The Brick Wall of Science (with Aerogel!)

In contrast to the joy of crystallization,  there is always that sinking feeling when you can’t get something to work.

In light of recent events, chemists are becoming much more skeptical about the veracity of the results they see in print, and to a large extent, that’s a good thing.  In some cases, however, this can be problematic as well.  For example, recently I’ve been trying to carry out what should be a simple, routine reaction.  I won’t give any details, but the reaction is the very definition of “textbook.”  I can’t get it to work worth a damn.  I’ve tried everything I can think of, I’m following literature procedures to the T, but it just won’t work out the way it’s reported.

Here’s the real dilemma: this reaction was reported to work, but I can’t reproduce the results.  I even know other people who have had trouble reproducing these results.  So what is the problem?  I have to wonder whether it’s a failing in my abilities as a chemist, but at the same time, at what point do you say “These reported results can’t be right.”  I’m definitely not to that point with my chemistry, but if I were working with a reaction that wasn’t so firmly established I would have to seriously consider the possibility that the reported results were false.

So am I jumping the gun on this?  Did I just miss something in those papers I read?  I feel like I may be more likely to accuse falsification just because there have been some high profile reports of such things.

Then try to think of yourself on the other end of things.  Any chemistry that I publish will be true to the best of my knowledge, but what if someone questions my results?  I know I have evidence to back it up, but how do you tell someone that their inability to reproduce my results must be some fault on their end.  Worse yet, what if I made an honest mistake and misidentified something?  Is that forgivable, or would my carelessness mar all of my accomplishments.  These are serious issues and I think that some of this may have gotten lost in the fray of competing accusations.

So what am I to do, with a textbook reaction that doesn’t behave like it should?  How long do I pound my head in to the brick wall of science before I give up on it?  And perhaps a more ominous concern is what happens when someone asks why I didn’t just use this obvious textbook reaction instead of my obviously circuitous work around!!

By August 23, 2006 0 comments Uncategorized

Blogging: An Outlet for the New Generation of Chemists.

Maybe I am selling the whole world short, but this blog thing is just exploding in the chemistry community. I’m a pretty avid blog reader, especially the chemistry ones, but that has been a recent development. I have to credit Dylan over at Tenderbutton for that. Dylan has approached his blog in a way that fellow grad students can really appreciate: the day-to-day difficulties in the lab, fascinating little observations, and a healthy shot of irreverant criticism of the chemical literature. This though process is nothing new, grad students have these conversations amongst themselves all the time, but Dylan seems to have made it okay for everyone to write these things on the internet. This is really great because you get to see what other people are thinking about the issues that are out there and see a little slice of how other people perceive chemistry. I like to read a bunch of the chemistry blogs just to get a feel for how new ideas are being accepted.

The blog atmosphere is very different from some of the other chemistry focused sites out there. Most of them are informational (e.g. organic-chemistry.org) and some are for teaching (e.g. Chemical Forums), which is all fine and good, but those sites don’t leave a lot of room for discussion with real experts (or aspiring experts) in the field. The key is that these blogs allow chemists to see how to think about problems (and solutions) in chemistry in a very critical way. It’s easy to pick up the latest issue of a journal and talk about how great some newly discovered reaction is, but it is perhaps more important to be able to identify the short comings of that chemistry because in doing so you will identify the next set of problems. Perhaps we chemists should look at these blogs as a way to better our own ability to look at the way we do science so that we can do it better!

Vivo el blogosphere de la química!

By August 14, 2006 0 comments Uncategorized

Photos from the recent Symposium on Current Trends in Nuclear Physics at LBNL

This past Saturday was the 80th birthday bash for Wladek Swiatecki. When you become older birthday bashes involve several hours of seminars from people whose research you contributed to. At the recent birthday bash I was able to get some nice photos with Darleane Hoffman and Al Ghiorso one is shown below. If you do not know them they are most famous for their work in the 5f and 6d row of the periodic table. Al is the world record holder for the discoverer of the most elements and I think isotopes too. Picture is below.

You can also make out half of Peter Armbruster’s face in the background (Santa Claus guy). If you don’t know who Peter Armbruster is, who are you? And why are you reading this? Tongue

And for everyone in the audience, please use power point for talks. I promise its not that difficult to learn.

By June 19, 2006 2 comments Uncategorized

The Office of a Nuclear Chemist

Although the News of the day is the Sames retraction(s):http://pubs.acs.org/cen/news/84/i25/8425papers.html
Blogs:http://www.thechemblog.com/?p=52, http://occams.blogspot.com/2006/06/four-more-retractions.html

I thought I would go off topic and show a picture of my office.


Please notice the triple multi-headed machine I use to work and play, the bean bag in the corner and the miscellaneous cans of Mountain Dew that I tried to move off to one side.

And just so you don’t think that life as a Nuclear Chemist sucks cubicle walls. Here is a picture of the SF bay from our lunch tables at the 88 inch cyclotron. Eat that any other university/work-place on the planet.

By June 16, 2006 1 comment Uncategorized