In this world there are two kind of postdocs: some are hired for a specific project and are focused on that, others are jolly helping here and there. I am, ladies and gentleman, a jolly.
I’m Vittorio Saggiomo, a postdoc in the BioNanoTechnology group at the University of Wageningen (in the sunny, sunny Netherlands). As a jolly, I’m working on PDMS microfluidics chips, coacervate micelles and (quite a lot) of devices with chemical sensors for soil, animal food, and recently, malaria vectors.
Fig 1. Example of the research going on in my university…
Vittorio Saggiomo (@V_Saggiomo) February 03, 2015
Fig 2. Mosquito farm
Monday starts like all my Mondays: the alarm clock buzzing on my night table, me thinking that it’s Sunday morning and relaxing a little bit more in the bed. Between 10 and 15 minutes later I finally realize that it’s not Sunday and I have to rush to the university. Welcome, first frak of the week.
Our building is probably the only laboratory in the whole of the Netherlands that is uphill (here it’s called “the mountain”) and when I’m late I try to bike as fast as I can. Entering the corridor of the building is like finishing the marathon, with coworkers cheering me up and giving me water. In a chaos of people screaming my name I finally enter my office with only 30/45 minutes of delay. Then I usually need 10/15 minutes to recover from the high speed biking uphill, and to get my heartbeat on a human level and to try to breath again.
Turn on my computer, 20/30 unread email, 10/15 “frak I completely forgot about this” and “oh for frak’s sake” and finally I’m in the lab, my acetone smelling kingdom.
I devote the first two days of the week on synthesis. We are trying to control the core of the coacervate micelle (very huge 100 nm micelles with a soft core of chocolate (ok, maybe not chocolate, but still a soft core) for incorporating and releasing drugs on command (hopefully our command). I put a couple of reactions on the notes of Metallica and/or AC/DC.
I spend the rest of the day supervising (or trying my best to) two master students.
Vittorio Saggiomo (@V_Saggiomo) December 02, 2014
Fig 3. Fairy dust synthesis
Tuesday is purification day. I love column chromatography, I find it extremely zen and relaxing. And it gives me an awesome excuse not to do anything else -“come on dude, I cannot stop my column, I’ll come to you later”-. TLC, rotavap, NMR, and then i can choose between: “fraking hell, why you don’t want to work?”, “what the frak are you?”, “for frak sake, who on earth is doing a 2 h proton NMR?”.
Then I try not to get mad at one master student because he believes that his column didn’t work because the size of the capillaries is wrong. Between a colloquium and a coworker that MUST show you at least 10 youtube videos the day passes quite easily. Tuesday after work is also squash night with my boss. Perfect for stress reliever and for legs related injuries.
Vittorio Saggiomo (@V_Saggiomo) October 24, 2014
Fig 4. The eye of Sauron
Wednesday is PDMS and devices day. Since I came in this lab I have fallen in love with PDMS, an extremely nice polymer for making microfluidics chips, stamps for microcontact printing and bouncing balls. I spend most of the day playing around with PDMS, using different crosslinkers, checking the swelling and the stability, pressure and so on. We are currently applying for a patent on a discovery we made last year and now are waiting to publish it. Usually on a Wednesday I also discuss a little bit with the boss. It happens more or less randomly, but most of the time it is on Wednesday. My boss’ office is between my lab and my office and when I walk from one place to the other I can clearly hear someone screaming my name.
The discussion goes often like this (I’m currently working on many different projects and I’m extremely picky on which new project I can accept):
Boss: Maybe we can do this…
The discussion can go on for hours. The first that lowers his eyes loses.
When I’m finally back in the lab I can start soldering wires, checking resistances and programming Arduino and Raspberry Pi. It’s not chemistry but it’s quite entertaining.
Fig 5. Maybe a pinch more crosslinker.
Vittorio Saggiomo (@V_Saggiomo) September 25, 2014
Fig 6. Maybe even more crosslinker.
Vittorio Saggiomo (@V_Saggiomo) November 02, 2014
Fig 7. Pinky microfluidics.
Thursday is terminator day. The day of the machines. Now NMR, now fluorimeter, now AFM. The synthesis of new sensor would be useless without some in-depth characterization. In this day the amount of fraks climbs to the top. Swearing at a random machine is one of my favorite hobbies. When Skynet finally takes control of the world I will be one of the first to be murdered (or enslaved). The time lost in understanding why a machine is not properly working is way more than the time used for the real analysis. Today is also a day of squash with my colleagues. Time for shoulder related injuries.
Vittorio Saggiomo (@V_Saggiomo) December 04, 2014
Fig 8. 8-bit AFM.
Friday is group meeting day. I usually clean a little bit in the lab, write down the stuff I did in the week and program what I’ll do the following week. The group meeting starts after lunch and no one knows when it will end, but usually we finish very, very late. Beer, alcohol and junk food are more than welcome during the discussions. BBQ in summer time. We also use 10 minutes of our time collectively swearing at a random referee number 3.
Vittorio Saggiomo (@V_Saggiomo) May 16, 2014
Fig 9. Group meeting.
Saturday and Sunday I try to read some literature, writing/correcting/rewriting papers,grant, patents and blog posts.
Vittorio Saggiomo (@V_Saggiomo) May 25, 2014
….and from my side, that’s all folks. Feel free to contact me for info, news, fun or just for swearing together.
Dr. Vittorio Saggiomo is a post doc, working at the University of Wageningen under Professor Aldrick Velders. He was born in Naples (Italy) where earning an M.Sc in Organic Chemistry in 2007. He then moved to Kiel (Germany) pursuing a Ph.D. working on Dynamic Combinatorial Chemistry. In 2010 he moved to Groningen for his first post doc in the field of Systems Chemistry, before heading to Wageningen. Find about more about him at: www.vsaggiomo.com/
Blogs at Labsolutely (http://www.labsolutely.org/) & creates videos on Youtube (https://www.youtube.com/user/vsaggiomo)
Hello! My name is Laura Jane, and I’m a PhD candidate hailing from Stellenbosch, South Africa, here to show you what a week in my #RealTimeChem life entails!
One of the things our group is working on is a class of molecules called dithiadiazolyls (see this paper for more). Dithiadiazolyls (or DTDAs) are sulphur- and nitrogen-containing heterocycles that exist as neutral radicals. (It is interesting to note that the SOMO, in which the unpaired electron resides, is nodal at the carbon of the DTDA ring, so it is possible to alter the nature of the R-group without significantly altering the nature of the DTDA ring.) Thiazyl radicals have been investigated as potential building blocks for the design of molecular materials with interesting and desirable physical properties, such as conductivity and magnetism. Their magnetic and electrical conducting properties relate directly to their solid state structure. Unfortunately, many DTDAs tend to diamerise in the solid state, which results in spin pairing and, consequently, loss of any magnetic or conductive properties. We therefore look into ways to override this diamerisation and direct the structure of these materials in the solid state. My project involves the use of porphyrins as supramolecular scaffolds to create novel materials.
Monday morning starts like any other, with a cup of tea and `n Ouma beskuit while I read the news, then a breakfast of fresh fruit while I check up on what’s new in the Chemistry world. After checking my email, it’s off to my supervisor’s office, to discuss my plans for the week, but more importantly – to discuss our group’s plans regarding data backups (and storing data off-campus), spurred on by the previous day’s fire at one of our neighbouring buildings. Today ended up being an office day, not a lab day. First, backing up my data. While that’s running (my laptop tends to crash if you try giving it two things to do at once), I head off on a library run. When I return, it’s time to go play catch-up by going through some data from the last two weeks that I collected, but didn’t process, as I had fallen ill.
On Tuesday afternoons I have to demonstrate (“demi”) for an undergraduate practical session. First though, marking a stack of my class’s lab reports (nothing like leaving your marking to the last moment!). By the time that is finally done, there’s only an hour or two to spend in the lab, so I catch up on the always-fun tasks such as cleaning the never-ending pile of dirty glassware, sweeping the floor, taking inventory and so on. After a quick lunch at my desk while I catch up with what’s happening on Twitter, I haul myself and my giant stack of books across the road and around the block to one of the other Chemistry buildings for my demi duty. (The Department of Chemistry and Polymer Science at SU is spread over five buildings). This semester I’m involved in second year Inorganic Chemistry, a fun course to demi for as the pracs involve fundamental concepts and lots of pretty colours! Today’s practical involves introducing the students to the concept of qualitative analysis. South Africa has a very diverse population and consequently has 11 official languages – so language policy is a very important topic. While SU has traditionally been an Afrikaans university, undergraduate programs are now mostly bilingual (with postgraduate programs typically run only in English), so it’s quite a challenge constantly switching between the two languages when explaining to the students if your brain isn’t fully engaged.
Wednesday arrives and it’s time to hit the lab for some DTDA synthesis! DTDAs are very moisture sensitive, so it’s all about the Schlenk line. I work in a tiny little synthesis lab, where currently only myself and a MSc student are working in the fume hoods. Today it’s just step one of the DTDA synthesis, first creating LiHMDS in situ (it arrives in an unusable state when purchased as-is), then – no, wait, load shedding has kicked in again. Luckily, our building can get power from back-up generators (otherwise it’s 2.5 hours without power each time), but it’s still a minute of standing around in the dark waiting for electricity to return. Once the lights are back on and the stirrer plate is working again, it’s on adding the desired aromatic nitrile to form a silylated amidine. While those reactions are stirring away until completed, I turn my attention to my DTDA – metalloporphyrin complexations. These tend to take (what seems like) forever to form diffraction-quality crystals, so there are normally lots of these running in the background. Because of the moisture-sensitive nature of the DTDA radicals, I tend to set up these crystallizations in skinny Schlenk tubes rather than crystallization vials – it turns out that old-school test tube racks are perfect for holding these flasks when there’s only so much room to clamp flasks in your fume hood!
Thursday brings step two, condensation of the silylated amidine with SCl2 to form a dithiadiazolylium chloride salt. SCl2 is another reagent that we have to synthesise ourselves (from powdered sulphur and chlorine gas), and smells just about as lovely as you can guess, so luckily I don’t have many lab-mates to irritate! Once the product has formed, it’s time to filter and wash it – inertly of course. After drying in vacuo, the dithiadiazolylium chloride salt is obtained as a yellow powder. Halfway through the day, there’s a short break from the lab for group meeting. Typically, our group meetings involve one student presenting their current research and another presenting a paper in a relevant field. This week, however, was something a little bit different as our group was hosting Prof. Wais Hosseini (University of Strasbourg), who was given the opportunity to discuss some of his group’s work in molecular tectonics.
The last thing to do for Friday is reduce the dithiadiazolylium chloride salt to the dithiadiazolyl radical. There are several ways to do this, but my favourite is a solid-state reduction using triphenylantimony. (Zinc-Copper couple in THF is another option.) If the reaction is successful, a drastic colour change from yellow to purple is observed. Purification is then achieved by means of sublimation to get shiny dark purple crystals, all ready to meet up with some porphyrins next week.
Finally, the week comes to an end and it’s time to enjoy the late afternoon sun with a glass of cold Sauvignon Blanc on the lawns of a wine farm just up the road! Life in Stellenbosch isn’t all too bad!
Laura van Laeren is a PhD candidate at Stellenbosch University in South Africa. She is currently investigating novel thiazyl radical – metalloporphyrin complexes under the supervision of Prof Delia Haynes and Dr Katherine de Villiers. Her passions include the written word, scientific education and the Cape Winelands.
Blogs at Whimsical Science (http://www.whimsicalscience.com/) & Whimsy Is Forever (http://www.whimsyisforever.com/)
A rather brief blog post just to let you know that I will be on my honeymoon for a whole week in March from the 15th until the 22nd. This means that I won’t be doing anything #RealTimeChem related during this time.
…because the @RealTimeChem Twitter feed shall be looked after by the fabulous @JessTheChemist during this time.
Once I get back I’ll be hoping to finish off some of the remaining new features on the blog and also provide you with an update on #RealTimeChem Week 2015.
Before I go away, you can also look forward to the 2nd #RealTimeChemInFocus blog post by this month’s guest blogger @laurajane0103, plus the 2nd instalment of The Lab Coat Cowboy comic.
Catch you later folks!
G’day! Welcome to the inaugural #RealTimeChemInFocus post, where I aim to give you a bit of an insight into the world of a radical chemist. Radical in the sense that I work with free radicals (molecules or atoms with an unpaired electron), not my political/social leanings. Read on for an introduction to our work on respiratory disease and atmospheric pollutants as I walk you through a typical week in the life of an organic chemistry PhD student.
The WHO estimates that roughly 7 million deaths per year are caused by exposure to air pollution. It is now well known that living in highly polluted areas makes you more susceptible to maladies such as respiratory disease, allergy, asthma and even death. My PhD aims to work out the underlying chemical processes, or chemical entities, responsible for these biological effects. Using a bottom-up approach, we expose simple biomolecules to pollutant gases and see what kind of havoc they wreak.
Luke Gamon (@lgamon) January 19, 2015
Time spent as organic chemist http://t.co/BRDTWGgFif—
Chemistry Hall (@ChemistryHall) January 19, 2015
The week begins with an outline of the research tasks ahead and, like most, this is one dominated by organic synthesis. For us, this is purely a means to an end. Each peptide we wish to study is carefully designed with respect to amino acid sequence and composition. As we work on gram scale, it is typically more cost effective to synthesise these peptides in-house. That means grunt work and grunt work means coffee, lots and lots of coffee.1
Luke Gamon (@lgamon) January 21, 2015
Luke Gamon (@lgamon) January 26, 2015
Synthesising each peptide involves protection of the amino acids, a coupling reaction, followed by extraction/washing and purification. Building up larger peptides, such as tri- or tetra-peptides, also involves deprotection and another coupling/work-up. To work efficiently, I often do two or three reactions simultaneously. Each reaction uses the same solvent, reagents and work-up procedure so this saves a lot of time.
The end of the week brings a busy day. Friday means more coffee (#FilterFriday!), our department’s organic chemistry seminar and, today, our group meeting and a couple of radical reactions. These experiments are the true focus of my PhD – new, original research, delving into the effects atmospheric pollutants may have on our body. That means its time to take those peptides prepared earlier in the week and treat them with some ‘pollution’, today it will be nitrogen dioxide (NO2•).
Every time you drive your car you are emitting not only carbon dioxide but also nitrogen oxides (collectively referred to as NOx gases) such as NO2•. This is one of the most abundant radicals in our atmosphere and has been implicated in respiratory disease, being toxic by inhalation. Once upon a time we obtained gas cylinders of pure nitrogen dioxide. As Australia does not produce it locally, they were shipped from overseas but sadly the freight costs are exorbitant and it can be surprisingly difficult to convince a ship captain to receive a cylinder of toxic NO2• gas. Tyranny of distance strikes again. We now produce our own nitrogen dioxide in the lab.
While chemistry is famous for beautiful colours, the field of organic chemistry is typically characterised by white solids, colourless oils and clear solutions. Peptide chemistry doubly so. My favourite chemical reaction, for reasons now obvious, is the classic reaction between copper and concentrated nitric acid. Nitric acid is slowly dripped over solid copper metal (such as the copper penny above), producing a brown noxious gas – our pollutant, nitrogen dioxide. The copper is converted from Cu0 to Cu2+, forming a gorgeous, bright blue solution of copper nitrate. Meanwhile, the nitrogen dioxide passes through a drying tube and is condensed as a liquid which allows us to react a known quantity with our peptides.
Luke Gamon (@lgamon) January 23, 2015
Once we have treated our peptides with this simulated pollution, we go through a painstaking process of identifying each product that is formed. This involves repeated HPLC purifications and characterisation with analytical techniques including HRMS, MS/MS, multi-dimensional NMR and, when I’m lucky, X-ray crystallography. Our results so far show that nitrogen dioxide and ozone are a destructive force, modifying residues or cleaving peptide chains. For a nice article on our latest research check out “Nitrogen dioxide and ozone: a sinister synergy” via Chemistry World or the accompanying paper published in Organic and Biomolecular Chemistry.
Over the last few years I have taken great pleasure in becoming a part of the online chemistry community. In particular, the burgeoning #RealTimeChem community is extremely welcoming, friendly and engaging. Whether it’s talking about the latest Nature paper, whingeing about that guy who just lined up 6 hours worth of samples on the NMR queue or asking for tips about how to get that postdoc you’ve always wanted – there’s something for chemists of all kinds. A PhD can sometimes be quite a solitary experience and I love having the opportunity to engage with passionate, creative and ambitious people from all around the globe. Get on there, #RealTimeChem and tweet me some time.
1 Thankfully, I live in Melbourne, Australia’s coffee mecca (sorry Sydney), surrounded by multiple coffee roasters.
Luke Gamon is in the final year of his PhD in chemistry at The University of Melbourne, Australia. Under the supervision of A/Prof Uta Wille, he is currently investigating the effects of pollution on biological molecules. Passions include coffee, baking sourdough, photography, sci-comm and board games.
Blogs at A Radical Approach lukegamon.wordpress.com
It’s taken me a little while and some serious blog maintenance (wordpress sadly doesn’t make that very easy sometimes!), but I can finally announce the launch of the #RealTimeChem Hub page.
From this page you can find links to other parts of the #RealTimeChem universe. So far, these include a link to the #RealTimeChem: FAQ and a few other features. These include:
New for 2015 are guest blog posts from members of the #RealTimeChem community with the 1st one scheduled for February 2015. To find out more about these posts and how this works, click the picture above to take you to the #RealTimeChemInFocus page.
#RealTimeChemBanners is the new name for the #RealTimeChemBannerChallenge that started at the end of 2014. If you are feeling artistic, why not submit some art and it could be used as the banner for the @RealTimeChem feed on Twitter!
Finally, the recently announced #RealTimeChemPlaylist, hosted on Spotify. Add your favourite chemistry based tunes and rock out in the laboratory/office/shed.
So, that’s it for now. More to come! Any questions, get in touch on Twitter.
-Doctor Galactic & The Lab Coat Cowboy-