This blog is my attempt to reconnect with the world of chemistry. I have a PhD in Inorganic Chemistry and make a living doing research for a large company in Michigan. As times have changed, that company has changed its focus and I no longer have as much chance to do the basic, fundamental research which I most enjoy. Through this blog, I am hoping to recapture the magic which I felt during my graduate (and undergraduate) days in college. Expect topics on chemistry and alchemy along with some non-chemistry related items which I think might be interesting.

"The chymists are a strange class of mortals, impelled by an almost insane impulse to seek their pleasure among smoke and vapour, soot and flame, poisons and poverty; yet among all these evils I seem to live so sweetly that may I die if I would change places with the Persian King."

Johann Joachim Becher (phlogistonist)
Acta Laboratorii Chymica Monacensis, seu Physica Subterranea, (1669).

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Glass -- Not Just For Inorganic Chemists!

Back in the day, we used glass in the lab. Our glassware was glass, our cuvettes were glass, and our eyedroppers were glass. Even our Bunsen burners were glass. And we liked it! Times were good. Having nice, shiny glass equipment on your lab bench made you feel superior to everyone else. And cleaning glass was easy. You just threw everything into a KOH bath for a couple of hours (or weeks) and they came out as good as new.1 The only reason anyone ever threw glassware away was because of breakage, and even then, if it was only a crack, you kept using it anyway. Or you brought it back to the dorm room/apartment/home office as a showpiece. (Just ask my wife.)

But now you can get almost everything in plastic. Plastic beakers, plastic eyedroppers, plastic volumetric flasks …it’s insidious.2 Not only does this practice decrease our valuable reserves of bisphenol A, but it also facilitates the practice of “throwing out” versus “cleaning up”.3 Even worse, it allows the organikers a foothold into the Hallowed Halls of Inorganic chemistry. Dammit! Inorganic reactions should be performed in Inorganic vessels! And silica is about as inorganic as you can get.4

But evil always loses out in the end. It’s now been reported that certain organic compounds which tend to leach out of plastic labware can influence (read: screw up) certain experiments. Ha! I always knew those plastic testtubes were releasing nasty organic chemicals! Plastic should only be used to store foods and medicines.

I'll write about this more after I finish repairing a cracked beaker of mine with some epoxy.

I'd like to take this opportunity to apologize to those readers who have sent me emails asking for information. Although I've been neglecting this site lately due to employment concerns, I've been totally remiss in actually checking out my emails. I'll try to start answering your questions in the future. Thanks again.

Footnotes – I blame the large number of footnotes on Carbon Based Curiosities and its influence on the blogosphere.

1KOH/ethanol baths work by slowly dissolving the surface of the glass. It’s an excellent way of dealing with stubborn deposits, although it can trash a fritted glass filter if you leave it in there for too long. There are limitations however. In my attempt to decorate my home office with all sorts of exotic glassware, I’ve discovered that while KOH can make laboratory glassware (borosilicate) look like new, it can mar the finish of regular old antique glass bottles. You have been warned!

2Some of those plastic volumetric flasks have no menisci when holding aqueous solutions. I tell you, that’s damned unnatural.

3I’m actually fairly conflicted about this “throwing out” vs “cleaning up” dilemma. Anyone who knows me knows I’m a hoarder. I rarely throw anything away. Yet, I’m really bad about cleaning, so I tend to find myself surrounded by hoards of dirty, unusable stuff. (Just ask my wife.)

4Any evidence (video or otherwise) pertaining to my use of nonglass vessels or equipment is categorically denied.


Chemgeek said...

"Footnotes – I blame the large number of footnotes on Carbon Based Curiosities and its influence on the blogosphere."

Exactly. For a while I was stuck in a 6 footnotes a post habit. I cured that by taking up smoking and not posting anything.

Ψ*Ψ said...

(Ha! I win! I think I actually stole the footnoting from Dylan Stiles of Tenderbutton, but I use it a bit more...extensively.)

The only thing I find plastic beakers useful for is fluoride solutions. And while the lack of a meniscus is a little weird, it's useful for volumetrics. Unfortunately, it's also a bit more difficult to SEE through a plastic volumetric flask...

The Chemist said...

The plural or meniscus is not meniscuses? Well that's damn disappointing.