08:21 – Barbara took today off work to get some stuff done around the house and yard. This afternoon, she’ll start labeling a thousand or so containers for the new batch of biology kits. I’ll be making up solutions to fill the bottles.
Yesterday, I commented, “Unfortunately, I had no idea if we had any DEET and, if so, where it was. The first thought that crossed my mind, of course, was “I wonder how difficult this stuff is to synthesize.”” A lot of people thought I was kidding, but I was serious. It’s a generational thing.
Our friend Paul Jones is a professor of organic chemistry at Wake Forest University, and is half a generation younger than we are. I suspect that most or all of the time Paul needs a chemical for one of his classes, he just orders it from Sigma or Fisher or Alfa. It didn’t used to be that way. When I started undergraduate chemistry in 1971, the chemistry department ordered a lot of the chemicals they needed, but they also made a lot of them, often liters or kilograms at a time. In fact, it wasn’t unusual for rising junior and senior chemistry majors to have summer jobs at the college. They’d spend the summer doing syntheses. For many of the chemicals, it a lot cheaper to make them rather than buying them, even assuming that they were commercially available. That wasn’t always the case.
I remember talking to one of my chemistry professors, who would have been in his late 50’s at the time. He started off on the “you kids don’t appreciate how easy you have it nowadays” thing. When he was in undergrad chemistry in the 1930’s, he worked summers at the college synthesizing the chemicals they’d need for the following year. He said that about the only thing they bought was common precursors like acids and simple organics. Everything else, they made.
So, yeah, I was serious. My first thought really was, “I wonder how difficult this stuff is to synthesize.”
Speaking of which, I spent some time on the phone yesterday with John Farrell Kuhns, the owner of H.M.S. Beagle, a full-range home science supplies vendor in Kansas City. Among many other goodies, John carries a huge selection of raw chemicals, something like 700+ chemicals at last count. I was telling him that Barbara and I were about to start making up chemicals for a new batch of biology kits, and he commented that sometimes it seemed that he did nothing else all day long except label and fill chemical bottles. Tell me about it.
15:28 – Barbara is labeling bottles while she watches Felicity on Netflix streaming. She started by labeling 15 sets each for the substitute chemicals we ship with the Canadian versions of the chemistry and biology kits, and then got started on 30 sets each of the 15 mL bottles for the US biology kits. She works with a sheet of labels in front of her, a large box of unlabeled bottles on one side of her, and a labeled plastic bag to receive the labeled bottles on the other side of her. She said a few minutes ago that she was running short of the 15 mL bottles, so I went back to the stock room to refill her supply box. When I told her that I’d had to open the next-to-last case of 1,100 of those bottles, she commented that it was time to re-order. Which it will be soon. Those 2,200 bottles are roughly 80 to 100 kits worth, depending on the kit. And as I was refilling her box of unlabeled bottles, it occurred to me that I’d never imagined that I’d ever think that having only 2,200 new 15 mL bottles would constitute a shortage, or that I’d ever be transferring such bottles with a large scoop.
16:03 – So, Barbara is sitting in the den labeling bottles and watching Felicity. For those of you fortunate enough never to have seen this TV series, it’s about a bunch of whiny, obnoxious college students. The women are women, and the men are women too. So, I can hear the audio from my office. The students are sitting in a chemistry lecture, and the professor says, and I quote, “There are three main aspects to stereochemistry: chirality, handedness, and symmetry.” Say what? I shouted in to Barbara that chirality and handedness are synonyms. She thanked me. Thinking perhaps I could help her decipher the plot, such as it is, I then shouted in, “That guy’s not really a chemistry professor; he’s just pretending to be one.” “He’s an actor,” she replied. As though that’s an excuse for reciting garbage lines.
And, speaking of men being men, I saw an article about Zuckerberg the other day that mentioned that he wears the same thing every day, a gray t-shirt, of which he owns about 20 identical ones. He also mentioned that he has one drawer, “like men everywhere.” Ain’t that the truth? I mentioned the article to Barbara, who said she’d already read it and, of course, thought of me.