classics theme with a truly excellent post on NMR. It is really worth a read!

4) Chad the The Collapsed Wavefunction gives us a super tour of his lab.

5) Trent at Taking Care of Bismuth shows us all how to do a titration at home! Yes, really.

6) Penny keeps the carnival going by posting again, but this time on geochemistry. It is really great to see non-traditional chemists joining in with #realtimechem. Thanks Penny!

7) I show you how much chemistry can be fun…in the pub!

9) Again, Kat shares her day in the lab with us. Jay will be pleased to see the TLC plates!

That is all for day 2.

Don’t forget to keep blogging through the week and tag your posts on Twitter with #realtimechemcarnival.

#Realtimechemcarnival: Tuesday Musings

I am at a computational course this week, learning about how synthetic chemists can use computational chemistry to aid their work so apologies for this post being late.

This post is about my trip to a bar called The Alchemist in my home town. It is a really nice bar that sells really yummy cocktails. As the name suggests, there is a chemical spin on most of the cocktails.

1) Preparing the glasses with ice

Cocktail 1


2) Making sugar syrup with fire

cocktail fire


3) My labmate drinking a dry ice based cocktail

dry ice


4) A colour changing cocktail (blue + yellow = pink) served in conical flasks!

conical flasks


5) A meringue cocktail….

meringue cocktail


6) ..which was blow-torched to give the charred topping

meringue fire


It is great to see that people were really excited about the funky ways that the cocktails were being made. I loved the idea of serving things in conical flasks and other chemistry-based items. The barman even measured out the spirits using syringes. Very cool!

#Realtimechem Carnival Round up: Day 1


Here is a summary of all the posts from the #realtimechemcarnival. If I have missed any out, then do tell me! If you plan on writing posts for the carnival this week, then just share here or on twitter.

1) Andrew over at Behind NMR Lines starts his week of “Chemistry Classics” posts with an excellent history on column chromatography. It is a really interesting read, so head over now!

2) Penny at Paleopix reminisces about the awesome meme, #overlyhonestmethods

3) Joaquin, a computational chemist, who blogs at Joaquin Barroso’s blog, shares various aspects of his #realtimechem day with us.

4) Leigh at The Bunsen Boerner tells us a secret: she misses the lab.

5) Kat is doing a great job sharing her open access project with the world. Head over to Open Source Catalysis to see some great chemistry and lovely pictures.

6) Last but not least, I shared my favourite lab toys with you here.

#Realtimechemcarnival: Monday Musings

Regular visitors to my blog will recall a post on my favourite lab artefact, the Soxhlet extractor. Since it is #realtimechem week, I thought I would take the opportunity to share my other favourite pieces of lab kit. Back in my PhD days, I would have had to say that this was my fluorination microreactor but now I love pieces of equipment more common to regular synthetic labs.

So, here are my top 4 things in my current lab:

1) My CLEAN sinter funnels. I keep these under lock and key and clean them obsessively


2) My precious supply of magnetic stirrer bars, also kept away from pesky students


3) My NMR tube stand. I love it because I am obsessed with organising and because it makes my bench top look a little brighter!


4) My giant Buchner funnel, just because it is so huge!

Big Buchner

What are your favourite pieces of lab equipment?

Either share your thoughts here or over on twitter. Remember to use the hashtag #realtimechem since it is RTC week.