Chemists Purposely Withholding Information

I once saw an undergraduate setting up a reflux in my lab, and I could tell immediately it wasn’t going to work. The undergraduate didn’t take enough precautions to ensure that the liquid wouldn’t leak out from the joint connecting the round bottom flask and the condenser. I debated whether I should say anything, but decided that the reagents weren’t expensive enough to warrant my involvement. I also knew that once he made this mistake he would never make it again. The next morning when he came into lab his reagents were a black char at the bottom of his flask. Apparently, chemists not freely sharing all their techniques has historical precedences as professor Martyn Poliakoff explains below.



  1. Nowadays, “chemist” is a label that applies to a much broader range of researchers than just organic synthesizers. The mark of a femtosecond chemist might be the small holes in their shirt right around laser-level; the mark of a biochemist might be the little timer clipped to their belt; the mark of a computational chemist might be an XKCD shirt. I dunno…

  2. I have a mark on my left pointer finger…. glass tubing. I also have one on right forearm: Na explosion. The Na explosion also burnt off half my eyebrow (thanks PPE!), some it is a little bushy.

  3. Another way to identify a chemist:

    a chemist will wash their hands twice in the washroom – when they enter and when they leave!

  4. A really nice video.

    A note to young chemists from a relatively young chemist: if you’re doing something like that, grease up the pipette before hand. Also, if you can swing it, buy a pair of leather gardening gloves for that sort of rubber-to-glass jointing.

  5. Biochemists and biologists, depending on the research specifics, might also have bleach stains on shirts at bench level.
    Chemists who do a lot of device fab or crystal-handling have *the steadiest hands ever*. You may identify us by our mad tweezer skills.
    Entomologists develop this thing where they sort of lean forward and kinda-squint at you like you’re under a microscope.

  6. I have just such a mark just where Martyn Poliakoff points to on his left hand. Alas! it was glass tubing through a rubber stopper. I had put glycerine on it and it still broke and I still got stuck. I still have that scar from teenage initiation!

  7. Another way to identify a chemist:

    a chemist will wash their hands twice in the washroom – when they enter and when they leave!

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