Wednesday, January 1, 2014

"He that can have patience can have what he will."

Being in the laboratory for 10+ years in a few different roles, one tends to hear many inane things…the trick is to minimize your exposure to the ridiculousness.

So, here are three of my favorite stupid exchanges of all-time and in no particular order…
Exchange # 1

When preparing a solution of acetonitrile and concentrated formic acid (80:20) for mass spectrometer part cleaning...
AH: “Why do we use formic acid and acetonitrile? Why don’t we use acetic acid?”
Me: “Why would we use acetic acid?”
AH: “Because when you mix formic acid and acetonitrile, the resulting product is acetic acid.”
Me: “Seriously? No, that is not correct. I’m going to walk away for a minute, but I’ll be back to explain why it isn’t correct.”
AH: “Ok.”

Exchange # 2
I’m sitting at a LC/ToF instrument one day fiddling with the MS source. AH approaches me from his spot in front of another LC/ToF.
AH: “I just had a thought.”
Me: “Yeah, what is it?”
AH: “You know the LC that we have in front of the ToF as a separation mechanism?”
Me: “Yeah, I’m familiar with what an LC is and does.”
AH: “Well, what if we completely removed it from the mass spec?”
Me: “We can do that, but we would have no separation mechanism prior to MS analysis and all of our validated analytical methods would be useless.”
AH: “Well, that was my thought.”
Me: “Ok. What part was your thought? Expound on that please.”
AH: “What if we removed the LC and turned the ToF mass spec on its side?”
Me: “Why would we do that? That’s absurd.”
AH: “Think about it…we could utilize gravity to separate our mixture in the MS. We wouldn't need to spend money on an LC any longer.”
Me: “Ok. How about I write this down and take this to the lab director for her approval?”
AH: “Really? Would you do that for me?”
Me:  “…No…”
AH: “Huh?”
Me: “Let me leave you for a while and let you ponder your chemistry education throughout the years. Think about it really hard. And if you don’t know why that’s a really ridiculous idea by the time I come back, then we can discuss.”

Exchange # 3
While loading a batch of specimens on a LC/ToF one day, in my peripheral vision I notice AH running around frantically near some LC/MS/MS instruments and tapping on various argon tanks.
AH: “I think my nitrogen tank is empty.”
Me: “Why do you say that?”
AH: “I’m infusing a sodium formate solution to calibrate the ToF and I’m getting very intermittent signal – it disappears and reappears. So, I was checking the gas tanks to see if they were empty.”
Me: “First, the ToF uses nitrogen and the tanks you were looking at are argon.”
AH: “Ok, so what’s the issue?"
Me: “You were tapping on argon tanks for the MS/MS instruments and the ToF doesn’t use argon.”
AH: “Ok, I understand. So, where are the nitrogen tanks?”
Me: “Second, are you sure you don’t have some sort of air bubble in the tubing or syringe you are using for infusion?”
AH: “No, I checked. No air bubbles. All clear.”
Me: “Let me check.”
We walk over to the LC/ToF on which he is actively infusing calibration solution.
Me: “AH! There is a visible air bubble in the syringe. I can see it from 5 feet away. That’s your issue.”
AH: “Where’s the nitrogen tanks? I still think that’s the issue.”
Me: “If you really want to know…we have one very large liquid nitrogen tank outside those doors in the rear of the building.”
I point to the doors.
AH takes off through the doors and outside.
I clear the air bubbles in the syringe and tubing and then go back to my business.
AH comes back ten minutes later.
AH: “I think I found the issue.”
Me: “The air bubble has been cleared…”
AH: “There’s an ice build-up on the outside of the nitrogen tank.”
Me: “…I also calibrated your MS for you….Wait, what did you say?”
AH: “There’s ice on the nitrogen tank!!!”
Me: “And why is that? THINK.”
AH: “…”
I walk away.

There you have it.  And all of these people have degrees in chemistry…

In all seriousness, in exchanges 1 and 2, in the end we talked about why the thoughts were incorrect and in exchange 3, he had an epiphany and figured it out on his own. So, all was good in the end. Teaching experiences galore in the lab!


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