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Everybody Needs A: Brain


Even if you have one of these, you may forget to label a vial. Be careful to remember! (Flckr user Liz Henry)

In a post several weeks ago, I examined the debate of synthesis or purchasing of commercially-made compounds.  If you recall, it appeared that I could not synthesize the correct compound, and the compound I had bought did not appear to have been synthesized correctly.  I took the advice of one of a reader and decided to call the company from which I had bought my compound.  Luckily, I had a great conversation with customer support, and they said that they’d run some tests on the batch that they had sent me.

Shortly after this call, I realized that I had taken the wrong compound from the wrong vial, and had labeled my aliquot wrong. I ended up finding the vial I needed and the positive control worked as expected. The lesson is pretty clear here.    Make sure that you label everything!

Feel free to share embarrassing stories like mine in the comments below.  Might just make me feel better about making such a rookie mistake.

Everybody Needs A: Laser Pointer

Laser pointers, while not entirely necessary

for undergrads, are nevertheless a whole lot of fun to play with.  And for formal presentations too, I guess. You can go in several different directions on this one.  I very often see the canonical cylindrical HeNe lasers that operate with a button on the top (left).  It is and maybe a little Spartan, as gadgets go.  Interestingly, these can either be powered in traditional laser fashion, or be an LED connected via blue tooth.   More recently, I’ve become partial to the laser pointers that also act to advance your slides (right).  They can be more expensive, but it’s up to you (or your PI) if the extra cost is worth the fun of not being tied to your computer during a presentation or lecture.

One can purchase laser pointers from almost anywhere, and unless you want something particularly fancy, you can get them for pretty cheap.  If you’re interested in colors, you can get laser pointers in the ubiquitous red or green, as well as violet, yellow, blue, and infrared (though I’m not so sure how that would be useful for everyday use…).  Though I’m sure a yellow laser pointer would really liven up any presentation, I can’t imagine that it would be generally accepted among our community.  Correct me if I’m wrong.

Another more interesting (and fun) direction is a high-power HeNe or GreNe (what people at my University call a green laser.  Not sure if that’s standard, per se).  While difficult to point specifically without the use of a ring-stand/clamp apparatus, high powered lasers are a whole lot more fun.  More importantly, you can go straight from a presentation to examining the effects of the photoelectric effect.  This brings us to our fun-quantum-mechanics-picture-of-the-day! A couple weeks ago, my quantum mechanics lab had the distinct pleasure of quantifying the photoelectric effect.  As you’d expect, this lab consisted of 3.5 hours of adjusting knobs in the dark, resulting in general delirium and sensitivity to light for the rest of the day.  The voltage-meter in the back reads 0.00 because (if you remember your quantum physics) a ‘stopping potential’ had been carefully applied the measure the work function of the collector electrode in this setup.  I apologize for the poor picture quality – this was done with a cell-phone camera!

However we get really cool pictures like the one to the left!

For other fun with GreNe lasers, check out Chiral’s post from a year ago!  His pictures are definately a little better quality than mine.  Also, check back soon for a post about the REU experience from a real live grad student who has gone through one!

Everybody Needs A: Bottle Opener

Sorry, DuPont.

OK, it’s a humble beginning to the series of posts that purports to improve the quality of life of an academic researcher, but trust me, a bottle opener is a handy piece of kit to have. If you think about it, it does make sense: if there’s anything that chemists know how to do that’s not chemistry, it’s scrutinize the ‘ingredients’ list, and drink. Furthermore, beer tends to be the drink of choice at group, and departmental gathering, and I’m always one of the select few students who keeps a reliable opener on them. Frankly, I think a good bottle opener should be standard issue to incoming first years, and I’m appalled by their limited use. So if you don’t have one, it’s time to get one.

Don’t bother with promotional, plastic bottle openers. Like this one, from DuPont. Sure, they’ll serve their purpose for a while, but they will inevitably snap, leaving you feeling empty, and your beer full. And that’s no good for business.

Standard fare for friends back home.

You’re definitely going to want to invest in a metal, keychain mounted bottle-cap eviscerator. They come in many shapes, and sizes, ranging from the standard “alma matter” bottle opener, as seen on the right , to… well, Decaposaurus Rex over there on the left.

Standard fare for the totally rad.

The possibilities are really endless, and a good one only set you back a few bucks, and provide years of reliable, maintenance free service. I need to update my “Favorite Things” list, because my trusty bottle opener is used at least once a week around lab.

My implement? A metal Brooklyn Brewery bottle opener, acquired for free when they sponsored an event around Boston. Marvel at it’s perfection. Slim, flat, and small enough for easy keychain-ing and pocketability, combined with good length for excellent leverage and handling characteristics.


And there you have it, just in time to enjoy the weekend! Again, it’s a small triumph to acquire the perfect bottle opener, but it’s something that you do once, and it’s covered for the rest of time your in school. Stick it on your keys, and it will always be at your side.

Everybody Needs A: PhD

Way back in 1996, Norman Cook (you might know him better by the alias Fatboy Slim) released the album Better Living Through Chemistry, containing the song “Everybody Needs a 303.” Although I was only 7 when it was released, I still greatly enjoy the song, and most of the album. Furthermore, the album/track serve as an excellent jump-off point for me to make terrible puns, and share some wisdom. And that’s really the most important part…*

Although I haven’t been doing this whole chemistry thing for that

long, I’ve picked up some good ideas along the way that can make time in/out of lab much more enjoyable. In the effort to better everyone’s living while doing chemistry, I’d like to present a series of posts about certain things that everybody ‘needs’¹ to help them get by as a researcher in chemistry.

1: ‘Needs’ is obviously a relative term. Some are serious, some are not, and some are more opinionated than others.

*For the music geek, compulsive wikipedia-er: If you’re curious, the “303″ is the Roland TB-303 synthesizer. It’s that bubbly sounding synth, featured most prominently in “Everybody Needs a 303” after the 2:25 mark. Cousin to the TR-808, and -909 drum machines, it’s pretty classic/oldschool. So, if you’re still curious, go check out it’s wander around its wikipedia page or something – it’s nifty.