Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Fun Chemistry

Caution: what you are about to read could quite possibly bore you to death unless a large part of you is a nerd.

Hello All,

Well, if you didn't think that it could get any more boring, it just has. I think I will talk about chemistry because that is all I have been doing all day. Yesterday we started our first reaction since I got here(the rest of the time I was just sitting around playing on the computer and posting blogs(and getting ready to start)). This reaction was to make mesityl imidazole, which was not to special to me because we did the same reaction a couple times last September.

After we started the reaction the real fun started. The rest of the guys (and girls) in the lab were making chromatography plates, which would usually be a pretty boring job. But not here. They were having so much fun, I decided I would try my hand at it for a bit. What you have to do is measure out the silica and then mix it with water by shaking it in a flask. I don't think I have ever seen anyone shake anything as hard as they were shaking the silica gel. I tried my best, put my whole body into it, but it was never enough. At least everyone, including me, was having a good laugh at my poor attempts to shake this little flask. Then you have to quickly poor it into a mechanism that allows the gel to be pored across the pieces of glass evenly. That was the easy part and I managed to do it with very few laughs. I let someone else spread it out, because I didn't want to mess them up, but as soon as the gel get spread out over the plates you have to rush in and pick them up and start banging the on the bottom so that you can get all the imperfections out before it dries. Again, the laughs started as I was not hitting the piece of glass hard enough. I was afraid I was going to break it, something that one of the guys next to me did. Well, after trying a few times, and messing up at least two or three plates, I decided to leave it to the professionals.

When we came in this mooring we had to finish the work up from the reaction that we started yesterday and I had another first. Even though the reaction was the same, the work up/purification was very different. The workup included doing a chromatography column, which even though it looked pretty easy, I still managed to make a few mistakes. To do a chromatograph column, all you do is put a piece of cotton at the bottom of a tall skinny piece of glass tubing and then pour sea sand on top of that, then silica gel (the same stuff as in the chromatography plates), the more sand, then the mixture you are trying to separate, then more sand and then a bunch of solvent. The idea is that gravity will pull the different compounds in the mixture down at different speeds due to the fact the layers of filters will slow each compound down differently. You then separate the solution coming out the bottom and test each one to see if it is the product that you are looking for.

The picture on the left is before we added our stuff was added, and the picture on the right is most of the way through the process, you can see the different solutions we separated out in the different flasks.

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