Oberlin Blogs

Snow, Prop 8, and Chemistry

December 9, 2010

Zoe McLaughlin ’11

Monday morning marked the due date for the last of my thermo problem sets, leaving me with an unexpectedly free week before the examination madness hits. This is a very good thing because it means that I can spend tons of time this week in my lab. Due to a series of mishaps including a malfunctioning drying oven, I haven't gotten a lot done these past couple weeks. This week has been different. This week I am synthesizing and working up my compound even if it kills me.

My marathon lab session began on Monday. It was snowing outside, so I was happy to be inside where there was heat.

A window overlooking a snowy Finney Chapel
No heat outside.

The first thing I did was set up a computer and find a website streaming the Prop 8 Trial. That done, the chemistry began.

A laptop sits at a desk
Prop 8 Trial. My favorite part was when the judge would try to be a little funny and everyone else would feel very awkward and maybe laugh a little.

My reaction, as far as reactions go, is pretty straightforward. You dissolve some white powder in a solvent, add another chemical, and chemistry happens. Of course it's more complicated than that, but that's the basic idea.

A lab window during an experiment
Setup for my reaction, properly clipped so that nothing falls over and spills precious product/reactant everywhere.
an open notebook next to a scale
Getting ready to weigh my white powder.

One of the "more complicated" bits of my reaction is that after the chemistry starts happening, the whole system has to sit under a process known as reflux for about twenty-eight hours. The good thing about this is that it gives you an excuse not to go to lab for twenty-eight hours. The bad thing is that there's no instant gratification.

Tubes inside of a lab
Reflux: not an instantaneous process.

Tuesday, reflux had to continue happening until 7:00 PM, so I didn't have much to do in lab. I did, however, dry some acetone, because I knew that shortly I was going to need it. Then Wednesday it was time for more fun. It's a little-reported fact, but organic chemistry in general is actually composed mainly of working up your product. Doing the actual reactions takes very little time. It's all in the purification.

A measuring glass holding yellow liquid
The product of twenty-eight hours worth of refluxing. See all that white solid on the bottom? I want to get rid of all that.

I got rid of the solid by filtering it out. Then I used a fancy contraption known as a rotovap to evaporate off my solvent. A rotovap lowers the pressure of a sample so that it can boil at lower temperatures. It's a really cool--and useful--piece of lab gear.

A contraption with liquid inside of a glass
Rotovap, not currently rotary evaporating.

After the session with the rotovap, I had more solid to filter off. This was actually expected, and therefore a good thing.

A hand pours liquid out of a glass
Tubes and measuring glasses in a lab
More filtering. Look at that gorgeous product.

After the filtering, I rotovapped again before storing my lovely product in the refrigerator so that it doesn't ridiculously degrade by the time Friday rolls around. Because, yes, I will be back in lab on Friday, working on further purifying my product.

a measuring glass submerged in water
The final rotovap.

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