Aluminium not Aluminum

I have finally got around to finishing this post…I have had a lot of “real life” work on lately, with starting in a new lab and doing some other non-blog writing.

There was a recent (ish) current discussion on Twitter about the difference between British and American English within the lab atmosphere, which then spawned the amazing hashtag #DowntonLabby.

As everyone knows, there are also plenty of words that Americans use in place of our sensible British English words including: sidewalk (pavement), cell phone (mobile phone) and, in my humble opinion, the worst culprit of them all, aluminum. Dudes, it is aluminium.

This conversation got me to thinking: what other British words are totally foreign to those across the pond? Most chemists will know that Americans say alk-kill and Brits say al-kyle, but I am particularly interested in words for lab equipment that aren’t easily translated between the two great nations. I have attempted to come up with a list with the help of google but please do add your opinions in the comments section. Do Americans even use these words? Am I completely wrong? Please do let me know either way.

So here goes… (I have put the British English term first, followed by the American version)

Teat = pipette bulb – a little birdy told me that you don’t use this word

Bellows = rubber bulb we use instead of compressed air for column chromatography

Clamp stand or retort stand = Ring stand (Is this because we use “rings” for balancing separating funnels? What if you have a normal clamp on it?)

Conical flask = Erlenmeyer flask

Boiling flask = Florence flask

Measuring cylinder = Graduated cylinder

It seems Americans have a propensity for removing letters from French words, for example:

Pipette = Pipet

Burette = Buret

Are there any Brits out there that have spent time in a US lab or vice versa who may be able to add to or remove from the list? I am hoping that BRSM tells us all about the differences between the UK and US labs when he moves across the pond later in the year.

I look forward to your input.



p.s sorry if this is complete rubbish.

The best extraction there is

Somehow today I ended up on @Carmendrahl‘s old blog  and found this post on Kugelrohr distillations (“The tastiest distillation there is”). I have spent the last year doing regular distillations and kugelrohr distillations because my  crappy water soluble, highly polar, small compounds are a nightmare to purify.

Although I do love a kugelrohr distillation, my life saving (and by that I mean post-doc saving) piece of equipment this year has been the Soxhlet extractor. Unlike the kugelrohr apparatus, the Soxhlet was named after someone and that someone was Franz Ritter von Soxhlet, an agricultural chemist from Germany.


I use Soxhlet extractors to extract my precious product from a solid because I can’t use aqueous extraction methods. I put the solid from my reaction (usually a reduction using LAH) in to the filter paper-like “thimble”. THF is then put in the round bottom flask and heated up so it boils. The THF is then condensed into the thimble using a condenser. When the thimble is full, it drains back down in to the round bottomed flask and the process repeats. Any one that follows me on twitter will know that I am frequently mesmerised by this process. You can see it for yourself on the multitude of youtube videos.

I should also say that @SellaTheChemist does a much better job of explaining this over at his RSC Classic Kit blog.

Today is my official last day of my current postdoc so I thought I would celebrate the piece of equipment that got me though. Thanks  Franz Ritter von Soxhlet for making this postdoc more than bearable!