Category: literature

CoverTime: Robots

How nerd are you? Can you identify the robot in this cover (without googling)?



Did you get it?

This is a cover from a review in ACIE from the group of Ley about machine assisted organic synthesis. I’m a big fan of Ley and all the automatic things and remote control they have in the lab, but we are here for one and only one reason: The cover!

So, which kind of robot they used for the cover?
I’m pretty sure it’s a badass tripod from the war of the worlds.


Now, let’s forget for one moment that the size of the tripod is huuuuuuge, and I guess is not going to fit in the lab, but my main question is: Why picking up an “hostile” robot?
Frankly speaking, the tripod is not such friendly robot one would have around…. True, it has quite a lot of flexible arms that are handy, but still….

And then I was wondering, which robot I would like to have in the lab? And here the topic gets complicated…..

A random decepticon, although they are not friendly, I just love the metallic voice “DECEPTICON” from time to time.

c-3PO is kind of useless, but it’s nice for the fun and the good atmosphere of the lab.

R2-D2 it will be like that non-english speaking labmate that is impossible to understand, but he fixes the HPLC like no one else.

Ash/Bishop, shall I trust him? Is he going to scoop all my research and send it to someone else?

Data, amazing guy, he knows every-fucking-thing. Maybe little bit arrogant and I-know-it-all-guy, but well, he has his reasons.

Number 5, maybe it’s a good choice. Still I don’t like how he moves.

Robocop, booooooring.

Chappie, undergrads for few minutes, PhD in one day and then he will be the best chemist ever.

Terminator, “I’ll be back”, yes but when? Why did you leave all this mess in the lab? Where are you going? No, you cannot just add Sarah Connor as author in the paper.

HAL 9000, come on, please distill some DCM, is not that dangerous.


And then I stopped thinking about that, the choice is way too difficult to be solved in one day. And you, which robot would you like to have in the lab?


Previous CoverTime: The power of the Metal, 80s vs 90s.

Microfluidics Galore (and ranting)


Finally my paper on how to, in an extremely simple way,  fabricate complex 3D microfluidic devices, even with external components embedded directly in the PDMS block. And let me tell you, it was not an easy ride.

Funnily enough, if you open any review or perspective in any journal, one of the most request for microfluidics is to simplify their fabrication. Here I just put some examples from Nature journals:

For these microfluidic devices to be actually useful, the devices must be usable; that is, these tools must be simple and robust. The ultimate test for the usability of these devices is whether researchers who are not experts in microfluidics—such as most worm biologists—will use them to discover new biology. We encourage you to try!

All the signs indicate that there is no simple solution for accelerating the adoption process; however, there are design choices engineers can make in order to lower the barrier to entry for biologists. How the end-user interacts with a new technology is a critical aspect of whether the method is adopted……… problems should be viewed through the lens of user-friendly assay design…

Much of today’s microfluidics market is driven by large biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies, and the key to larger adoption of microfluidics solutions is to make the devices simpler.

Finally, integrated miniaturized systems should eventually be relatively cheap. They will be much more affordable than full lab facilities — not least in developing countries.”


Now, you read all those reviews, comments and perspective, and all of them ask for simple fabrication, cheap and portable microfluidic devices. So you start working on that and you develop a new simple methodology for the fabrication of microfluidics device, you don’t need a clean room anymore,  you don’t need to seal the PDMS on another surface anymore. You can even make complex 3D structures or embedding external components in it: heating, sensors, stirring bars, UV-LED and so on. It is also extremely cheap, you can fabricate a working NMR head for less than 2€…. And it’s a methodology paper, that apparently are the most cited papers (at least in Nature journals).

Hilbert's cubeYou finish your work and think: it should be extremely easy to publish, isn’t it? At the end you did everything they were constantly asking in review, comments and perspective: simple fabrication, complex devices and cheap. Naturally it was not the case…. I’ll not tell to which journals I sent the paper, nor the editors that didn’t see the improvement of this methodology. I’ll just tell you that it was not easy, not easy at all. The only way to cope with all those rejection was to read this blogpost once every week: Papers that triumphed over their rejections. Not that I’m going to win the Nobel with this paper, but I think it’s quite interesting, and getting rejection over rejection was kind of frustrating. This paper was lying on my desk for a full year, before finally finding an editor and a couple of referees that finally saw the simplicity and the power of this new methodology.

At the end of the day I’m a researcher, I like to be in the lab and coping with rejection is part of the game. A silly frustrating game….

And i like to make videos (as you probably know):

I did also an Homer microfluidics:

Homer microfluidics

and this, for obvious reasons (I swear I didn’t send it to any editors):



End of the story: Never ever give up!!! Did I just Rickroll you??? Seriously???
Ok, ok, you may think this post is just spam, and well, maybe it is, but this is my blog isn’t it? :D

Parafilm Galore


Parafilm is without any doubt the most used consumable in all the laboratories in the world. Need to seal something quickly? Parafilm! Need to repair something? Parafilm! Need to stop bleeding from a glass scratch? Napkin and parafilm! Your shoe is broken? Parafilm for keeping it useful until going back home!

Parafilm! Parafilm! Parafilm!!!!

But, this magic plastic, is used only in labs? Of course not, such amazing material is used to keep oxygen out of your favorite whiskey, wrapping your flowers or painting your models… It’s one of the few things that you can find in the lab and in the “real world”.

But, who invented this magic film? When, and how? Useless questions that I tried, without any luck, to answer:

Parafilm is a 50:50 mix between polyolefins and paraffin wax. It was trademarked in 1934 but some previous references are found in a patent dated 1932. Those dates are quite important as they are between the two great wars, therefore the parafilm was not one of the invention pushed by the war (like for example the silly putty). And it fits with the discovery of the synthesis of polyolefines.

And that’s more or less everything I managed to find about it. Who was the man (or woman) that discover it? I don’t know, but THANK YOU!!!

Naturally if you have any good hint on the parafilm history, please contact me :)

CoverTime: The power of Metal


One of the most “metal” cover I’ve ever seen is coming from a Chinese group: Gong’s publication on ZnO “nanopencil” featured the cover of Nanoscale. Let’s forget for one moment about the nano-whatever word and focus on the beauty of the cover: Two metal missiles flying under a heavy storm.

Two songs come up in my mind watching this cover:


and I can only imagine the group working on this, singing along this song in the lab after getting the cover published:

“Brothers of metal
We are fighting with power and steel
Fighting for metal that’s all that’s real
Brothers of metal will always be there
Standing together with hands in the air”



CoverTime: 80s vs 90s

Let’s start a new category: It’s CoverTime!!!

The first topic of this category is ’80s versus ’90s……

He-Man was a chemistIn the beautiful cover for the last issue of ChemElectroChem the Spanish group headed by Ibon Odriozola decided to use He-Man (aka Violoman) as a powerful chemist. In the ’80s favorite cartoon Skeleton this time become Skelectrode. Kudos for the use of comic sans, this so many time abused font, here is used properly. What else should I say? FOR THE POWER OF GREYSKULL!!!!!!
I can see a small tear in your eye, chemists born in the ’80s…. Here you go: watch the trailer of the awful movie “Master of the Universe”:

Naturally all of you know that Dolph has a master degree in chemical engineering…..


Second cover of the day, and this time for the chemists born in the ’90s:

PoCheMon ChemistryThis cover of Chemistry A European Journal was designed by an Italian group headed by  Marcella Bonchio. Why using a poké ball for a chemistry cover? That’s because you didn’t know that pokemon is the acronym of POlyoxometalate CHEmistry for Molecular Nanoscience. How genius? Funny things is that there are waaaaay more than only 151 polyoxometalate…. Gotta catch’em all!!!!

As I’ve used a video for the ’80s I should use one for the ’90s as well….

and I’ll leave you with this image:


since now on, you will never manage to say pKa without thinking of Pika Pika Pilachu… You’re welcome :D


some journals 2

Please, please, please, when you are little bit depressed read this paper : , 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. 


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.



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:


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.

Protruding Nanoballs Vs Recessional Nanosuckers


Using “Protruding Nanoballs” and “Recessional Nanosuckers” in the same title is not something easily achievable. Luckily someone managed to do it: 

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).

in-FXXXKing credible!!!!

Another day, another paper…. 

Finally papers are getting closer to the real lab life, and sooner or later I’ll be free to publish all the cursing I’m generally doing in the lab.


The paper is “Conventional transmission electron microscopy”

If you read the paper (it can be quite interesting if you like the TEM) you will find also some other pearls like:

“In any event, embedding and curing in any resin should yield a hard “block” with the sample in it: congratulations, you’ve created a fossil.”