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Author: Subject: What is the point of amateur chemistry?
Cou
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[*] posted on 23-2-2018 at 11:10
What is the point of amateur chemistry?


I'm playing devil's advocate because I would love the idea of having a home chemistry lab, but before investing the money into it, I want to know about some good reasons to do this.

I'm already in college, going for a chemistry major, which will eventually allow me to one day possibly become a chemistry professor and do research in university labs. This is far more productive than a home chemistry lab, you need expensive equipment to discover new things nowadays. The times of accidentally discovering infrared light at home with just a thermometer and prism are over. So, what's the point of a home chemistry lab if I'm gonna be doing more productive research at university one day? Having a lab is fun, but is that really the only purpose, having fun and piquing my curiosity and nurturing chemistry interest without innovating? Biggest benefit I could imagine from this is that it makes me motivated to continue the chemistry career path towards professor.

I notice that most experienced chemists, such as grad students and chem professors, strongly disapprove of home chemistry. Just look at /r/chemistry on reddit, where all home chemistry posts are downvoted to oblivion and met with responses of "Are you a chemistry student or a nut? Are you trying to kill yourself? Do you realize this looks like a meth lab? I'd be very suspicious." Obviously the experts disapprove of us, so why do this?

[Edited on 23-2-2018 by Cou]




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[*] posted on 23-2-2018 at 11:32


What is the point of anything?



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[*] posted on 23-2-2018 at 11:44


Quote: Originally posted by Texium (zts16)  
What is the point of anything?


Life is a game, and I'm enjoying it by doing something fun that rewards the instinctual pleasure center of my brain, in this case the satiation of chemistry curiosity that comes with pursuing a chemistry career.




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[*] posted on 23-2-2018 at 12:11


The Fact that annoys professionals in any sphere is that ALL of the underlying principles of whatever they profess to be experts in were first discovered and investigated by Amateurs.

Before a thing exists, it cannot become mainstream, known, developed or taught to anyone.

A good case is radio communications.

Amateurs worked out almost all of it before the technology got old enough for anyone to become a fully trained Expert.

The heyday of Amateur Chemistry was about 300 years ago, but that does not mean there is nothing new an amateur can discover, just that it will be much less frequent.

Personally i'd really enjoy the TV debate where an Expert shouts about how my anti-gravity material cannot possibly exist, then ask them if they are sure after they get levitated 3 metres due to 1cm2 of said material being placed on their head.

Edit:

This should be in Whimsy.

[Edited on 23-2-2018 by aga]




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[*] posted on 23-2-2018 at 12:16


More seriously though, I think it's a very broad generalization to say that "the experts" disapprove of us. What you see on r/chemistry is tainted heavily by selection bias. They're a tight-knit community of insufferable worrywarts, many of whom are bitter because they can't find jobs. Most of them probably have little to no experience with practical chemistry or research.

I've found since I've been in college, my professors, TA's, and other students that I've told about my hobby (chemistry majors and otherwise) have been very positive about it. In fact, showing my organic chemistry professor my home lab notebook (in addition to the fact that I clearly already knew a good amount of organic chemistry) helped me get a spot in his research lab during my first semester. I still work there, and I get paid now too. I discovered recently that I have somewhat of a reputation among the TA's and other chemistry majors as well- it seems like a lot of people already recognize me as "the guy with the home lab" before actually meeting me. Honestly it's really cool.

As far as having a home lab after you start working in a research lab goes, yes, the point is fun. If you don't think home chemistry is fun, you probably shouldn't be doing it. You probably won't discover anything new in your home lab, but you have freedom to try out whatever you want to do within the limits of your available equipment and chemicals, unlike in the research lab where although the resources are virtually limitless, you may be running the same reactions over and over again every day, or possibly just characterizing stuff. I can say from personal experience that while working in a research lab can be a fun and rewarding job, it doesn't replace home chemistry by any means. Plus, if you get permission (as I have) you can even bring in products from home to analyze in the NMR, or IR, or GCMS!

It is worth saying, though, that college presents a number of obstacles to amateur chemistry. Most college students live in a dorm or an apartment- that already rules out most chemistry. I am very fortunate, in that I live in a house owned by family members who have given me permission to build a lab in the garage. Even if you're lucky like me though, having time to actually do stuff is a huge challenge in college as well. Although I've moved all of my lab stuff into my new house, I've barely done anything in the last year since then (though I've slowly been working on building a fume hood, among other things). The bottom line is, a research lab and a home lab are entirely different. Having both available is ideal, in my opinion.




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[*] posted on 23-2-2018 at 12:29


I would hardly call the voices at /r/chemistry "experts"!



I think the point of amateur chemistry is, that there are people who for some reason or another, find themselves thinking about chemistry every day, thinking about experiments and how to perform them. Whether you give these people the tools, or not, they will (even in their sleep) be trying to find the solution, to gain a better understanding. And ultimately, MAKE THINGS.

Max Gergel (a chemist who wrote two memoirs you can find in the SciMad library) made a comment, something to the effect of "there are some people that no matter what they do in life, who they marry, where they live, will make chemicals, because that is their nature." (Loosely paraphrased).

I see a lot of "experts" posting suggestions on reddit, that came from a book or a patent, that have little practical application, and more importantly, THEY HAVE NEVER DONE THEMSELVES.

I would trust the expertise of someone who is making amazing things out of nothing in their garage, over someone who is making nothing out of nothing, nowhere...

And "chemistry" is a reeeeaally broad term, there is certainly some chemistry that can't be done without a facility devoted to it; it really depends on what types of chemistry you do. That being said, there is more chemistry to be done than could ever be done in ten lifetimes, in the home labs of many an amateur chemist.


[Edited on 2-23-2018 by happyfooddance]

[Edited on 2-23-2018 by happyfooddance]
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[*] posted on 23-2-2018 at 12:49


Quote: Originally posted by Texium (zts16)  
More seriously though, I think it's a very broad generalization to say that "the experts" disapprove of us. What you see on r/chemistry is tainted heavily by selection bias. They're a tight-knit community of insufferable worrywarts, many of whom are bitter because they can't find jobs. Most of them probably have little to no experience with practical chemistry or research.

I've found since I've been in college, my professors, TA's, and other students that I've told about my hobby (chemistry majors and otherwise) have been very positive about it. In fact, showing my organic chemistry professor my home lab notebook (in addition to the fact that I clearly already knew a good amount of organic chemistry) helped me get a spot in his research lab during my first semester. I still work there, and I get paid now too. I discovered recently that I have somewhat of a reputation among the TA's and other chemistry majors as well- it seems like a lot of people already recognize me as "the guy with the home lab" before actually meeting me. Honestly it's really cool.

As far as having a home lab after you start working in a research lab goes, yes, the point is fun. If you don't think home chemistry is fun, you probably shouldn't be doing it. You probably won't discover anything new in your home lab, but you have freedom to try out whatever you want to do within the limits of your available equipment and chemicals, unlike in the research lab where although the resources are virtually limitless, you may be running the same reactions over and over again every day, or possibly just characterizing stuff. I can say from personal experience that while working in a research lab can be a fun and rewarding job, it doesn't replace home chemistry by any means. Plus, if you get permission (as I have) you can even bring in products from home to analyze in the NMR, or IR, or GCMS!

It is worth saying, though, that college presents a number of obstacles to amateur chemistry. Most college students live in a dorm or an apartment- that already rules out most chemistry. I am very fortunate, in that I live in a house owned by family members who have given me permission to build a lab in the garage. Even if you're lucky like me though, having time to actually do stuff is a huge challenge in college as well. Although I've moved all of my lab stuff into my new house, I've barely done anything in the last year since then (though I've slowly been working on building a fume hood, among other things). The bottom line is, a research lab and a home lab are entirely different. Having both available is ideal, in my opinion.


My concern was that if it is just for "fun" and I'm not discovering anything, then it would basically be dumping chemicals together for the hell of it. But I like the point that having a home lab notebook can gain you cred among the chemistry people at university.

[Edited on 23-2-2018 by Cou]




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[*] posted on 23-2-2018 at 13:04


For me everything started with a fascinating discovery of copper glycerate and other colourful copper complexes at first year of chemistry in school. I became curious about possibility of making other brightly coloured compounds, made some of them and wanted some more in-depth stuff to learn about. roughly at this point I came across some old organic chemistry textbooks.

From that point on for some time I absorbed every available bit of information about everything chemistry-related for about three years and became interested not only in pure chemistry, but in chemical engineering. That led to choosing chemical engineering as subject of studies in college, where I got into research part of my department.

I went into research for the same reason I do hobby projects - nothing substitutes excitement of finding a prep in literature and successfully modifying it to your current possibilities, while simultaneously attempting to get decent yields with only a couple of weeks of work.




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[*] posted on 23-2-2018 at 13:04


Quote: Originally posted by Texium (zts16)  
... I've barely done anything in the last year ...

I find that hard to believe, seeing as you're in a well equipped Uni Lab.

I've never been to university as a student.

As a freelance 'entrepreneur', yes, but never as a student.

It'd be great to see a thread dedicated to random notes that you're allowed to post about your everyday educational activities (best check if you can post anything about that).




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[*] posted on 23-2-2018 at 13:07


WouldSynthesizeForFood, your handle perfectly expresses what I was trying to say.
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[*] posted on 23-2-2018 at 13:09


Amateur science can go where ever its practitioner wishes to go, only limited by his resources, skill, experience and above all desire for knowledge. Those "professional" who are derogatory about amateur science, I suspect, are often bitter about this freedom and yet unprepared to do anything about there own situation except moan.

Not so science in academia or industry where it must be driven by the wishes and focus of the funding agent whether they be a company, a government or a charity. These bodies invariable want their resources to go into new and sexy science since that is were they perceive the rewards are. This is not a criticism, its just the way things are but it can't justify the current vilification of amateur science, chemistry in particular.
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[*] posted on 23-2-2018 at 13:09


I think this is an interesting question.
I agree that most of the "easy" discoveries have been made already. I also understand why professional chemists disapprove of chemistry experiments being carried out by amateurs with improvised or simplified (compared to what you'd find in a chemical industry or university lab) equipment. Part of it is probably concerns about safety, and part of it the inability to do some sophisticated experiments, or to draw conclusions from them, without the complicated, expensive hardware.

I think that home experiments do not have to be more dangerous than their professional counterparts. Yes, if you are DOING an experiment with highly poisonous fumes, for instance, a good, properly installed fume hood will keep you safer than simply opening a window. However, a sensible amateur without certain kinds of safety equipment can avoid the experiments that need it. Just the other day, I chickened out of an experiment involving isocyanic acid, simply because I knew I had no way of reducing my inhalation exposure to safe levels. Problem solved. The same goes for the idea that beginners aren't competent enough for chemistry. Sure, it takes years of higher education and experience to become a passable professional synthetic chemist, but but an unqualified amateur doesn't have to pick really complex experiments. Even a partial understanding of basic chemistry is enough to let you devise a synthesis for some simple compounds. Of course, everyone here knows this, but it's good to refute the claims that amateur chemists are dangers to themselves, or are bumbling through things which are too complex for them. Obviously, these "problems" with home chemistry do not have to be valid, but what of the benefits? Sometimes I've questioned whether my amateur interest in science is actually productive. I would generally say yes.

For one, there are some things we do because we like to, regardless of whether or not they serve a practical purpose. What's the point of building a model railroad? If you enjoy that kind of thing, you might find it more intellectually engaging than watching a movie, and healthier than, say, doing drugs. Same goes for amateur chemistry. The people who don't enjoy it, don't do it.

Also, at the top of this long-winded (sorry, readers) post, I said I agree that MOST of the "easy" discoveries have been made already. There are still things to discover via home experimentation, both to improve knowledge and the human condition. For examples of discoveries, see this thread:
http://www.sciencemadness.org/talk/viewthread.php?tid=75685
For an attempt at fixing a real-world problem, see this one:
http://www.sciencemadness.org/talk/viewthread.php?tid=80489

Most importantly, amateur chemistry helps give some extra hands-on experience which will help build a foundation for professional work. That's especially true for a guy majoring in chemistry. Sure you might not be finding anything new by detecting infrared, but by doing something that's new to you, you get a better understanding. Eventually, basic studying and experimentation might lead you to know enough about infrared to get in a professional lab and find something truly new, that revolutionizes telecommunications the world over. The same goes for chemistry. The extra experience from home experiments might help you with more complicated concepts later on.

Those are the points of amateur chemistry I can think of.
Edit: I have to agree that experiments or research you are doing for your own curiosity is often much more fun than doing it for work/school. That alone would be reason for some of the professional chemists to have home chemistry as a hobby.



[Edited on 23-2-2018 by Vomaturge]
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[*] posted on 23-2-2018 at 13:11


happyfooddance, IMHO this is one of the most prevalent reasons of having chemistry as hobby/



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[*] posted on 23-2-2018 at 13:16


As Texium said: if you have to ask this question, you should probably find another pastime. Hobbies don't need to have a point; The only reason you need is "I like doing it." I had to convince my girlfriend of this recently, funnily enough.

You don't need a reason to start a hobby, but that doesn't mean it won't ever become anything more. My hobby has turned into a moderately successful YouTube channel, gotten me involved in several STEM outreach programs at work, and enabled me to meet Steve Spangler!


Edit: Also, chemistry has turned me into an EXPERT at pouring things without spilling them. I used to terrible at it, but when you pour progressively more dangerous substances you learn to be careful pretty quickly.

[Edited on 2-23-2018 by MrHomeScientist]
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[*] posted on 23-2-2018 at 13:24


Quote: Originally posted by Texium (zts16)  
What is the point of anything?


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[*] posted on 23-2-2018 at 13:28


What's the point of amateur photography? Or chocolate making? Or perfumery? You can just buy those things for cheaper.

While true discoveries are indeed very rare rare, it's not that uncommon for people to improve on procedures that professionals never bother with, like making phosphorus. Or carbon disulfide.

Reddit is mostly full of redditors, so what you see on /r/chemistry are mostly students (who think they know more than they do) and techies with an interest in chemistry (who know very little and are afraid of everything). Most of the chemistry majors I knew in college did not use reddit. StackExchange is more representative of people who know what they're doing (although "experts" is an exaggeration). Reddit encourages people to comment as much as possible, so you'll see eg pchem guys who are afraid of every organic solvent exaggerating the danger of something and using their "qualifications" for votes.




[Edited on 04-20-1969 by clearly_not_atara]
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[*] posted on 23-2-2018 at 13:46


I literally just do it for fun, that’s why it’s a hobby. Well, and to learn, practical experience and running calculations yourself is arguably always better than staring at pages in a textbook. Doesn’t cost me much to do, and although I don’t have access to exotic glassware and reagents, the simple stuff can still be quite amazing and insightful. We all acknowledge that it can be pretty dangerous at times and there are innumerable (generally) safer pastimes, I mean many have been seriously injured and lost lives in the course of discovery, but there is something about chemistry which draws us all in and that’s where the amateur community comes from.



In chemistry, sometimes the solution is the problem.

I am now training to manufacture contact lenses for a living. Time to join the lab community!
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[*] posted on 23-2-2018 at 14:37


@Cou my main point is that there are lots of things we do just for fun. We all have several pastimes. And of course, even carefully planned, safety-conscious chemistry (professional included) IS sometimes less healthy than a bit of cannabis or alcohol. Last time I checked, the "everyday chemistry" thread had a discussion going about chemical burns!:o but people hurt themselves bad rock climbing, horse riding, playing football. That doesn't mean everyone needs to stop, and have laws passed and enforced that exercise must take place in an approved gym. Yes, even for dangerous things, "just for the hell of it" can be plenty of reason!

Edit: the post I was replying to disappeared. Oh well, the point remains.

[Edited on 23-2-2018 by Vomaturge]
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[*] posted on 23-2-2018 at 14:47


I've been thinking about chemistry since I was 13. But I was busy going to school, a university (for a ChemE degree), working for a living, raising 2 boys, and keeping my wife happy. Then I retired and the dam burst. I had the money and the time to do chemistry, now my main hobby. Even when I am hunting or fishing or eating or taking a dump I am thinking about how to solve a problem in the lab. I do my other obligations just so I can gain some time in the lab. This is more than just a hobby.





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[*] posted on 23-2-2018 at 14:48


Quote: Originally posted by Vomaturge  
@Cou my main point is that there are lots of things we do just for fun. We all have several pastimes. And of course, even carefully planned, safety-conscious chemistry (professional included) IS sometimes less healthy than a bit of cannabis or alcohol. Last time I checked, the "everyday chemistry" thread had a discussion going about chemical burns!:o but people hurt themselves bad rock climbing, horse riding, playing football. That doesn't mean everyone needs to stop, and have laws passed and enforced that exercise must take place in an approved gym. Yes, even for dangerous things, "just for the hell of it" can be plenty of reason!

Edit: the post I was replying to disappeared. Oh well, the point remains.

[Edited on 23-2-2018 by Vomaturge]


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[*] posted on 23-2-2018 at 15:12


Quote: Originally posted by Cou  
Quote: Originally posted by Vomaturge  
@Cou my main point is that there are lots of things we do just for fun. We all have several pastimes. And of course, even carefully planned, safety-conscious chemistry (professional included) IS sometimes less healthy than a bit of cannabis or alcohol. Last time I checked, the "everyday chemistry" thread had a discussion going about chemical burns!:o but people hurt themselves bad rock climbing, horse riding, playing football. That doesn't mean everyone needs to stop, and have laws passed and enforced that exercise must take place in an approved gym. Yes, even for dangerous things, "just for the hell of it" can be plenty of reason!

Edit: the post I was replying to disappeared. Oh well, the point remains.

[Edited on 23-2-2018 by Vomaturge]


I try to avoid impulsively incriminating myself on the internet, especially on a forum that has a higher chance of being monitored by the pigs.


I saw the post. Legal in my state.

Let's just call it a bioassay, and you are an expensive piece of lab equipment...
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[*] posted on 23-2-2018 at 15:15


Hmmm
Pro golfer /amateur Golfer, pro boxer /amateur boxer....pro skier / amateur skier. The difference between amateur and professional is pay.

Amateur is not a word intended to classify how good someone is, if it was then why do we have the Olympics? As far as I am aware the Olympics are for Amateurs only, so how come if Amateur is supposed to denote level of ability, why is the worlds fastest man over 100M a amateur?

As for Reddit....

Read it, done it, got the T shirt! I dont use it much, full of ass hats who generally have more opinions than brain cells. There are some 'Amateurs' here who can give the best a run for the money. This site has professionals, Amateurs and think outside the box types.

A good example is Edingburgh university and recovering gold. Go read the newspaper article and the paper they wrote. Some 9-12 months AFTER sreelips tips or whatever (sorry i forgot the name), came here with some questions on gold recovery the green way.

no offense to the guy intended, but he would struggle to write the equation of water forming. But watch his vids, his technique and ability is absolutely brilliant! he was/ is well ahead of the pros on metal recovery the green way.

So if he is an example of an Amateur then personally i dont have a problem with that label. Amateur chemistry is a unpaid hobby, pursued by people who have never been paid to do it, all the way to those who are paid alot for the knowledge they hold.

This isnt reddit, this is a community of people with a shared interest, from what i see here there is no distinction ever made between those with letters after the name and those without. Everyone gets treated according to how they act.

ZTS Texium or home lab guy (love that name!), is a good example. Slayed on reddit, a mod here and clearly a natural chemist. until recently he was unpaid for chemistry and therefore an amateur, again another example of why i dont mind being associated with Amateurs!

Think about it, ZTS is slagged on reddit by snobs with bigger mouths than iQ's, yet the guy knows more than most the muppet snowflakes who post there...So take your pick, aspire to be a reddit professional or a science madness amateur.....I know which title i would prefer ;)
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[*] posted on 23-2-2018 at 15:34


Well said, Nemo...

I think for me this question comes down to "who does the most?" "Who makes the most things?"

I can only imagine it would be the guy or girl who lives in their lab.

I am educated. I don't have a college education. I had synthesized dozens of chemicals before ever realizing that I had done so. I wouldn't have dared call myself a chemist. I had too much respect for y'all.

One day I woke up, did my usual, made breakfast, saw off my girlfriend, and sat down to eat. "What's this?!" I had a 250 ml rbf in my pocket. I fell asleep WITH A BOILING FLASK IN MY POCKET. If this ever happens to you, you MIGHT be a chemist, I thought.

A degree is a thing to attain. But the ability to manipulate atoms and molecules, is another.

I am sure you can only learn it by doing it. So if you spend 16 hours a day at the lab, you will learn a lot. But if you spend 24, I can only imagine you'd learn more.
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[*] posted on 23-2-2018 at 15:37


Quote: Originally posted by happyfooddance  
I am sure you can only learn it by doing it. So if you spend 16 hours a day at the lab, you will learn a lot. But if you spend 24, I can only imagine you'd learn more.


1 week in the library (or internet) for every day in the lab.




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[*] posted on 23-2-2018 at 15:39


Your lab SHOULD have internet, in this day and age.
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