A week in my life

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 electronDTDA 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

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.

Tuesday 

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!

Wednesday

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.

Thursday

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.

Friday

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!

wine

Author biography:

 

LauraJane

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/)

 

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#RealTimeChem week 2014 – Tweets of the Week

Hello everyone,

First of all, thank you very much to everyone who took part in #RealTimeChem week this year. Once again it was great fun and fantastic to see such a wide variety of chemists taking part from across the globe. It’ll be interesting to see what happens in 2015!

Obviously, #RealTimeChem is a 24/7 project, so feel free to keep sharing chemistry whenever you want and engage with your fellow chemists around the world.

There were a lot of really great tweets this week as seen in this years awards. This was actually really really hard to decide on. If I had enough prizes I would have given you all one. Unfortunately, only the very best of the best can win one of this years prizes.

This years must have item for the discerning chemist.

Time to find out who has won these beauties!

RTCW2014Tweetsoftheweek

 

Below you shall find the three winners of the “Tweets of the Week” for #RealTimeChem week 2014. These three tweeters not only produced these excellent tweets, but also many more throughout the week and I think they are all worthy winners of a #RealTimeChem Week 2014 mug. Congratulations to you all!

WINNERS 

LauraJane

From Monday – this tweet from the whimsical Laura Jane (@laurajane0103) was only one of many fantastic contributions during the week. It sums up a typical day in the laboratory for many in a fun way. It’s what #RealTimeChem is all about and was a great way to start the week.

 

Andres

From Tuesday – this polyurethane strawberry milkshake almost looked good enough to drink! Andres Tretiakov (@Andrestrujado) shared a whole host of wacky, fantastic and exciting chemistry during the week and any one of them could have won a Platinum award, but I try not to give out more than one to any contributor!

 

JohnGrimes

 

From Wednesday – food was a big theme of #RealTimeChem week this year and I’m definitely a fan of cooking (even if I’m not that good at it). John Grimes (@jgrimesjr) shared quite a range of tweets over the week, but my favourite was this close up tweet of a delicious looking peanut butter-y product. It could also be the clouds of a gas giant! Either way I love the texture in it and I also really appreciate the humour with which the tweet was delivered, chemistry often looks better than it smells!

 

 

So there you have it. If all three winners could please send me a DM on twitter with their address as soon as possible and I’ll get that prize out to you.

Once again thank you to everyone who took part in #RealTimeChem week 2014. I hope you had fun, learned something new and found some new connections in the chemistry world.

mischief managed

-Doctor Galactic & The Lab Coat Cowboy-

Tweets of the week prizes! #RealTimeChem Week 2014

Hello all,

As you may recall last year I gave away some ChemSpider Lab Coats as prizes for the “Tweets of the Week”, which were kindly donated by the RSC. This year I’ve splashed out a little and got some #RealTimeChem branded mugs to give away to the top three Tweeters.

This years must have item for the discerning chemist.

This years must have item for the discerning chemist.

For information on how you can win a mug of your very own, check out the FAQ, which tells you all about the “RealTimeChem Awards” and how they work.

So make sure you tweet something fantastic next week for #RealTimeChem week 2014, which starts on 23rd June.

Good luck!

-Doctor Galactic & The Lab Coat Cowboy-

RealTimeChem Week 2014 – starts 23rd June 2014

Dear RealTimeChem brigade & other chemists of the world,

This year’s #RealTimeChem Week will take place the week starting Monday 23rd June 2014.

For further information check out the updated FAQ. Posters you can use are still to come if anyone fancies designing some I will happily put them up on the FAQ for people to use.

RTCWeekBannerInternational2014

 

So please spread the word and I hope you’ll share something fantastic with us that week in the Twitterverse.

 

Best,

-Doctor Galactic & The Lab Coat Cowboy-

 

Milestones and RealTimeChem Week 2014

Hello everybody!

The Blog lives! I have been away from it for a little too long. To be fair, I’ve been busy with work and life in general, both of which haven’t left much time for writing. However, I aim to get back in the saddle in the next few months. I’ve got a few ideas regarding #RealTimeChem and creating a hub on the blog for chemists to come to and find useful resources. First priority though it to update the FAQ for #RealTimeChem for general use so that newcomers know what it’s all about. I’ve almost completed so fingers crossed it’ll be up in the next few weeks.

While Doctor Galactic and the Lab Coat Cowboy has been off the interweb, the Twitter account has continued to document some great #RealTimeChem from across the world and last week it reached a significant milestone by gaining it’s 2000th follower (which is still less than Chemistry Cat…). It’s also past 9,500 Tweets and closing in on the magical 10,000th tweet (we’ve actually Tweeted more times than both Nature Chemistry and Chemistry World, but notably not more than infamous tweet splurgers Angewandte Chemie), the vast majority of these tweets are retweets of actual Real-time chemistry in action. There’s been a fantastic amount of variety in location and content of these Tweets and I’m always excited to log in each day and see what everyone’s been up to.

When I started the feed I didn’t believe it’d ever reach such a number and it’s a testament to the fantastic chemistry community on Twitter that it’s got this far. So thanks to everyone who has joined in so far and I hope you’ll continue to share your chemistry and have fun engaging with other chemists around the world. I am open to any ideas and suggestions from the community for what #RealTimeChem can do for them, so feel free to email me at RealTimeChem@gmail.com.

I imagine many of you are wondering about this….

Real Time Chem Week 2014 - it'll happen. Once we've decided WHEN it'll happen.

Real Time Chem Week 2014 – it’ll happen. Once we’ve decided WHEN it’ll happen.

Certainly, the second annual RealTimeChem week will be happening this year. It will likely run slightly differently. There will probably be some new prizes if I can snag some. The question is this…when should it be? As usual this shall be decided by you, the community.

I’ve been a late on the game so April is a little bit out of the running this year, as the event needs some proper prep time. You can vote for up to 3 different months and if you have any more specific suggestions for the timing of the event, then please sound off in the comments section.

Anywho, I must bid you adieu for now.

 

Doctor Galactic & The Lab Coat Cowboy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

#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.

Imagine him with a white coat and you're half-way there.

Imagine him with a white coat and your half-way there.

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.

Me in the summer in the lab. Clearly the hat was a mistake.

Me in the summer in the lab. Clearly the hat was a mistake.

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”.
The chemistry lab in summer.

The chemistry lab in summer.

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….

This is totally a chemistry lab. We all have white coats don't we?

This is totally a chemistry lab. We all have white coats don’t we?

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:

ice-cold-beer-330461

The Lab Coat Cowboy