How to deal with Lab Thieves

rol_bbassotti

Disclaimer: this is (as most of the case on this blog) a funny, non-serious post. DO NOT do the following things in your lab!

 

You are ready to set up a reaction, open the flask drawer and…. Nothing… All the 50 mL flasks that you cleaned yesterday are gone. All. Of. Them. All the NMR tubes are gone as well and your freshly distilled DCM is half of what it was this morning. There is a white layer of crap in your separator funnel.
Who you gonna call???
No, the guilty person was not a ghost nor a parallel universe. You have been touched by the infamous glory of Lab Thieves.

This category of people is widely spread in the university labs all over the world.
They are among us!

Those are few tips and tricks on how to deal with Lab Thieves:

1 – First-Aid reaction set-up. Always store the bare necessity glassware for setting up a reaction in your backpack. 50mL Flask, stirring bar, a couple of hamilton syringes and a stopper. In this way, no matter where you are, you will be always ready for starting a reaction on-fly. Just remember to put it out from your backpack when you travel around. TSA people are usually not that happy when they discover that you are a chemist.

2 – To clean or not to clean. DO NOT WASH your glassware. NEVER! Lab Thieves are well-known to steal only clean glassware. Recent studies have shown that a group of Lab Thieves were extremely confused when in a room with only dirty glassware. After a short while they just left the room in search of freshly cleaned glassware.

3 – Fight back. Intentionally contaminate some clean glassware with something sticky but colorless. A drop of silicone oil is usually enough. Do the same trick with some NMR tube as well. Just remember which ones are the contaminated and which ones are not. When during a group meeting someone is showing an NMR spectra with a huge peaks around 0-1 ppm then you are allowed to stand up and scream at them “GOTCHA!!”. Then  challenge them to a spatula duel to the death or whatever other duel you use in your lab for solving controversies.

4 – It’s a liquid problem. It’s not a big deal that “someone” is using the solvents in your fumehood, but still, it’s pretty annoying to pour fresh solvents in your 250 mL bottles every hour. The secret here is in the labels. Randomly change the labels on your bottles, but remember the labeling system you used….  Or use a secret code for each solvent…
Water = That’s not water
EtOH = Water of life
CHCl3 = Liquid goodnight
Acetone = Napalm
Et2O = Magic Dreams
Cyclohexane = I’m on a boat
And so on……  Now just sit and watch the Lab Thieves sweating in panic like Indiana when he has to choose the right Holy Grail (not so subtle citation).

5 – Lock and Key. Lock, lock and lock everything you can. Be the keymaster of Gozer (little bit more subtle citation). Do not forget the keys at home.

6 – Dye, Lab Thief, Dye (another subtle citation). Use few dye packs in some of your drawer, better if bluetooth connected on your phone. They will not explode only if your cellphone is in proximity. Then walk around the department looking for pink colored people.

7 – Hello I’m X and I am a Lab Thief. Talk with them, show them that there is still a possibility for them to be accepted in the society. They can redeem themselves. Teach them how to clean their glassware. Show them the LTAA (Lab Thief Anonymous Association). Give them hope. Bring them to the bright side of the lab. It will take some time, probably years, but day after day they will clean their own glassware and they will stop to be Lab Thieves…….
Now you can finally go and steal their freshly cleaned glassware….

#ExplainScienceBadly

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Another glorious day on twitter….

The PhD Tao

Unknown

That’s an amazing guest post from my labmate Rui Carvalho (@rkramska). The Tao of a PhD:

“The further one goes, the less one knows.” 
 
Lao Tzu – Tao Te Ching – 4th year PhD

“When nothing is done, nothing is left undone.” 

Lao Tzu – Tao Te Ching – Speaking of lab work

“Do your work, then step back. The only path to serenity.”
Lao Tzu – Tao Te Ching – During coffee break

“Take care with the end as you do with the beginning.” 

Lao Tzu – Tao Te Ching – While writing a paper

“Water is fluid, soft, and yielding. But water will wear away rock, which is rigid and cannot yield. As a rule, whatever is fluid, soft, and yielding will overcome whatever is rigid and hard. This is another paradox: what is soft is strong.” 

Lao Tzu – Tao Te Ching – When reology results do not make sense

“Our enemies are not demons, but human beings like ourselves” 

Lao Tzu – Tao Te Ching – Speaking of referees

“If you search everywhere, yet cannot find what you are seeking, it is because what you seek is already in your possession.”
Lao Tzu – Tao Te Ching – Before figuring out how to use the chemicals list

“Stop thinking and end your problems.”
 Lao Tzu – Tao Te Ching – On a Friday evening

“A beaker is only as useful as the emptiness inside it, very much so like my thesis.”
 Lao Tzu – Tao Te Ching – Talking about his thesis

Go the f*ck to work

Unknown

Happy new academic year to all of you!!! May this year be full of 50 hours days and even less holidays than the year before, bless referee number 3 for his great comments and so on and so on…

It’s hard to get back to work, I know, I know…. For this reason, here a chemistry version of “go the f*ck to sleep” (and the youtube version read by Samuel L Jackson). Enjoy, and feel free to print it and give it to whomever you want:

 

The birds sings loudly on the threes,
The sun is already high in the sky,

You are cozy and warm in your bed, my dear.

Please go the fuck to work.

The windows are dark in the microscopy room,
The pumps are down to one millibar,
I’ll buy you a coffee if you swear
You’ll go the fuck to work.

The reflux went off and the reaction is almost dry,
The oil bath is on and the solid in the flask is black by now,
I know you’re not on your way.
That’s bullshit. Stop lying. Wake up, my darling,
and get your ass in the lab.


The condenser crashed and the lab is flooded,
Safety inspector whistling while looking around,
It’s been thirty-eight minutes already.
Sweet Berzelius, what the fuck? Go to work.

All the undergrads are at the fumehoods,
The postdoc is head-banging the NMR
Hell no, you can’t stop to the supermarket
You know where you can go? The fuck to work

!
It’s noon already, people are eating lunch,
and the seminar is going to start soon,
The hot, crimson rage fills my heart, love,
For real: shut the fuck up and work.

The bench is full of dirty old test tubes,
wrapped in used gloves and stained TLCs,
How come you can do all this other great shit
But you can’t get the fuck here and work?


The reaction is stirring since months now,
And the glass stopper will never get out again.
No more questions, this interview’s over.
I’ve got two words for you, kid: fucking work.

The new order for you has arrived,
Five boxes of 10 kilos to organize,
Sure, fine, whatever, I’ll move them for you.
Who the fuck cares? You’re not gonna work.


Bleary and dazed I enter the lab
To find you in your labcoat
My finger crossed tight as i tip-top away
And pray that you’re fucking working.

You’re finally there, doing a column.
Phone ring in your pocket with a facebook message “beep!”
Oh shit, goddamn it, you’ve got to be kidding.
Go the fuck back to work!

Summer 2014

Summer

 

P.S. as I’m enjoying a lazy “holiday” in the lab I’m not going to write anything here. Luckily for you Matthew (@MCeep) wrote a nice post about researcher holidays. If you are not that lazy to read it, you can find it on his blog.

#RealTimeChem 2014

Twitter bird dead

Another year, another #realtimechem week. If you don’t have a twitter account, this is the proper time of the year for getting in touch with many many chemtweeps.

Here you can find the FAQ, infos, prices and so on: http://doctorgalacticandthelabcoatcowboy.com

Here the fun part of the last two years of #realtimechem by your lovely labsolutey:
Realtimechem 2012
Realtimechem 2013 aperitif
Realtimechem 2013 the top something 

Remember that Jess is also hosting the #realtimechemcarniva, so if you have a chem blog, start using the # as well. http://theorganicsolution.wordpress.com/2014/06/04/realtimechem-blog-carnival/

For example:
Have you ever wonder how long is detectable in you urine that nice drug you took for breakfast this morning?
http://dosemakespoison.blogspot.nl/2014/06/how-long-is-drug-detectable-in-urine_23.html?m=1
Or how does a day in a chem lab in South Africa looks like?
http://www.whimsicalscience.com/2014/06/a-day-in-my-lab.html 

I’m quite busy lately (as you can check from the date of my last blogpost), but I’ll  tweet some random chem pictures from my ol’ good days till one week ago.

Good tweeting to all of you, may the stupidest/funny tweet enlighten our day in the lab.

The Feng-Shui Lab

Bagua map octagon

Planning to renew your lab? New space to fill? New instrument to set-up? 

Did you think about the energy flow of the lab? No? Then do not complain if the phds are fighting each other, the rotavap is not working and the dry solvents are 20% water. The only real solution is to set-up the lab using the ancient Feng-Shui philosophy…

North, water: rotavap, water distillation, refluxes (pay attention that the fire should be in the south, so the oil bath should be in the south and connected with an unimaginable sets of tubing to the condenser in the north part of the lab), ice baths, cold fingers and so on. The water is your life path, put an old picture of you on the first year of university, and start crying.

Northeast, earth: Put here your collection of alkaline earth metal ions. Put here also the instrument that only you in the whole department know how to use and show your skills.

East, wood: Chromatography paper, cotton, white papers and whatever generated by a well destroyed and processed woods. Family? What?

Southeast, wood: Prosperity and abundance of dirty glassware to wash.

South, fire: Oil baths, metal baths, heat guns, ovens, and why not, an always burning bunsen…. Organic chemists love to have open flame in the lab. It keeps them always in the edge.

Southwest, wood: Again? there is wood everywhere. It seems to be in an old 1970’s lab. Southwest is also about love, put here the tiny and clean 5mL flask that you are hiding from the rest of the lab.  

West, metal: It goes without saying, collection of transition metal. No children in the lab.

Northwest, metal: This is pretty close to north/water, so i would put all the alkali metals you have, just for adding a little bit of spices. Apparently you should also store helpful people here. There may me not that many around, so keep the few of them always locked in the northwest part of your lab.

 

Easy isn’t it? If you find it too complicated you can also use the standard lab arrangement: North=Northeast=East=South=Southwest=West=Northwest= MESS, MESS and more MESS. Southeast = few cubic centimeters for doing a column. 

some journals 2

Please, please, please, when you are little bit depressed read this paper : http://innovativejournal.in/index.php/jpro/article/view/678 , it’s a laughing-tears-paper (LTP). 

It should have dealt with the conversion of -OH to -NH2 in one pot, or at least the abstract state that. 

Oxide

Now, after the first three lines…. Where the hell the nitrogen come from??? React alcohol, sodium oxide, TsCl and zinc and you will magically get some nitrogen. Amazing.

 

Oxide2

Ahhhhhh sodium azide, not sodium oxide. Ok, ok, at least now it makes a little bit more sense. Let’s go check the experimental section then:

Oxide3

And here the apotheosis of hilarity… First of all we are back on using sodium oxide but now the zinc disappeared.

Then we are not using 65-70C but we raised a little bit the temperature to 650C.

Then we need to quench few mmol with the fair amount of 5 LITERS of water.
Ok, now we have 5 L of water in the flask, we should deal with it.
What shall we do? Extract it with 25mL of ether!!!
5L of water….. and 25mL of ether….. ok….ok….
Now filter the ether off… well, we cannot really filter it off, are two liquids…. 
Right, right, then filtur it off. Ok, now makes way more sense, thank you. 
Now dry it over unhydrus sodium sulfate, pay attention that it must be unhydrus!!!
No, no please, stop, please stop, I’m dying. Please stop.

And then the last nail in the coffin…….

Purify it with a silica get!!!!

Applause, applause, applause. 

 

And thanks to one of my colleague that sent me this paper, fun for everyone from 6+.

The 5 stages of grieving a rejection

Snoopy paper1

I’m naturally talking about papers/grants/prizes/applications/orders rejection. 

Open you email and search for “regret” and “pleased” and you will unequivocally see that “regret to inform you” >>> ”pleased to inform you”. 

It’s monday morning, you are in a good mood, coming back in the lab for setting some experiment planned during the weekend. You pick up a cup of bad coffee and go to your desk, start the computer and start reading the work emails:

Object:  Decision on Manuscript ID XX-SHT-04-2014-012345

When you open there are only two words you are screening in the first 5 seconds: “REGRET” or “PLEASED”. Then, depending by the one found, the scream could be of joy or of intense pain. How could you deal with the n-times rejection?

Caro Wallis We regret to inform you

First of all let’s check what happens in your brain:

1- Denial and isolation.
Come on, it was a great paper, nice idea, months and months of work, unequivocal data. It’s impossible it was rejected, I need to read this mail again. And again. And again. Nope, still rejected. Maybe if I print this email I’ll manage to read it better. Printed and no, it is still rejected. Maybe it’s just because it was printed in black and white. Let’s try to print it in color. No, still rejected. 
It’s impossible, they should have sent this email by mistake, it’s not for me, it’s not for my amazing paper. 

2- Anger
Seriously? They reject this paper? How the hell can they do that? The referees must hate me, I know who they are. But why the editor didn’t say anything about this? He must be blind. I will never ever ever and ever submit another paper to this journal. Now let’s go smashing some 10mL cylinders in the lab, bleaching some dyes and shooting laser with MALDI.  

3- Bargaining
Maybe I should write to the editor. It’s an interesting paper, all the data is correct. He must see it. Maybe he will see that the referees are wrong. Maybe, maybe, maybe.… I may add new spectra, new data, new conclusion, maybe a horse head (it usually works). I can change the title, the authors list and even the corresponding author. But please accept this paper, I’ll referee 50 new papers….. I will even put the name of the editor in the acknowledgment and the name of the journal in my presentation slides. I can tattoo the journal logo on my forearm. I’ll only publish with your amazing journal for the rest of my life, and even my kids will only publish there and their kids as well. 

4- Depression
Why I am even doing all of this? Why I am doing research, and teaching, and writing grants, and papers than then will be rejected without any reason? I could have been in a company, earning 5 times what I’m earning now and for sure I would not working in the weekend. I could have been a barista on a beach somewhere in a warm place, and not here freezing in a cold lab. Ok, I quit. Let’s go to tell it to the rest of the people in the lab. Fu*k it, I’m done with this. They accept so many crappy paper and they cannot even realize how good was my paper. I’m soooo done with it. 
So long rest of the people in the department. See you in hell losers!!!!

5- Acceptance
Nothing to do, the editor agreed with the referees. Ok, I know it, it’s part of the game. It’s the part of the game that I don’t like, but I like to play the rest. What can I do? Now let’s do the worst part of all of this:
Changing the citation format for the new journal……  

How to deal with it? I like the Bernard Black way.

Don’t put it in your mouth

I’m not going to lie to you: Helix is a bad show. 

Scientists mixing up DNA, RNA and proteins without any elementary knowledge of the subject, bright field microscope used for imaging nanometric viruses, cowboy pipetting and so on. I mean, it’s quite funny if you watch it with the proper spirit. I would recommend it to anybody with an elementary biology knowledge, you will have great time watching it.

Anyway, for some series I have a kind of Stockholm syndrome so I watched it till the end, like I did with Lost, how I met your mother and (unfortunately) I’m still watching the walking dead.

Here just a couple of frame shots (I could have written a book on how many things were wrong in the series):

Gloves1

I think the capture should be something like:
Girl: I have a terrible headache
Boss: It’s maybe because you are spreading your glove all over your face?  

Now, the boss is in front of her, do you think he is going to say something about using her glove like a napkin? Not at all, not at all my friends. Here is what he did:

Gloves2

Caption:
Boss: don’t touch your face with your gloves, it’s not enough. Here, let me spread my glove on your face as well. Here you go, you welcome.

Just in the same episode:

Nitrogen

The blue thing you see in the spraying gun is not paint, no, is not even some fancy coating. It’s a cryogenic liquid….. Most probably nitrogen… 

 

Please watch it, there are so many pearls in it that it’s difficult for me writing them all (one of the character even say “I’m your father”)

And remember to use the gloves properly:

how to put them:

 

and once you have them remember to not touch your face, and don’t put it in your mouth:

 

no idea…

More than two weeks without any new blogpost….. Sorry but I’m kind of busy (and in holiday this week).

so….. May the DART Vader be with you, and see you soon with more amazing adventures from a chemistry lab….

IMG 3831 2

Google Safety Glasses

A couple of literature from “anonymous” sources….

The first scientific paper using google glasses (or at least chemistry related paper) is out. And what’s better than sponsoring it with this kind of amazing TOC????

Nn 2014 00614k 0012

Few questions arise from this picture. Are the google glasses safe for the lab? I know quite some safety sheriffs that will be not so happy to see people working around just with the google glass. Then, why on earth the labcoat is striped???? 
The paper is here, enjoy.

Second paper of the day…. Apparently T-BAG is a well known term in the surface chemistry world…… if you don’t know the other meaning, DO NOT walk around the department asking explanation to random people…. DO NOT!!!

NewImage

NewImage

paper here.

 

Protruding Nanoballs Vs Recessional Nanosuckers

Nanosuckers

Using “Protruding Nanoballs” and “Recessional Nanosuckers” in the same title is not something easily achievable. Luckily someone managed to do it: http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/nl4048042 

In the paper some more amazing NanoThings:

“shrunken nanoball architectures”

“…produced a great amount of suction when applied to other surfaces, similar to the effect of suckers on an octopus’ tentacles”

“The overall structure changed from a nanosphere to a “nanosnowman”-like structure with a smaller ball affixed atop the larger one.”

“The nanocup structure had a relatively small opening mouth on top of a spherical cavity”

“No matter the length of immersion in acetonitrile or the size of the nanoballs, those nanoballs displayed homogeneity in size and the same period of sequence; that is, smaller nanoballs had larger spaces between them.”

“…the nanosucker design presented in this article is the only octopus- inspired design”

 

P.S. The research described in the paper is extremely interesting, and achieving such strong adhesion with dry film is quite impressive. Check the videos in the supplementary information for the stress test (and a brutal vertical video).

Best email answer? PhD writing craziness!

Hoxford fan film

The facts narrated in this blogpost are based on a true story:

One of your labmate is writing his phd thesis in a building far far far away from your lab (ok, not that far away, but still…). You hear the alarm going on in that building multiple times in the same day.  At this point you write an email to your friend, just for asking if everything is ok there. Something like:

“hey I heard the alarm going on there, is it everything fine?” 

Then few minutes later you got this email:

It’s such a mess!

Someone started a fire in a fumehood, and then it started to spread around.
The guy went on fire and started to run around. Then the alarm rang, but someone locked the doors, so not everybody could escape!
Unfortunately, the guy who was burning down was synthesizing a mutagenic compound, and since it was spilled all over him, he started getting crazy and attacked other people, biting them and somehow contaminating them. I could not escape, so I took refuge in my office by locking myself in. Then suddenly, after 10-15 min Seb
(another guy working in the same building n.d.r) came knocking to my door, so I let him in, he told me that the situation is getting worse and worse, people on fire are contaminating everybody, but fortunately he came with some chemicals so that we can defend ourselves against those monsters.

I’m sorry but I don’t have much time to talk, they are now trying to enter the office, we are thinking about jumping from the window, it’s a bit high, but I’d rahter break a leg than get contaminated!

They are now destroying the door,

They are coming…

 

True story…. I mean the email part. The guy who wrote it was Mathieu (the 50% brain of the Super Mario Bros Column Chromatography). Writing a phd thesis can drive you crazy ;)

P.S. Kudos to whoever knows the amazing comic book artist that did the drawing in the frontispiece.