Thursday, 19 May 2011

I've moved....

Hi everyone, I've started blogging over at so come and have a read. I can't see me updating this site too much anymore...

Sunday, 24 April 2011

British Summertime... in April?!

It would appear that the fabled English summer has come about 3 months early this year as I have largely spent the last 2 weeks or so in a reclining position catching as much sun on my pale British shoulders as is healthy. I’ve spent the last few months hunched over my bench in the lab hard at work but I’m off work this coming week along with the rest of the department celebrating the imminent Royal Wedding (or not as the case may be, the monarchy never really was my thing). Saying that, any excuse for a pint of ale in the sun is currently perfectly fine with me. 

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Comedy Tuesday...

            I’ve had the last couple of days off as I was in London last night seeing the awesome Peter Kay at the O2 arena. Needless to say, a considerable number of shandies were consumed by all involved and I woke up this morning not feeling particularly fresh to say the least. However, a pint of Kronenbourg and an all-day breakfast meant I was slightly more coherent and thus able to brave the Tube and, horror of horrors, London buses. This all went without a hitch and I got on my train home without too much hassle. I did a crossword, I looked out the window and then I fell asleep in possibly the most uncomfortable position I could muster at that point. An hour later, I pulled into the station and realised I had pins and needles in not just my leg but both arms as well. A couple of minutes were required to sort myself out before I proceeded on a Quasimodo-esque jaunt down the carriage attempting to get some blood back into my limbs. All I can say is that I’m glad no-one saw this.

Monday, 28 March 2011

Lab Mishaps #5: The Duel Threat

            I can only apologise once again for the lack of posting on my part, but I’m having one of those periods which I am sure happens to every grad student where very little works and I’m finding it exceptionally difficult to be too bothered about it for fear of a complete meltdown.

Thursday, 24 March 2011

Sorry about the lack of posts...

I can only apologise for the recent lack of posts here, but things keep coming up just as I think to myself that writing something is a good idea. I have in fact written something for the awesome which should be up there in the next few days so all is not lost on that front.

Saturday, 12 March 2011

Another weekend in the lab...

            A busy yet fairly disappointing week in the lab was finished yesterday night the way it normally is, with several pints of Guinness and a bag of cheese and onion McCoy’s in the union bar. I got in from this all too often Friday night excursion, made some food and fell asleep around 11:30.

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Writer's Block...

            I’ve been suffering from pretty intense writer’s block for the last few days and as such I haven’t posted anything. Apologies for that, but life has been pretty hectic. I had a meeting with my two supervisors last week and was informed I am not a complete idiot, which was nice. My ideas were deemed to not be ridiculous and I was provided with a nice long list of others to be getting on with as well. While this is excellent for the project, it has meant a few long days in the lab since and will probably mean a day (albeit a leisurely one) in the lab on Saturday. Oh well, such is life.

Saturday, 5 March 2011

The Triumphant Return from Man-Flu

Following the aformentioned bout of man-flu, I have in fact had an exceptionally productive week this week. My lab book informs me that I finished 14 reactions, 13 of which worked (the starting material was at fault for the one that didn’t work, I left an acid chloride in the fridge for too long and it hydrolysed). Exceptionally, not one of these reactions required purification by the dreaded column chromatography either, which is possibly why I got so much done. Nothing makes a coffee break sound so appealing as the prospect of a column at 4pm on a Thursday afternoon. 

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

A bit of chemistry for a change...

After what can only be described as a rant post yesterday I thought I would actually talk about chemistry today. Everything worked today, I ran an excellent old-school esterification. Bubbling HCl gas (made by adding conc. sulfuric acid to sodium chloride) through a methanol solution of a carboxylic acid for 10 minutes gave 100% yield of the methyl ester I was after. I love chemistry like this.

Monday, 28 February 2011

The Curse of Man-Flu

            Evening all, apologies for the lack of a post over the weekend. I’ve been all over the place this weekend and haven’t had a chance to do much at all blogwise. I had a game yesterday which involved a 6 hour round trip and standing in a field for 3 hours in between. As such, I have been struck down finally with that most terrifying of maladies, the one which strikes fear into the hearts of all it inflicts. That’s right folks, I’ve got man-flu. To the female readership, none of you can possibly imagine the minor flu-like symptoms which constitute man-flu but I can assure you that I am currently at the brink of death and am far more ill than you can possibly contemplate.

Saturday, 26 February 2011

A few of my favourite things...

Chemjobber, the guys at CBC, Azmanam, LabMonkey4Hire, ScienceGeist and others I'm sure I've missed have been posting about their favourite things in the lab so I thought I would wade in with some of my own personal favourite moments inside and outside the lab:

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Midweek Blues

I arrived slightly later than I would have liked this morning due to the fact I may or may not have had one too many midweek lagers last night.

Monday, 21 February 2011

Lab Mishaps No. 4 - How Not To Clean Your Glassware

Today passed in the lab pretty swimmingly, I got two steps done on one thing I am working on along with the final step of making that precursor I was talking about last week AND the work-up of the N-phenylproline methyl ester I was working on over the weekend. To top this off I managed not to drop anything, break anything and managed to maintain a fairly decent mood throughout the day. All in all, I can’t complain. 

Sunday, 20 February 2011

Saturday at work...

Yesterday was largely uneventful and I decided against boring you all with the details. The week ended on a moderately high note in that nothing went wrong and everything seems to be working. I put on a reaction last night, one that I had never done before; a Cu(I)-catalysed N-arylation. Refluxing proline, bromobenzene, K2CO3 and copper (I) iodide in everyone’s favourite solvent DMF (according to my last post) sounds pretty nasty but it does go blue, which is always nice to see. 

Thursday, 17 February 2011

The Story of the Neverending Column

I draw ever closer to something that resembles my target molecule. Today’s attempt at chemistry comes in the form of adding a TBDPS group to a primary alcohol I spent yesterday making. The reaction in question was put on last night and worked up this morning. TBDPSCl, imidazole, and my substrate at room temperature in DMF was stirred overnight and quenched and worked up in the normal way this morning. 

 The literature reference for this compound told me it required purification by column chromatography (a phrase that always makes my blood run cold) eluting with 2:1 petrol and ethyl acetate. This compound has taken me a few days to prepare and I learnt very quickly as a PhD student not to trust the literature on stuff like this so I thought I would play it safe and use 4:1 instead, just to increase the separation of the three spots. “This should be a nice easy column, I’ll be done in an hour or so” I thought to myself and set about taking fractions. The first two spots came off within the first ten fractions along with the first signs of the major product which I can only assume to be the one I want.  NMR of the first two fractions showed me that one was assorted crap and one was what I assume to be unreacted TBDPSCl. I then increased the amount of ethyl acetate in my solvent mixture and continued collecting fraction after fraction after fraction...

Eighty fractions later following a particularly interesting regimen of “take fraction, TLC, stain, cry, repeat” my patience was starting to wane somewhat as this final product showed absolutely no signs of slowing down. As I’m sure I have mentioned previously, I will do almost anything to avoid running a column but this one really takes the cake. I assume what is coming off is pure (I’m removing the solvent as I write this) but cannot describe to the non-chemists amongst those of you who read this how boring it is collecting fractions that come out the bottom of a column. I don’t make anything which is a nice colour, I don’t make anything fluorescent and I don’t make anything which smells nice so I just have to sit there and hope my column is working OK before I check at the end.  This purgatory can and does go on for extended periods of time and takes up a solid proportion of my time in the lab. Anyway, if this stuff is not completely pure and in at least 95% yield I’m going to be dramatically unimpressed (I joke of course, anything remotely positive will do for me at the moment).

Anyway, I have training tonight so I’m going to spend the next two hours running around in the cold to hopefully let off some steam so I can get back “in the game” so to speak in the morning. Tonight I can only pray to the chromatography gods in the hope that tomorrow will provide me with a slightly more fruitful way to spend my time, like doing some chemistry that might actually be publishable at some point in the future.

Tuesday, 15 February 2011


            It has been pointed out today that yesterday's post could have put the institution that I work at in a bad light. I hasten to add now that this was never my intention and that I had merely had a particularly poor day yesterday. The actions of a few students and/or myself are not an indication of the day-to-day events within the department. I have nothing but fine words to say about my department and group. I am relatively new (three weeks to be precise) to the whole process of blogging and realise now that I'll have to reign in my slightly more extreme opinions on certain topics. They don't necessarily represent the views of the University at which I work and are in fact completely my own.

Apologies to anyone who has taken any offence, it was in no way intended.

Monday, 14 February 2011

The Woes of Demonstrating

I’ve had a day of demonstrating today. While this does put a bit of extra cash in my pocket at the end of the month, it is one of the more thankless tasks I have ever had the pleasure of doing.

Saturday, 12 February 2011

End of another week...

It’s been two days without a post from myself now so I thought I would break the deadlock, so to speak. Thursday passed by largely without incident, apart from the fact I had my first American Football training in a year. That was what can only be described as a shock to the system, and Friday morning was spent hobbling around in a John Wayne-esque manner moaning about life and generally not doing much in the way of anything too strenuous.

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Starting Material

Today, the day that all chemists secretly dread finally came for me. To make any of the catalysts I have used thus far involves a three step synthesis to form a precursor which can then be turned into any number of different compounds. Yesterday, I ran out of said precursor. Thus, the time has come to make some more.

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

The Quest For Crystals

Apologies for the lack of a post yesterday. A (very) late night out watching the Superbowl as well as a 2 hour French lesson yesterday evening meant I was running on empty by the time I got home. An early night and a session in the gym this morning as well as some completely uncharacteristic warm and sunny weather and I am revitalised and ready to tell you about my continued failure to get anywhere with my many and varied ideas for the next big advancement in the chemical sciences and more specifically, organocatalysis.

Sunday, 6 February 2011

Lab Mishaps No. 3 - The Old Switcheroo

            Strangely, no-one did anything in the lab this week which one would class as either stupid or remotely dangerous. I was however regaled with a tale by a new postdoc we have working in the lab which he was witness to at his previous institution. At first I did not believe a word of it but he swears blind this is true.

Saturday, 5 February 2011

Some Perspective...

            Following my frankly rubbish Thursday, my supervisor came into the lab at 5:30 and informed me I would be going to the pub with him, and that I would be doing so within 5 minutes of being told as such. I’d not really had anything to drink since New Year’s Eve, and I had had a pretty below par day so I thought I would go and have a cheeky pint of Guinness before going home and sorting out some notes and assorted other rubbish I had accumulated over the past week, ready to finish up some chemistry on Friday and have nothing to do over the weekend.

Thursday, 3 February 2011

A new day, a new cock-up.

Nothing much of note happened yesterday, although I did spend a full 11 hours in the lab. Alas, when I finally got through the door at around 8:30pm I had what can only be described as writer’s block, possibly due to the fact I had only eaten soup all day. Considering I am what some people describe as fairly hefty, this was just not cutting it and I proceeded to eat everything I had left in my all but bare cupboards.

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

An Uneventful Day...

I don’t really have too much to write about today. Everything went well for me all told which is excellent for me but alas, somewhat uninteresting for you. I didn’t drop anything, I didn’t break anything, every item of glassware I could think of was available to me, I got everything I wanted done and I still had time for three separate coffee breaks and a gym session! 

Monday, 31 January 2011

Lundi matin...

            I spent the weekend with some of my family for the first time since at least Christmas, and a lot longer in some cases. Some “hilarious” quips about how I’m “still a student” and how I don’t have a “real” job were met with the usual disdain from myself because as everyone who has done a PhD knows, you a definitely no longer a student and you get out precisely what you put in. Personally, I’m of the opinion that if I am being paid, then I probably should spend a fairly high proportion of the working week, you know, working. I may not get taxed on my pay, but it’s not like I earn a fortune. Anyway, enough of my ranting and on to my Monday.

Sunday, 30 January 2011

Lab Mishaps No. 2 - The t-BuLi incident

            Following a Saturday of doing very little whatsoever, I thought I would write a new lab mishap. This is one of my favourites partly because it is mildly cretinous and partly because of who did it. A colleague of mine, who I won’t name, while he is an excellent chemist, is prone to fairly regular bouts of stupidity. Just to put into perspective what I mean, this is a man who on a work trip to France last year uttered the immortal phrase “Wasn’t Joan of Arc one of Henry VIII’s eight wives?” I won’t go into how many things are wrong with this sentence, suffice to say it is completely ridiculous.

Friday, 28 January 2011

End of the Week...

        Everyone was in high spirits this morning. The sun was out, and more importantly we had all been paid. My two overnight reactions had changed colour and a quick sniff test (don't kid yourselves, everyone does it) showed a distinct change in smell. Who needs NMR when more important things like sight and smell can be used far more quickly?!

Thursday, 27 January 2011

A Bright Spot

            A harrowing gym session this morning made an “interesting” start to the day. Anyone who says they enjoy lifting heavy stuff over their head at 8am is quite frankly a liar. 

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

A Day of Chores

I arrived this morning to the sight of a large bald man sitting in my fumehood with a screwdriver. My hopes of getting some work done today shot straight out of the window at that point.

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

A Minor Mistake a.k.a The Day I Spent The Afternoon Sulking

Unfortunately, nothing too much to write about today other than a minor mishap on my part this morning. I arrived with all the good intentions in the world about half 9 following a decent early morning session in the gym.

Monday, 24 January 2011

The Joys of Demonstrating

            And so begins a new week in the lab. I walk in this morning and remember with horror that it’s fumehood maintenance week and that I’ve got to clear out all the crap from the back of my (somewhat messy) hood. The day has not started well.

Sunday, 23 January 2011

Lab Mishaps No. 1 - The Methyl Grignard Incident

As I sit here on a Sunday night pondering what tomorrow will bring for me in the lab, I can’t help but remember one fateful morning about a year ago. I was making a precursor to a range of catalysts I’ve been trying and working on about 20 g scale. It was a Kumada coupling reaction of an aryl triflate and a Grignard reagent:

Saturday, 22 January 2011

Music in the lab

Progress has been somewhat slow this week due to a complete lack of motivation on my part. The “coming back to work after Christmas” blues has apparently skipped a few weeks and come back with a vengeance now. Oh dear.

Friday, 21 January 2011

Well hello there...

So here I am, I’ve finally bitten the bullet and started a blog on my life as a PhD student. My new year’s resolution of going to the gym and not eating too much crap has robbed me of one of my favourite pastimes and replaced it with a thrice weekly morning sweat-fest. As such, I seem to have a fair bit of spare time on my hands which I can only assume that was spent eating Doritos and other such delectable snacks before this somewhat hasty resolution was made. Anyway, that is beside the point.