Monday, December 31, 2007

10 commandments for keeping a lab notebook

Another list, just in time for the new year! My boss recently reminded us what it takes to keep a proper lab notebook, and I wanted to share it with you.

Here is the list:
1) Reference for the reaction (from the literature or from one of your or another lab member's lab notebook, for instance Amanda's Notebook VI, page 228)

2) Structure of reactants and expected products

3) Table with mgs/mmols/equivalents/densities/origins of reagents. That last one is really important. If you used a mysterious, old reagent that has been sitting on the shelf for 20+ years and got great results, when you buy a brand new bottle and don't get similar results, you have a reason. The impurities in reagent that is 99% from Sigma might not be exactly the same as a 95% reagent from a different supplier. Also, write down where you found the reagent. I don't know about your lab, but mine has about 10 different fridges/freezers, and sometimes it is difficult to remember exactly where you put something.

4) Reaction procedure--we all already do this, right?

5) How did you monitor the reaction? Draw your TLC or attach your HPLC trace.

6) Workup procedure--sometimes I get a little lazy here.

7) Purification procedure. Include the size of column, amount of silica used, etc.

8) Results. mgs of product obtained, % yield, and physical state of material -- bright orange powdery solid, 239 mg, 98% yield

9) Characterization of products. Include reference to your NMR (if you keep electronic copies, write down the filename!) and explain. For instance, 13C NMR (Amanda_VI_228b_pure), for spot at 0.6 Rf (1:1 EtOAc:Hexanes) consistent with expected product X.

10) Don't forget to write down the date!

And as a general rule, try to write down things within 24 hours of completing them. You tend to forget things if you wait too long.

Anyone have anything to add to this list? While I generally know what to put in my chemistry lab notebook, I must say that I don't necessarily include all of these things every single time. Maybe that will be one of my resolutions for 2008. On a similar note, I also tend to do quite a bit of biology. Do any biologists out there have any suggestions for what to include in a biology lab notebook?

Saturday, December 15, 2007

10 Simple Rules for Graduate Students

One of the professors here recently sent around an article with advice for graduate students. As I'm already in my 5th year here, many of the 10 simple rules aren't so relevant for me any more, but I wanted to pass them along anyways.

A short summary--

1. Let passion drive you.
You had better be excited about the project to which you are going to dedicate the next 5+ years of your life. If you don't like reading and thinking about it now, it probably won't grow on you. And those crazy experiments that come to you in the middle of the night? Go into lab the next day and try them out, because you never know what might work.

2. Select the right mentor, project and laboratory.
Mentor: It's this simple: pick a mentor that you can get along with in a professional atmosphere. Young or old, male or female, it doesn't really matter as long as you respect him/her and can understand his/her expectations of you.
Project: It is very painful to fail again and again for months at a time. Sure, it builds character, but that doesn't make it any easier. Make sure to talk with group members and find out the inside scoop as to what projects seem to have a lot of potential at the moment.
Lab: Work with people you like or at least those you can stand to be around for 10+ hours a day, 6+ days a week. If you can't talk with your lab members at least in a work related fashion, you really are going to be struggling when it comes time to ask for help.

3. Be an independent thinker.
It is okay to disagree with your PI on a scientific hypothesis, as it will only make both of you stronger. Just make sure you have all the data to back yourself up.

4. Balance is a necessary part of life.
Go to the gym, plan movie nights on the weekends, make group dinners. Some of the best friends that I have made during graduate school are the ones that I met biking 30 miles one or two times each week. Although the field of chemistry is relatively large, the people you meet and work with now will be your peers/reviewers/interviewers in the future. It is good to have friends in the field.

5. Think ahead to your career.
Take advantage of everything your school has to offer. Take extra classes if you want. Try to have as many different experiences as possible so that you know what you would like to do when it comes time to look for a job.

6. Remain focused on your hypothesis, but don't let it take over your life.
Set up experiments to prove your hypothesis, but set up just as many to disprove it. Don't forget the big picture. Sometimes proving that a theory is wrong is just as important as showing that it is right.

7. Fix problems now.
If you are struggling with some aspect of research or graduate school, talk to someone before it gets to be a big issue.

8. Publish! Attend meetings!
Other scientists may reveal tidbits of information at small meetings that they might not otherwise discuss in the literature. Often times these little things are the key to your success.

9. Be confident (but not arrogant), be thick skinned.
At some point your committee, group or class will question you until you feel like crying. More than likely this will happen multiple times. This is normal and hopefully will help you build confidence. Over prepare for everything.

10. Pick your thesis committee wisely. Stay in contact with them throughout your time in graduate school.
These will be the people writing your recommendation letters. Make sure they know when you make significant progress. Email them your most recent papers and set up meetings with each committee member at least once each year.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

3-D Sugar Printer

Well, the people at Evil Mad Scientist Lab-
oratories have come up with something pretty sweet--a 3-D sugar printer. I have always thought that three dimensional printers are very cool and I even remember the first time that I even learned that they exist--on my tour of the Beckman Institute at University of Illinois.

The basic concept of the 3-D sugar printer follows standard solid freeform fabrication techniques. Simple two dimensional layers are stacked on top of each other to form a more complex 3-D form. So how do the Evil Mad Scientists do this with sugar? First, a layer of low melting "granular printing media" (sugar) is placed on a flat surface. By applying a technique called selective hot air sintering and melting, a burst of hot air is applied to the sugar in preselected locations. As the sugar melts, it fuses together with other sugar grains and eventually a two dimensional image appears. Next, the flat surface is lowered slightly and a second layer of sugar is sprinkled on top. Again hot air from a heat gun is applied to the surface in preselected locations. This time the new two dimensional image that is formed is also attached to any overlapping fused spots in the underneath layer. Repeating this process over and over again eventually yields a three dimensional object made completely out of sugar!

The inventors claim that their production process is very similar to selective laser sintering (SLS), but at a fraction of the cost. SLS is commonly utilized in manufacturing and uses a very expensive high power CO2 laser (thousands of dollars), whereas the Evil Mad Scientists' technology only needs hot air from a $10 heating element.

If you are really interested, you can visit the CandyFab project, which has all the information you need to build one of these machines at home for yourself. Now I'm hungry--anyone up for some caramelized almonds?