Tagged: glassware

American Dad’s chemistry

Yesterday I was watching an old episode of American Dad and part of the story was set in a chemistry class…. Are the writer of American Dad as scientifically good as the one of the Simpsons or Futurama? The episode is the 11×05 “now and Gwen”.

american dad chemistryClassic periodic table but weird molecules poster… And why the hell there is a world globe in a chemistry class????

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Sexual joke while cleaning the test tube. Pretty accurate I would say :D

american dad chemistry

Quenching a fire with organic solvent…. not a brilliant idea (but I saw it happen once).

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Uhm… a couple of protons missing?

american dad chemistryApparently they solved it few seconds later. Part of the periodic table is also correct.

Not that much chemistry, but it’s still fun to see chemistry in pop culture :)





How to deal with Lab Thieves


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….

10mL-cylinder blindness

“This blog post is for all the 10mL cylinders that I have smashed during my lab life. Sorry guys, may the glass recycling God have mercy of your souls.”

I’m a 10 mL cylinder slayer. I destroyed my first 10 mL cylinder many many years ago, when I was still an undergrad. Back then I thought it was just a mistake. My lab coat sleeve and the cylinder were just out of my sight. Not a big deal. Back then. Not a big deal.

But then, year after year after year, the 10mL destroyed cylinders increased, until, during the second year of PhD, I reached the triple digit. I was desperate and tried different solutions: switching to plastic cylinders, use 10mL syringes, for short time I also went in a 10mL cylinder slayer rehab clinic and sign on to the Slayer Anonymous. Nothing worked. Cylinders were still crashing in my fumehood, smashed on the floor, evaporated in a glass clouds, melted in a shapeless putty. Durst to durst, silica to silica. 

Then I discovered that it was not my fault, but it was a real, recognized disease. I was simply 10mL-cylinder blind, and I discovered that it was not uncommon between chemists. Unfortunately, despite the effort of pharmaceutical industries, there is still no cure for this disease. Luckily it’s not deadly and, with a little bit of effort, it is possible to survive in the lab for many years. Few rubber bands on the lab coat sleeves will save hundreds of cylinders. Don’t be silly, use the rubber (bands). 

A simple and affordable, yet reliable test to check if you are affected by the 10mL-cylinder blindness is to check the differences between the two fumehood pictures below. If after 73 minutes you didn’t see the cylinder in the bottom picture, then, I’m sorry my friend but you are 10mL-cylinder blind. Don’t worry you are not alone, and there is nothing to be ashamed. Just talk with your labmates, tell them the truth and don’t give up. I’m with you.

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In a perfect lab….


In a dream lab:

  • the magnetic stirring bar will stir inside the flask and not bumping around till the top of the condenser.
  • the chemicals you ordered will arrive in the next 30 minutes.
  • the one hour group meeting will effectively take one hour, sometimes less.
  • the glassware will self replicate in your drawer.
  • the technician you call for fixing the water pipe is Mario (possibly coming with Luigi as well).
  • the stoppers will just fit perfectly on the flask, easy to put, easy to remove.
  • the NMR tubes are self cleaning.
  • the fumehood is so clean that if you spill something, it will automatically crystalize.
  • the UV lamp is never ending.
  • the music is automatically changed according to your mood.
  • the office fridge is always packed with beers.
  • pizza delivery every lunch. For free.
  • scissors, staplers and tape are not disappearing in a black hole. Never.
  • the separatory funnel is self closing.
  • when somebody book the instrument, they will actually use it.

Is that a flask in your pocket or are you just happy to see me?

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If you don’t know the sentence “Is that a gun/pistol/banana/whatever in your pocket or are you just happy to see me”, the world is doomed!

Story: One day, a couple of labmates were looking for a column, when, in one drawer they found this huge piece of glassware. Naturally they start showing (and playing with) it around the lab.

Now a part from having fun walking around the lab with this nice piece of glassware, my question is: what the hell is that? It’s a bird? it’s a plane? (and if you don’t get this quote as well, the world is really doomed).
I worked in three different laboratories, and visited I don’t know how many other labs. Although I’m not working in total synthesis nor in methodology, I do have a good knowledge of glassware. I even know that the Dean-Stark is Wasserbestimmungsapparat (you risk to be brutally beaten if you call Dean-Stark a Dean-Stark apparatus in a Germany lab, see footnote), but I have no clue on what is that. Funny, I agree, but what for?

It’s a two pieces glassware, and I’m not even sure that they are from the same glassware or it was just someone messing around with it. But even in this case, have you ever see a round bottom flask like that? have you ever seen a bottom like that? Quite huge, isn’t it?

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So, what is that? maybe an Abderhalden’s drying pistol?


Footnote: Actually the Germans are kind of right. The Dean-Stark publication is from 1920 (E W Dean and D D Stark, Ind. Eng. Chem., 1920, 12, 486 you still have to pay 35$ for a 93 years old paper). The same methodology with a similar apparatus was described by von Haydin in 1913 (über die Bestimmung des Wassergehaltes von Gemiisen mit F. Hoffmann’ s Wasserbestimmungsapparat. Zeitschrift für Untersuchung der Nahrungs- und Genußmittel, sowie der Gebrauchsgegenstände Februar 1913, 25, (3),158-160, you can preview the apparatus picture here) 7 years before Dean and Stark.
Someone can say that Dean and Stark didn’t understand German, but this is not true. In their 1920 paper they correctly cited Hoffman’s paper (J. F. Hoffman,.Angew. Chem., 21 1908, 2095; Chem. Abs., 3 1909. 158.) and Ubbelohde (L. Ubbelohde. “Handbuch der öle und Fette,” 1, 1908, 189).
Not even one word about von Haydin.
And he is never cited in the history of the Dean-Stark apparatus (see for example the nice Andrea Sella‘s entry in Classic-Kit).
I don’t want to say that the Dean-Stark is the same of the von Haydin apparatus, simply because it is not. But the von Haydin’s one is the missing link between the brutal distillation and the beauty of the Dean-Stark apparatus. It was done 7 years before the Dean-Stark and I guess it must be acknowledged.

Footnote of the footnote: this is a clear example of bad marketing and bad communication. If I have to name something “Wasserbestimmungsapparat” or “Dean-Stark”, I’ll go for Dean-Stark. Between “Donaudampfschiffahrtselektrizitätenhauptbetriebswerkbauunterbeamtengesellschaft” and “that dude there” I will probably go for the latter one.