analytical chemistry

I’d like to observe that there’s something wonderfully zen about analytical chemistry. Compared to biology it is even more repetitive and simplistic. Instead of measuring the functions of whole organisms or even cells, you are intent upon the analysis of a collection of frequently inert molecules (biologically active material aside).

 I spent much of Friday extracting a particular compound from grapes. The process was repetitive, simplistic and, for someone who routinely plays with feisty invertebrates and hundred thousand dollar instruments, unglamorous. I can’t deny, however, that I found the process rewarding. Admittedly the experience was enhance greatly by an audio book of a Discworld novel and frequent trips to my office to sample a thermos of tea and a large bar of Whittaker’s dark chocolate. These ingredients may provide pleasure in themselves, however, together with the long hours spent pipetting, rinsing, washing and weighing the entire experience proved far more rewarding than its individual components might suggest. I found that the routine nature of the work allowed me to achieve a meditative state of mind whereby I was simultaneously entranced by my audio book entertainment and yet utterly focused upon performing the tasks at hand. These would individually have been mundane and collectively been dull but repeated in sequence over and over again became hypnotic. 

  • remove pre-weighed grape from fridge
  • put grape in mortar
  • add 400ul solution A
  • add 1ml solution B
  • add 2ml solution C
  • grind grape to sludge with pestle
  • add 1g reagent X
  • grind sludge to paste with pestle
  • use glass pipette to transfer paste into vial
  • cap vial and move to fridge
  • wash glass pipette, pestle & mortar with hot water
  • rinse glass pipette, pestle & mortar with deionised water
  • rinse glass pipette, pestle & mortar with solvent
  • rinse glass pipette, pestle & mortar with solvent
  • rinse glass pipette, pestle & mortar with solvent
  • rinse glass pipette, pestle & mortar with solvent
  • rinse glass pipette, pestle & mortar with solvent
  • goto start

The first ten grapes took me four hours. After that the students, who had been distracting me intermittently, left and things sped up. I got another thirty grapes done before midnight. 

This was not a piece of work which I could have achieved in normal working hours. The first few hours were a struggle as any question put to me by students would inevitably distract me from my count of solvent washes or which reagent I was adding. Good chemistry is relient upon consistentcy of process. I hope to record my results on these pages both for posterity and as an example of this principle. 


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