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The last generation of wet chemists? November 13, 2009

Posted by fetzthechemist in Uncategorized.

Having gone through undergrad and grad school in the ’70s, I had to take analytical courses where you learned about wet chemistry – titrations of all sorts, precipitation reactions to remove interferences or in the single case of Ag(I) actually using it for chloride, iodide, cyanide determinations, organic derivatization for colorimetric analusis (dinitrophenylhydrazines for ketones and aldehydes comes to mind), et cetera. My research advisor in grad school, Lockhart B. Rogers, had come through in the 30s, so that was the analytical of his first learning and he made sure we knew it on cumes and included a section in one of his courses that was strictly that sort of thing.

Over the intervening thirty years, I see more emphasis on purely instrumental analysis as the learning. I know if you teach one thing more, something else must drop off the curriculum…..except professors ought to still require grad students to know some of that for cumes. But I see less and less chemistry in the knowledge base of younger chemists. I find that both sad and worrying. All that sort of knowledge helps tie all those seemingly arcane factoids of general chemistry into part of a cohesive understanding of all of chemistry. Inorganic and organic chemists learn their area, but in analytical they are mainly at a users-level in understanding. If analytical chemists are losing their knowledge of the chemistry, the applications get narrowed and the problems inherent get lost and there is a reliance on less valid information.

What to do? I guess at every point, a good chemist ought to still be learning the applicable chemistry to whatever she or he is doing. It is not just all about button pushing.



1. AlchemX - November 13, 2009

The analytical stuff is very important these days. Going into an interview and being able to tell someone you know how to use those instruments will put you far ahead of a wet chemist at an entry level job. We need wet chemists, but we also need jobs.

I think universities are doing the right thing by moving in that direction, but it is helpful to have an understanding of chemistry that goes beyond software usage.

2. fetzthechemist - November 14, 2009

I am not saying it is wrong with this trend, but once out of school and in those jobs the chemists ought to then spend time learning the chemistry basics that make the instrumental methods work well or work poorly. Too many chemists fall into a 8-hour day mentality, which leads to average or mediocre performance. You need to spend some extra time learning what it takes to be good and effective.

3. tyrosine - November 15, 2009

Interesting post. Organic and inorganic chemist is about making stuff so there will be a wet chemistry aspect about those disciplines for the forseeable future. Analytical chemistry, on the other hand, is mostly about gathering numbers and measuring. That lends itself to instrumentation of course. Maybe there’s less reason to retain wet chemistry in analysis – like there’s no more reason to know how to wtite HTML in order to create or maintain a web site.

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