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.
            Two hours and three cups of coffee later, the fumehood remains untouched. My Monday morning literature search and procrastination session went exceedingly well and finished up just in time for lunch. The day has improved somewhat in this time. I have things to do for the rest of the week now, which is nice.

            Lunch passes without a hitch. A further cup of coffee leaves me ready (although somewhat jittery) for an afternoon of demonstrating inorganic chemistry to about 60 first year undergrads. Half are titrating blue stuff (no idea on this one, I left that to the other guys who seemed to know what they were talking about) and the other half are preparing tetraiodotin from tin and iodine then making the (bis)diphenylphosphine complex of the SnI4. Easy stuff, or so I thought.

            Don’t get me wrong, I do enjoy demonstrating. I remember back in the day as an undergrad asking the odd silly question or making the odd daft mistake and being laughed at (and sometimes corrected) by the guys in blue labcoats. As such, I don’t mind helping people out if they ask me. However, the fateful few who “clearly” know more than me about the topic at hand can swivel as far as I’m concerned. Then there are of course the highly dangerous ones whom I tend to leave to their own devices and finally the comically dense ones who I tend to watch from afar to wait for them to do something which I couldn’t make up in my wildest dreams. Highlights today include:
  • ·         Someone not being able to find a drying tube with the correct ground glass joint for the reflux condenser and instead hanging a much smaller one there instead in the vain hope this would have any bloody effect whatsoever.
  • ·         Carefully weighing out a gram of SnI4 into a plastic weighing boat then attempting to dissolve it with dichloromethane in said weighing boat. Cue lots of swearing and a large blob of orange plastic in the middle of one of the benches.
  • ·         Dissolving something in cold DCM and hoping one of those well-known “spontaneous crystallizations” occurs. Massive error.
  • ·         Six students waiting for their reaction mixture to reflux with their flask levitating about half an inch away from the graphite heating block they were meant to be using. They were waiting for quite some time; I can tell you that for nothing.
  • ·         Letting the vacuum off a vacuum desiccator too quickly and blowing your product all over the desiccator (made funnier by the fact the culprit was a PhD student helper).
            I swear I couldn’t make some of this up. And luckily, I don’t have to. All told, I spent three hours this afternoon helping a few lucky souls but mostly laughing at other people’s misery. A good day to start off the week.

            Incidentally, I've made a few posts now and I've had a few page views according to my stats. If you find this remotely interesting, leave a comment and spread the word! It would be much appreciated.



  1. And of course the old classic of hooking up the condenser to the gas tap!

    Difficult to leave you a comment - not all people have the logons listed below, perhaps allowing name + website would be useful. Hope the new blog new year resolution continues!

  2. Haha, thanks for pointing that out. I've changed it so anyone can leave comments now! Thanks for reading, I'll do my best to keep it up :P

  3. My favourite one so far this month is someone using acetone when the prep called for acetic acid. I mean, the letters are almost the same, right?

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