#ChemSummer Carnival: Chemist in a hot tin lab.
This post is part of the #ChemSummer carnival hosted by C&E News and Rachel Pepling (just about!).
Feelin’ hot, hot, hot.
It’s the summer time and this is the first time in five years that I have not spent it frying in a chemistry laboratory. Unless you are (or were) one of those “lazy” PhD students who took one of those mythical things that the scholars of time gone by called…a holiday… you probably spent a large chunk of your time in the chemistry laboratory during the summer trying to find ways not to spend a large chunk of your time in a chemistry laboratory during the summer. Yet, chemistry has to get done. Unlike undergrads, postgrads don’t get a vacation. Your on postgrad time. Research, sadly, doesn’t do itself.
So while everyone else is out getting bronzed, you’re stuck in the laboratory looking more and more like you’re trying to colour match your white coat.
I’d like to think that every chemist worth their salt has spent at least some time in the “summer laboratory hell hole”.
I know I did.
None of the chemistry laboratories (or buildings for that matter) that I’ve ever worked in have had the miracle/curse of full air conditioning, some of them didn’t even have windows that could be opened properly. Some of them didn’t even have windows. So with drying ovens on, heat gun blowing, water bathes steaming and equipment working, the lab generally descended into smelly sweat box, with temperatures approaching 40 degrees Celsius.
Seeing as this has turned into a full blown rant about summer, here’s a list of other issues I hated about the summer heat of the laboratory:
- You can’t dress for the summer. Sure you can take of the white coat if you’re not doing anything particularly unsafe, but it’s still got to go on at some point and you roast when you do. Additionally, having to wear the type of safety glasses that go over your normal glasses you’ll find that they start slipping off of your face from the sweat. You can’t wear shorts. You can’t wear sandals. You can’t wear anything too nice and summery in case you destroy it with chemicals.
- You dehydrate. Unless your supervisor has had the foresight to include a water cooler in your laboratory office, you’ve got to find a watering hole. There’s no drinking in the laboratory after all.
- Solvent evaporation. Last year during my post doc it was so hot in the laboratory that we surpassed the boiling point of diethyl ether. That’s a problem, especially when you’re trying to TLC something accurately and there’s also the nasty issue of exploding solvent bottles when somebody screws the cap on just that little bit too tight. They make such a delightful crack, which is followed by a wonderful dizziness induced by inhaling most of the released contents, which is now filling the laboratory.
- That whole “ambient temperature” thing. There are “ambient temperature” reactions that work in the winter that don’t work in the summer and vice versa. Particularly when the swing in temperature from one to the other is -2 to 35 °C. Although, summer’s the best time to try the methods that you find in papers from countries that are hot all year around.
- Your lab mates. I’ve been blessed in the sense that most of them have been great. Unfortunately, I’ve also been blessed with some that smelled. During the summer there’s always at least one who seems to come down with unenviable “smelly lab mate syndrome”.
So I love chemistry. But I don’t love chemistry in a hot laboratory in the summer. Don’t let it put you off. Of course, some of you will wonder what I’m talking about. So I say, damn you lucky chemists who don’t know what I’m talking about. Yes, you and your fancy “Hollywood Summer Blockbuster” laboratories, with your air conditioning and completely lax safety policies that let your students wear short skirts wihtout safety glasses and let random visitors wander around getting bitten by radioactive spiders….
Of course, it’s not all bad. Summer means you don’t have to go home in the dark. You can sometimes find the time in your less busy summer schedule to exit the laboratory and see the fabled “outside” you hear other subjects PhD students speak about with such fervent joy. You can have ice cream in public without being called weird. You suddenly have a strange compulsion to go to the NMR room as frequently as possible because its the coolest room in the building and this does wonders for your sample data backlog. Plus there’s no undergraduates around to look after and get in your way on campus.
In the end it’s part of the old job I don’t miss. I now sit in an office all day in comfort, where ambient temperature meets the IUPAC definition of the term.
So I have the greatest respect for all of you suffering in those old labaoratories out there this summer.
Here’s to the summer chemist. You’ve earned this:
–The Lab Coat Cowboy–