There’s a difference between doing organic chemistry and really rocking it. Not that I currently “rock it”, but reading and practicing the Advanced Practical Organic Chemistry book was certainly my first step towards really getting down to business in the lab during my first year of graduate school. This is a must have tool for anyone starting off in the field.

Where do you even begin?

It’s hard starting in a new field. Heck, it’s hard just being a new student in a lab that is either established or brand spanking new. But one common denominator is that we all want to start off “right” and do things the “right” way.

There’s a practical sense to this, not just feeding the OCD that many of us in chemistry have. To make your life easier in the long run and ensure the reason reactions are failing are not due to your techniques or “hands” there are 9 things you need to consider:

  1. Safety. No point getting your PhD if it costs you your health.
  2. Your notebook. How do you organize it? TLCs, LCMS, NMRs, oh so much data. Electronic? Paper?
  3.  Your hood. So many ways to set things up. So many ways to go wrong.
  4. Air sensitive reactions. Easiest way to tell who is a newb and who has some experience.
  5. TLC. Oh the stains you never even knew existed…and how they can change your life.
  6. Small scale to large scale. Unique issues with each.
  7. Purification. Let’s face it. The reaction set-up was the easy part. Now how do you get that isolated 90% yield?
  8. The chemical literature…aka the Beast. There are ways to tame it.
  9. Scifinder what?

Okay. So all of these topics are critical to your success as a new researcher. And hey, PI’s listen up here. You should be handing these tools to your students. Or at least pointing them in the right direction. Which leads me to the main point of this post…

The Advanced Practical Organic Chemistry book…i.e. the chemist’s toolbox

For context I am the first graduate student in a new chemical biology lab. Now going into my 3rd year. I had a Master’s degree but we had no post docs and quickly was realizing that I had no clue how to set up a chemistry lab. Finally my buddy in another lab tells me of this book: the Advance Practical Organic Chemistry.

And man did things change from there.

The authors did an excellent job making this text accessible to someone new to the field and really was my guide for setting up our chemistry lab.

The text was concise, yet covered enough detail to serve as a guide that now every graduate student in my lab follows. I actually made it mandatory reading for all new students. We have a lab copy of the book, but today I counted a total of 5 copies through out the lab because people realize they need to use this as a crutch during their first year of grad school.

It really saved us a lot of headache. And if you already know this stuff and had a great mentor to show you the ropes, it’s still a voice savor so you can stop repeating yourself to every new person who comes through the lab.

Great example of the type of techniques introduced in the book. I would have never thought of adding a septum to a graduated cylinder.

Good tool, but not the end all

I think this quote from the preface sums up the value of the book pretty well:

It is not claimed to be a comprehensive compilation of information to meet all possible needs and circumstances; rather, the intention has been to provide sufficient guidance to allow the researcher to carry out reactions under conditions that offer the highest chance of success.

Most of us chemical biologist will as some point need to do a synthetic reaction. Some of us do them on a daily bases.

Either way I found this book to be a great guide for handling certain challenges in my project that not everyone else around me has had to encounter. I think that is the power of this type of resource and something anyone just starting should include in their toolbox.

Happy synthesizing,




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