Jul 17, 2010

Quick and easy flash column fix

Have u just broken the end of your favourite flash column? Is your glassblower over worked and won't get to your column for a few months?

Here is a quick and dirty fix for the end of your column. Simply find an appropriately sized disposable nalgene syringe (polypropylene types only, otherwise you will extract out nasty plasticisers, don't use the Terumo ones with the black plunger tips), cut the end off and CAREFULLY (with thick gloves) put the cut syringe on the end of the broken column. I do stress that u wear thick garden or oven gloves as that broken column will be mighty sharp and will slice through your hand/finger like butter if you slip. Make sure it's a snug fit - gentle heating of the syringe with a heat gun before application will help.

 The end product is a column that will fit any size test-tube. This trick is also handy for those columns that don't fit into the ends of small tubes.

Jun 1, 2010

The news of our death has been greatly exaggerated.

Although it has been a while since we have posted anything on the blog, I assure you, our select few followers that we are not dead, merely overworked. As we approach the middle of the year a number of us are approaching that penultimate point in our PhDs which requires our focus on the lab (and our boss has cracked the whip). I hope to continue blogging sporadically and hope that MSG will do the same when he has time. Keep checking in, we will hopefully be posting again soon.

In the meantime:

Apr 30, 2010

RBF Teaches: Drying solvents

So, when you do real chemistry and are able to use a manifold appropriately you can start to look at some genuinely difficult chemistry requiring dry conditions. The dry (or anhydrous) reaction is quite commonplace in synthetic labs and you will most likely come across it in your career, probably very early on. Once again, I suggest reading APOC as it details the use and setup of a manifold, the ways in which to perform anhydrous reactions and also how to dry solvents. I will hopefully be able to outline a few key steps in how we dry solvents in the lab at present and the few tricks I have picked up along the way.

  1. So to start you need to select your solvent and identify the ideal way of drying it. A great companion for any lab monkey is Purification of Laboratory Chemicals. This book will also show you ways in which to purify any other chemical in your lab inventory (some are not there but a lot are). So, find your solvent in this book and it is generally ideal to look for the rapid purification and drying methods. In our case we will use THF as an example.
  2. The next step is to set up your equipment so that the solvent stays dry. First, wash your glassware with acetone to remove any water and also some pure diethyl ether to remove any crud from the acetone.  DO THIS IN A HOOD and remove as much solvent from the glassware as possible. Next, I suggest putting your glassware (Distilation apparatus, collecting RBF etc.) in a hot oven overnight to ensure any solvent or water is well and truly gone. When you assemble the equipment the next day, take it out of the oven while hot, assemble and put under vacuum to ensure no condensation occurs (You may have to use another empty RBF to get vacuum ;)). Once dry and cool put the glassware under argon. You should also use a second RBF to use initially to catch the first fractions of the distilation as some impurities or lighter solvents can come through. Next, our book tells us a number of ways to dry a solvent but in our lab we use a still to distill this solvent. However, the use of a distilation bridge can just as easily work when you have no space for a still.
  3. The use of activated molecular sieves or some other innocuous dried material (e.g. KOH for TEA) can be placed in your dry collection flask to prevent the solvent becoming wet over time. It is also a good idea to grease the farthest part of all joints lightly with silica grease to ensure an airtight seal.
  4. Now it is time to dry our solvent. The drying agent used is usually sodium metal (either wire or pressed) and benzophenone as an indicator (benzophenone turns blue when complexed with Na in an atmosphere free of oxygen and water). The benzophenone undergoes a reaction with sodium to give non-volatile products that appear blue (due to the nature of the complex) when the solvent is dry and the atmosphere free of oxygen. If the solution is wet the sodium forms NaOH and takes the water out of solution as this salt. As an option another still can be set up to pre-dry the THF using CaH2. This prevents excess consumption of the sodium and benzophenone. N.B. Not a good idea to dry chlorinated solvents with sodium. Always make sure you read the procedure.
  5. Once you have your solvent you wish to dry, add your drying agent. In the case of sodium it is a good idea to have your solvent under argon and to crush the benzophenone onto the sodium. Try to be quick as the sodium can catch fire in the air, ensure you have a lot of the mineral oil on the sodium so that it is not exposed to air. Place the sodium with crushed benzophenone on it into the solvent and attach this flask to your distilation apparatus.
  6. Begin your distilation at the required temperature making sure you have a sufficient cooling system in place (i.e. if your solvent boils at lower temperatures then cool it well with ice water, but if it boils high or freezes at low temps then r.t. water is not a problem). Do not boil the still dry, this is dangerous, simply leave enough solvent to cover the drying agent completely.
  7. Once the distilation is complete, disconnect your collection flask ensuring that it is kept under argon, stopper (using a small amount of grease at the top of the neck) and place to one side.
  8. Quenching: Scary stuff if you don't do it right. Initially to quench something like CaH or Na you want to use something that will react with the agent but in a controlled way, for these two agents iPrOH (isopropyl alcohol) is a good choice. iPrOH is hindered and will not react quickly with the agent. First, cool the remaining solution on ice. Next slowly add iPrOH (add a decent amount, usually around 50-100mL) and allow to stir for 15min or so. Now you can add EtOH or MeOH (DO NOT ADD WATER) and continue to stir it on ice for a time. Eventually, you can start to add water dropwise to completely quench the solution but be mindful of the temperature of the solution and the development of bubbles. This is a warning that the quench is occuring and usually occurs quite rapidly. Then you can dispose of your waste in an appropriate waste drum and glory in your dry solvent.
I hope this helps you I will add some pics next time I see someone doing a distilation. Keep safe and don't blow yourselves up in the meantime. Read APOC and get the purification book (don't download it via torrent ;) ). Next I hope to write about schlenk lines or what we call a manifold.

Apr 29, 2010

Damn bureaucrats! Damn lab monkeys!

So lately, I have been super duper frustrated at life in the lab, so much so that I just couldn't stand to voice anything on this wonderful venting point. Anyway, it all started after I got back from a nice little holiday to Bali. The lab I came back to was a filthy mess and I had worked so damn hard to get it clean before I left that I was devastated to say the least. Anyway, the trend continued in a downward spiral and I have been getting more and more angry with the way things in the lab and around uni have been getting. More paperwork, more running around to get work done, more finxing things in the lab, more organising people to send chemicals or come and demo a new piece of lab equipment.

Anyway, I have been a good little gopher recently and have been rushing around trying to get things done but the amount of go between trying to get people to send items they said they would send or do things they said they would do has been so frustrating. I have decided that this all stems from the damn bureaucrats who need us to file 8 forms just to get one bottle of compound. I don't particularly like sitting behind a desk calling people or emailing them to get something done, it's time consuming and seems pointless. 

On a chemical side not unrelated, our CEM microwave has failed with a power supply error and the damn thing just came back with a replacement power supply. WTF!?!?! I have tried to run some reactions on the damn thing and it fails after 5min. Our water pumps that have lasted for years have all decided to trip all the fumehoods and die all at the same time. We have a brand new MPLC that we can't use and I really want to play with it :P. All in all what a crazy start to this semester......

And they have started up a repetition of Modern Talking again *GROAN*