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majortom
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[*] posted on 11-10-2010 at 22:13
met with a pharmaceutical chemist, strange...


I met with a synthetic chemist to discuss his work, career training, etc. He seemed quite self affirmed, he would not let me finish an inquiry, and was generaly condescending. I know this sounds harsh, and I know that I don't know squat compared to him, but I do know about enthalpy, streric hindrance, and yields. (yes he seriously asked me if I knew what yields were) I know that he may have assumed I knew a lot less than I do, but I think after asking about nmr operation and aldol condensations it could have been surmised I knew the very basics.

I may be wrong, but some of his comments seemed questionable. He said sodium exploded on contact with air, and that you would be lucky to live if you ploped a chunk on a table. Maybe with potassium, but I have seen, as many others have on this board, sodium metal exposed to air in large quantities with no mineral oil. I always thought sodium metal was pretty safe unless you were just plain stupid with it. He talked about a college student who did not quench the negative pressure in a bottle of LAH with argon, she died. Hydrides scare me, a lot more than Na metal as they are powdered, some are soluble, and don't seem to form that nice protective oxide layer. So when I commented that I thought NaH was more scary than Na, he down played it all and made NaH seem like something you could just have out in air.

I mentioned using a drying tube with a molecular sieve over absolute alcohol and a hydroxide under reflux to make an alkoxide while removing water. He said it would not work because of the equilibrium. I fail to understand this, the alkoxide isn't going to vaporise, and the alcohol isn't going in a 3 angstrom hole, shouldn't most of the water get absorbed?

I may be blowing his condescension out if the water but he treated me like a high school environmental Chem student. it was quite interesting I saw agents that I almost drooled at, MeI, LAH, NaH, thionyl chloride, gallons of THF, DMSO, and ether.

Overall it was very interesting, I just want to make sure I am not mistaken about this stuff, which is possible. Also, I do know I know so little compared to any real organic chemist, but I don't think talking down to me was necessary, he was quite preach.
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[*] posted on 12-10-2010 at 00:15


I've handled sodium metal, and while I don't recommend licking it - it isn't going to decimate your table o.o'

In all, I think you learned one major thing. This particular person is a dick.
I also get the feeling that it may have been some time since he last did any of the basics, and is only involved in his current niche.




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I was a sorry witness of such doings, knowing that a little theory and calculation would have saved him ninety per cent of his labor.”
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[*] posted on 12-10-2010 at 03:32


Indeed, this person must be very arrogant and tries to impress you just because of his position.

Sodium does not explode in air, that is utter bullshit.
The story of a student, who died because of an accident with LiAlH4 due to suck in of air also is utter bullshit. I have a bottle of this chemical and although it certainly is air-sensitive, it does not inflame or explode in contact with air. This chemical must be treated with respect, but it is not the instant death in a bottle as this guy told you.

NaH also can be handled in air. This compound also is very air-sensitive, but it does not inflame or explode in contact with air. It, however, can inflame when it is wetted. I once put some NaH in some water and tiny sparks were produced while the chemical reacted. Usually, NaH is not provided as a pure chemical, it is wetted with some non-volatile oil (mine is 80% NaH, the rest is oil) and this makes handling of the chemical much safer. If I do experiments with it, then I first rinse with petroleum ether to dissolve the oil and the fine powder which is left behind then can be allowed to dry (not in air) and then used for experiments.




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aonomus
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[*] posted on 12-10-2010 at 04:08


Was the person in question a PhD or only a MSc/BSc?

I've noted a trend that some PhDs think they are all knowing, which is in itself infinitely ironic since a PhD is not all encompassing, but an extreme specialization in their field.

And yes, pyrophorics can't be *that* bad. Getting a 0.5-2M solution of LAH in ether and introducing a small amount of air would result in some hydrolysis, but it wouldn't result in an explosion unless the chemist brought in alot of air. If you can syringe transfer tBuLi and LAH, a small amount of air ingress will just make your reagent less effective. With these fairly weak solutions of pyrophoric in say, ether, a larger fear is when you have contact with air which causes heating and loss of solvent with concentration of the pyrophoric. It leads to a small runaway reaction where the pyrophoric gets further concentrated and further heated until ignition occurs.

Na and NaH both have their different safety issues. The metal needs to be slowly quenched because you can be fooled into thinking it has already been quenched due to unreacted material. The only case where I think a chunk of Na would be a real hazard would be if it was a very large chunk that was allowed to heat up in a moist environment for prolonged periods of time.

The hydride needs to be slowly quenched because of the reactivity. I will say that hydrides like NaH and CaH2 are available commercially as poly bags in steel cans from Sigma, but in general you do what you can to reduce exposure to air (read: nitrogen funnels if you are transferring a large amount).

woelen is also correct that hydrides are sold as suspensions in mineral oils for ease of handling. In many cases you can simply transfer the suspension itself into an addition funnel, charge the suspension, wash forward with solvent, finish the reaction and then work up to remove the oil with the solvents, and byproducts.

As for the drying tube, I've never used molecular sieves in one, though I have used alumina and dryerite. Mol. seives (if size is selected correctly) should do just fine though. Due to the short contact time, drying tubes are probably meant more for protection against water vapor ingress into a reaction, than for bulk removal of water from a reaction. In-situ removal (mol. seives in the reaction can work for *some* reactions), distillation, or dean stark.

However if I were to make an alkoxide using an alcohol with a hydroxide, my main concern would be co-evaporation of water with ethanol. Something that comes to mind would be to use a Soxhlet (yes, weird) packed with drying agent and with prolonged reflux, and slight excess of the hydroxide to help drive things forward.
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Magpie
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[*] posted on 12-10-2010 at 08:14


Quote: Originally posted by majortom  

it was quite interesting I saw agents that I almost drooled at, MeI, LAH, NaH, thionyl chloride, gallons of THF, DMSO, and ether.


I agree the guy sounds like a prick. I'm curious as to how you managed to get an interview and lab tour. Normally those places are locked up like Ft Knox.




The single most important condition for a successful synthesis is good mixing - Nicodem
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[*] posted on 12-10-2010 at 12:04


Strange, you would think he would welcome anyone that is evidently so enthousiastic about chemistry. Did you do this to help you make a career / education decission or just sheer curiosity?

I guess you just happened to meet an arrogant person or on the wrong moment (was he busy? A paper/grant proposel just been rejected? Disagreement with his superior? etc...). Your level of understanding of these topics is very clearly pretty good already, and your estimation of the behaviour to expect from the compounds you mention seems realistic. Certainly very much more so than what the person you met told you.

Magpie, I would rather think that most scientist would welcome the opportunity to cultivate someones enthousiasm for what is apparantly a shared passion. Any good scientist I know needs only a little hint to get them started talking about their research and be happy to show you around in the lab provided you show a genuine interest in what they do. The only roadblock is perhaps that someone may not have much time available to show you around properly.




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[*] posted on 12-10-2010 at 12:09


I don't even know that much, and if you get me started you can't shut me up.



“If Edison had a needle to find in a haystack, he would proceed at once with the diligence of the bee to examine straw after straw until he found the object of his search.
I was a sorry witness of such doings, knowing that a little theory and calculation would have saved him ninety per cent of his labor.”
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[*] posted on 12-10-2010 at 12:28


Quote: Originally posted by phlogiston  

Magpie, I would rather think that most scientist would welcome the opportunity to cultivate someones enthousiasm for what is apparantly a shared passion. Any good scientist I know needs only a little hint to get them started talking about their research and be happy to show you around in the lab provided you show a genuine interest in what they do. The only roadblock is perhaps that someone may not have much time available to show you around properly.


In general I agree. The problem is not the bench level scientist but the gatekeepers like secretaries and general managers. These are the people an outsider first encounters when trying to gain access. There are some interesting chemical plants just outside town where I live. When I asked the gatekeepers about their process they looked at me like I was probably a terrorist and I began feeling like I had just made a big mistake. That's probably due to the brainwashing they are now getting from HS.

Perhaps I should try writing a letter giving my background, credentials, etc.



[Edited on 12-10-2010 by Magpie]




The single most important condition for a successful synthesis is good mixing - Nicodem
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[*] posted on 12-10-2010 at 12:29


Lots of scientists are dildos. You can see the female version, displayed weekly, on the TV series "Bones".

So, this guy was apparently a dildo, and a fountain of mis-information. It happens.

That is some of the value of our discussions here. Collectively, the guys have worked with a lot of reagents, and they know first hand......what the truth is.

Your master chemist, may not actually be familiar with the procedures you are proposing. Makes his Sodium Ethoxide from Sodium and Ethanol. If indeed, he has ever made it.

Gets his chemical information, off of bottle labels. Hardly deep contemplation!

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psychokinetic
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[*] posted on 12-10-2010 at 12:40


Neutralises swimming pools of NaOH with a few bottles of vinegar?

*snicker*




“If Edison had a needle to find in a haystack, he would proceed at once with the diligence of the bee to examine straw after straw until he found the object of his search.
I was a sorry witness of such doings, knowing that a little theory and calculation would have saved him ninety per cent of his labor.”
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[*] posted on 12-10-2010 at 13:20


Sounds like the person in question was just a tool...

We're not all that bad. Most people in my department would be more than happy to have a discussion with an interested student, assuming you didn't catch them at a bad time. And there's certainly no real problem with being shown around the labs (as long as you're willing to throw on the communal safety glasses!).

Personally, I enjoy talking with students - when someone asks you a question, and the sole reason for it is curiousity, you can be far more sure they'll remember something worthwhile (as opposed to preaching to a lab class that just wants to get the hell out of there).

I personally would class NaH as worse than Na alone, but only in the case of pure NaH - the oil-wetted stuff is pretty safe (whereas a couple of accidental drops of water on a small amount of left-over hexane-washed NaH led to a reasonably impressive Roman candle out of my sintered funnel!).
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[*] posted on 12-10-2010 at 14:37


Quote: Originally posted by Magpie  
Quote: Originally posted by phlogiston  

Magpie, I would rather think that most scientist would welcome the opportunity to cultivate someones enthousiasm for what is apparantly a shared passion. Any good scientist I know needs only a little hint to get them started talking about their research and be happy to show you around in the lab provided you show a genuine interest in what they do. The only roadblock is perhaps that someone may not have much time available to show you around properly.


In general I agree. The problem is not the bench level scientist but the gatekeepers like secretaries and general managers. These are the people an outsider first encounters when trying to gain access. There are some interesting chemical plants just outside town where I live. When I asked the gatekeepers about their process they looked at me like I was probably a terrorist and I began feeling like I had just made a big mistake. That's probably due to the brainwashing they are now getting from HS.

[Edited on 12-10-2010 by Magpie]


@Magpie: a lot of companies have trade secrets that they do not disclose, not even to many of their own employees. In fact, in the event of an accident, they will tell first responders and medical officials what they are dealing with, but they will also ask them to sign an agreement to never spread that knowledge. So if you walk up and ask about their chemical processes, of course they are going to look at you funny and wonder why you're asking/

Really, scientists are usually happy to talk to someone who shows the slightest bit of interest in what they do. However, they also like to feel smart and special, like anyone does. So if you start inquiring too carefully, they might just feel threatened. In these cases, it's best to go in there pretending to be a chemical dumbass, and let them do 95% of the talking. You just ask questions to keep them babbling. That way, everyone feels good afterward :P





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[*] posted on 12-10-2010 at 15:06


Magpie, I am not suprised they got suspicious when you displayed unusual interest in the particulars of an industrial process. In industry, companies tend to guard their knowledge very carefully. It may not have to do so much with any worries they might have of you being a terrorist, but rather to prevent industrial spionage. I do agree that people like managers etc. are probably not the best people to contact initially.

Even so, many big chemical plants will organize tours, especially if you get a group of interested students together and give their PR department a call. I have seen many big industrial installations and their labs from the inside (petrochemical, a nuclear plant, big brewery, water purification plant, etc. etc.) this way which was very interesting and a lot of fun. I went with fellow chemistry students, and, as we would become potential employees several years into the future (at the time), they made sure to show off their capabilities, labs / fancy equipment, etc. etc. to appear an attractive employer to us. Even (or perhaps 'Ofcourse') in these places, people also tend to enjoy talking about their work, but patent issues and company secrets seriously restrict their freedom to talk freely.

If you want to see a synthetic chemistry lab from the inside, I guess your best bet is to just send a polite email to any scientist in a nearby university lab, or check if the university happens to have a particular day (typically once a year) on which they show people around their labs.




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[*] posted on 12-10-2010 at 19:02


Going by his demeanor perhaps it was Sauren? :P:P:P:P

Just kidding sauren if you're reading this i know you're not that ignorant.





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[*] posted on 12-10-2010 at 22:45


Blown away by thunking some sodium on a table - HA! I actually laughed out loud when I read that one!

Don't take this guy seriously, those with egos like that are too blind to see their own mistakes. The humbler ones prevail. There's goofballs like that in every field and, outside of finance, they usually don't go far.




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[*] posted on 13-10-2010 at 04:43


Actually, I've extruded Sodium in the atmosphere, using a small handheld screw press. And, on several occasions, I've incidentally touched Sodium metal with my fingers. It never ignited when I was working with it. Nor, did it chemically burn my fingers; leastways...not more than NaOH pellets would have. Just wipe your fingers off, and keep on working.

Toss some Sodium, into a body of water however, and you get yerself a real fireball. Let some come into contact with water, when you are playing with ether, and you might end up as a crispy critter.

It's an active metal. Caution is called for, but hysteria is not required.

I'd be more careful with Sodium, nowadays. But, once upon a time, it didn't worry me too much. Perhaps the real danger posed by the large quantities of LiAlH4 that my buddies and I, were then working with, desensitized us to the threat posed by mere Sodium.

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[*] posted on 13-10-2010 at 23:08


I would have walked away after the Na statement. I have squished it, smashed it and in general tossed it around. Potassium and Lithium is shock sensitive only due to nitride formation. Unless old and poorly stored it is not so much to worry about either. We all know water is the issue with them, other than that at some temperature and added friction contact maybe they will ignite in air but I do not think I am going to lose sleep over it.

What good is his degree if his knowledge is crap?





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[*] posted on 14-10-2010 at 07:38


<
I've noted a trend that some PhDs think they are all knowing, which is in itself infinitely ironic since a PhD is not all encompassing, but an extreme specialization in their field.>

The most arrogant bastards in the technical world are Ph.D.'s WHO HAVE NOT YET DEFENDED THEIR THESIS but are working in industry on projects that are "industrial" in nature, rather than the cutting edge Nobel worthy Star Trek projects they envisioned would get them on the cover of Slate all those many years ago when they first started down the path.

30 years in the same position and no prospects for change, with a twice yearly slapping around for not playing nicely with production (read: where the rubber meets the road and the money is made) guys typically mellows that a bit.
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[*] posted on 14-10-2010 at 12:04


I hope I don't become a PhDerp.
I definitely want to go for a PhD, but I want to go for one so that I can find out something new.




“If Edison had a needle to find in a haystack, he would proceed at once with the diligence of the bee to examine straw after straw until he found the object of his search.
I was a sorry witness of such doings, knowing that a little theory and calculation would have saved him ninety per cent of his labor.”
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[*] posted on 14-10-2010 at 12:54


Psychokinetic, here's the thing. First, there are way way way too many Ph.D.'s in academic and "cutting edge" research. Despite all the whining about the US not graduating enough technical grads the proof of this is screamingly obvious.

That proof being the number of Ph.D's working for slave wages, sometimes for a couple of decades, hoping to get a professorship, let alone tenure.

While industry may not be as sexy, the problems are as or more intellectually challenging than your purely academic ones because they are multifaceted and the environment can be fast paced. And, you will really be helping people. Take the right attitude and you will quickly gain the respect and comradeship of people all over the organization. In terms of doing good for the world and making a difference, don't ever think that industry is inferior to academia.
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[*] posted on 14-10-2010 at 13:46


The biggest shit heads I've ever known had PhDs.
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psychokinetic
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[*] posted on 14-10-2010 at 19:01


jgourlay: Re industry, definitely. Most things have a place, industry just isn't what does it for me. I don't know if professorship is what I'm after, but I know I'd love to be researching. So far, my institute can provide that.

I'm only young chemistrywise, so I'll see what comes.




“If Edison had a needle to find in a haystack, he would proceed at once with the diligence of the bee to examine straw after straw until he found the object of his search.
I was a sorry witness of such doings, knowing that a little theory and calculation would have saved him ninety per cent of his labor.”
-Tesla
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[*] posted on 14-10-2010 at 19:49


The big problem with academia is that the odds are fundamentally against you. Every professor has at a given time about 5 graduate students in his or her lab, all of them competing for the professor's position (well, not necessarily that particular professor's position). Only one of them will get it. What happens to the other four? Don't get me wrong, I think academic research is pretty exciting.

Industry can be rewarding but it's not for everyone; it definitely lacks the sex appeal that jgourlay mentioned. Very often, you'll have to work your way up to the ranks. Having a strong educational background (i.e.: M.S., Ph.D + Post Doc experience, MBA) can advance you a lot faster, but you can still expect to be working 5-10 years before you get a "top-level" position. That said, certain companies have *very* nice facilities and the quality of life simply can't be beat. However, if a company is facing budget cuts, R&D people are usually the first to get axed...

From what I've heard, working in government (at least in the US) breaks your soul. It does offer excellent job security though.

[Edited on 10-15-10 by DDTea]




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[*] posted on 15-10-2010 at 01:22


Perhaps that's one of the problems, no one seems to want to actually work for their recognition. I never expected to be rolling in cash and awesome research projects right out of school. That would be silly, and probably a little dangerous in some cases.



“If Edison had a needle to find in a haystack, he would proceed at once with the diligence of the bee to examine straw after straw until he found the object of his search.
I was a sorry witness of such doings, knowing that a little theory and calculation would have saved him ninety per cent of his labor.”
-Tesla
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[*] posted on 19-10-2010 at 19:09


Sounds like you just talked to a jerk. I've met many professional chemists and most of them have been very friendly, and willing to talk about chemistry. However, it's the ones who really don't know much about the science that will be the arrogant bastards. They just like to talk down to people with less experience to make themselves feel better about their shortcomings, and they also like to make chemistry seem exclusive for the same reasons (seeing home chemistry as an abomination!)

The fact that this guy was working for a pharmaceutical company (depends on which one) is a possible indicator that he's a mindless jerk with low moral values.

On the other note I can definitely see why many labs and industrial places would seem suspicious of a stranger asking them about their operations. How do they know that you're not a terrorist trying to gain information, or somebody trying to steal chemicals or trade secrets, or just an idiot that could cause a serious accident? Tight security procedures are a must if dealing with hazardous chemicals in any situation.
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