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Category → Undergraduate Research

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.

To Synthesize or to Buy? That is the question.

And you should too!

Einstein probably synthesized his own compounds. (Flickr user hernandezmariacristina)

Happy summer, everyone!  Sorry for the cheesy title.  Because I’m still an undergrad, I get the chance to take some pretty cool classes that have a little to nothing to do with chemistry.  This can either be a nice break (i.e: Shakespeare, see title) or an unwelcome distraction (…Spanish).  I’m soaking in as much diverse education as I can before I start specializing in my PhD.  This is all besides the point.

Anyway, I wanted to pose a question.  When you’re running a synthesis, an assay, or whatever else it is you do in your lab, and you require a reagent that is expensive and difficult to synthesize, do you spend days synthesizing it yourself, or buy it at ridiculous price from a manufacturer?  From what I can gather, there are two camps.  Tell me if I’m wrong.  PIs/Professors are more likely to encourage grad students to synthesize everything from scratch, and the graduate students vice versa.  Whether their opinion is born from distrust of the manufacturers, a desire to teach you (the student) some more synthesis, or plain sadism is up to debate.  The advantage is that you get to gain some more experience in what is probably a very classic synthesis, helping you gain some ‘lab chops.’  The disadvantage, of course, that that you have to stop watching Futurama to synthesize this molecule that you could just buy.

I’ve recently had an interesting experience.  I had bought a reagent from a manufacturer, expecting to use it as a positive control.  For whatever reason, it wasn’t working.  After around two weeks of frustrated testing, I found that the molar mass of my positive control didn’t match to mass it was supposed to be (by MALDI).  So therefore, we got sent a faulty reagent.  Kind of a bummer, right?

After this debacle, I resolved myself to synthesize it myself, spurning the multimillion dollar industry for my own two hands.  After a week of synthesis and purification, I am a proud owner of a compound which has a molar mass that is too large for the compound I would’ve wanted to synthesize.  I still haven’t run enough tests to see how far I’ve gone wrong, but as of now it seems possible that I’ve somehow messed up, which puts me at a unique crosscroads.

Do I synthesize my positive control again?  It only took me a week, and is much less expensive than buying it from a manufacturer.  Also, I can make gobs at a time (technical term), and I can only buy a small quantity.   On the other hand, I could just buy it again and hope for this best.  Sure, it’s much more expensive, but it’d be so easy!  Plus, I could finish this episode of futurama.

So, my chemist friends, if you were in my place, what would you do?  Synthesize or buy?

REU Round-Up Part II – An interview!

Hello everyone!

Sorry for the long delay, but here is the long-promised interview with a real-live graduate student!  Amanda is a first-year grad student at a new-england university.  She can tell you all about her experience below.  What is interesting is that even though Amanda did hardcore inorganic chemistry in her REU, she has since gone on to a biochemistry lab, but still would like to apply her interest in metal binding.  So as advice for all of you fledgeling researchers, don’t feel trapped by your interests: an REU can be a great experience to expand your scientific understanding and learn a new field that you can apply to your own.  With that said, here’s Amanda! Continue reading →

Chembites – a blog for undergrads!

Probably the hardest thing to do as an undergraduate is to read the literature.  It’s extremely daunting at first, and until you have a lot of experience with the language/abbreviations and background, you can end up spending frustrating numbers of hours reading a single paper.  Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have a “sparknotes” version of some of the more interesting papers?

This morning, our friendly neighborhood editor Rachel forwarded this blog to Chiral and I.  It’s written by a group of MIT chemistry graduate students looking at the literature and distilling/filtering it down to be understandable for an undergraduate reader.  Because (a) I really like this blog,  and (b) this is a great resource for undergraduates, here’s the link to their blog:  chembites.  Enjoy!

REU Round-Up, part 1: The Blitz

Hey all!

So we all want to get in to grad school, right?  Well, if you want to go get a chemistry PhD, common knowledge is that you should try to do some undergraduate research.  If you go to an institution where it is hard to do research for whatever reason, never fear!  There are these great programs out there called Research Experiences for Undergraduates, or REUs.  Most large research universities have them, and they normally last for 9-10 weeks out of the summer.  I personally have never done an official REU, but I have performed research over the summer at my own school, and it was a great experience.  Getting the chance to spend a summer doing something completely different and out of your comfort zone (I was a chemist doing molecular biology–) is a great way to learn about not only the research “process” but also a new branch of science.  I’m also told that it prepares you very well for the graduate research experience.

Lets take a look at how to get involved:

Continue reading →