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Turnkey chemistry May 22, 2008

Posted by fetzthechemist in Careers.

It has always bothered me when someone uses an instrument or software and assumes that the results are the definitive answer just because the product claims to do it. This mentality does not rely on any understanding of the basic premises – the theory, assumptions, strengths, and weaknesses of it.

I see people using analytical methods designed for one matrix in another totrally different one, only assuming universallity, never looking if there are matrix effects. I see molecular models used to refute experimental data! The real labwork does not fit, so it must be wrong. I see analyses done not taking into account different response factors for solvent changes or assuming one compound’s works for a whole class of similar compounds.

I see spectral matching programs solely used and the operator does not care or have the knowledge to see how bad a “bad” fit really is. I see data fit by least-squares with a correlation of 0.97, and the data is obviously seen as a not linear set – quadratic or cubic curvature, but the person just “fits” the data.

Do people even learn fundamentals anymore?



1. selenized - May 28, 2008

I’ve noticed a great many people treat their instruments like crystal balls — they magically give out numbers when samples are introduced.

Where I went to school intro analytical chemistry was required, but anything beyond the very basics was not and only people interested in instruments took them. Consequently most chemistry majors ended up with a very cursory understanding of how the instrument worked and a vague or nonexistent grasp of its strengths and weaknesses.

I’d say that analytical just isn’t stressed as much at the undergrad level, which is unfortunate since even if you don’t become an analytical chemist the skill set is useful.

2. fetzthechemist - June 9, 2008

Many chemistry departments have large numbers of organic and physical chemists. One group thinks analytical is simple and easy to use – they identify synthesis products by MS, FTIR, NMR and get yield numbers or purify a product. The other thinks that analytical is weak because the spectroscopy is so applied and the understanding of phase behavior, thermodynamics, etc. is too simplistic that it cannot be real science. You’re lucky to find a quant course that has labs not still focused on gravimetric or potentiometric analysis (hardly useful anymore) and little directed toward chromatographs and spectrometers.

UC Berkeley, near where I live, is a prime example. Undergrads get almost no analytical coursework – but they get lots of organic and inorganic syntheses and theoretical physical chemistry because the department is structured around those areas. The same is generally true for grad schools.

Yet, the bulk of jobs available is in analytical – so lots of synthetic organickers and phyical chemists sell themselves as analytical chemists because they have run a GC or spectrometer. They know the basics, learn a little on the job, but are still woefully short of being very skilled at analyses.

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