Articles by: Fleaker

Joking in a Nature journal?

Was reading this earlier this evening on the hobby science forum –it’s amusing.

Read the letter carefully.

Well, let’s hope this is a joke.

By July 8, 2009 5 comments fun, Uncategorized

Is convenience costing chemists? Part 1

Times are tough and few if any are untouched by the recent economic woes. While profits have fallen, research costs for a variety of fields have remained the same if not increased, especially in the chemical industry. Academia too is feeling the crunch and many universities are making policy changes to minimize expense. At most universities, chemistry is usually the department hardest hit by budgetary strangulation for the simple reason that doing chemistry often comes at a hefty price (I.e. reagents, apparatus, instrumentation maintenance and standards, heating/cooling expenses due to fume hood usage). Many chemistry departments burn through consumables, most of which are not exactly cheap. Unfortunately, even in the present age of microscale labs and experiments, there is still a significant amount of waste both in industry and in academia with respect to energy and research material. Thankfully, there are many simple solutions that involve a little extra time but pay dividends.

Progressive steps are being made. An example: at a nearby university, the chemistry department is implementing an energy saving program, modeled on an existing program at Harvard. It is being done because heating and cooling the chemical building is expensive, and energy costs have risen. According to the Harvard program’s estimates, leaving a typical fume hood (whatever that may be) wide open 24/7 all year long uses three times the energy of an average home! Now reflect upon how many fume hoods are in your laboratory.

For my part, I hope it doesn’t stop at simply closing the sash–there are numerous other things that scientists ought to be doing. Still, it’s a start. For those of you thinking “well, we itemize our budget to account for energy, consumables, and other ancillary costs. We have the money,” you might analyze it from a perspective of using only what you must. Considering that Harvard’s 30 some billion dollar endowment is the largest of any university and they somehow find the moral responsibility to simply close the fume hood sash when not in use, is it not something all chemists ought to do? Surely they can afford a few hundred thousand dollars per year for the convenience of forgetting to close their hood.

Pinching pennies is important now, historically, and probably more so in the future. Scientists pay for convenience. Many research in an atmosphere of high throughput, intensive research with demanding deadlines. For most chemists, it’s a simple matter of putting in a purchase order for the reagent you need and paying through the nose on hazmat, fuel, and packaging surcharges to have it overnighted for your trial synthesis. Easy? Yes. Cheap? No.

So, what to do?

In the next installment, I’ll discuss a few commonsense ways to save money, possibly a few natural resources, and most importantly, time.

By March 31, 2009 3 comments opinion, Uncategorized