Archive for the ‘Attempted Humor’ Category

Lab Entrance Exam

Thursday, May 30th, 2013

ed_baseballcap_150All of a sudden, I’ve started receiving a deluge of e-mail from undergraduate students looking to start research. Given the space limitations, one of my labmates joked that to be fair, I should sponsor a Hunger Games style competition for admission to the lab.

I have never watched or read “The Hunger Games,” but I am somewhat uncomfortable sponsoring any sort of fight to the death. Nonetheless, it is interesting to think of what characteristics you’d like to have in prospective students. Perhaps a proper entrance exam would be more appropriate than mortal combat?


Lab Entrance Exam for Undergraduate Students

The lab entrance exam is held on the first Saturday of each month beginning at 6 am. It is broken down into the following subjects. You may use a calculator. Good luck.

Glassblowing: Given a BBQ grill and a 55-gallon drum of sand, construct a vacuum manifold for your fume hood.

Art of Negotiation: Given a p-card loaded with $50, purchase a stirring hot plate, lab jack, variac, and set of heating mantles for your bench. Hot plate must be IKA-brand or better.

Hazardous Waste Disposal: Using qualitative tests from gen chem and orgo lab, determine whether the unlabeled bottle of frothy orange liquid left in our future lab space should be disposed of as aqueous acidic, aqueous basic, halogenated organic, non-halogenated organic, or heavy metals waste. Fill out an appropriate waste label and carefully move the bottle to the waste collection cabinet.

Visual Acuity: From a distance of two meters, determine absorption maxima for the three solutions of chromophores sitting on the bench. Each chromophore has only one peak in the visible spectrum. Bonus: estimate extinction coefficients.

Safety: Within 15 seconds, locate and activate the lab’s eye wash station after donning a blindfold and being spun around twenty times.

Language/Writing: Translate any article in the journal Tetrahedron into English.

Olfactory Acuity: Given a hard copy of our group inventory, open the stockroom fridge for two seconds and report what bottles are leaking. If you haven’t already fallen unconscious, locate them and tighten the lids.

Skepticism: Write a 2000-word letter detailing the experimental deficiencies of any recent paper by an associate editor or advisory board member of Science, Nature, JACS, or Angewandte. If the editor refuses to publish your letter, upload it to Reddit/chemistry.

Endurance: Collect 1000 10-mL fractions of a streaky porphyrin mixture by flash chromatography. Rotavap each to dryness and collect an NMR spectrum for every 20th fraction.

Shuttle Run: Transport eight 20 L drums of methylene chloride from the VWR stockroom to our lab.

Strength: Steal a belt driven vacuum pump from the lab two floors above ours. Do not use our cart—I don’t want it scratched or stained with oil.

Instrumentation: Using a pair of yellow dishwashing gloves, duct tape, a cylinder of carbon dioxide, and anything you can buy at The Container Store for under $100, construct a glove-box suitable for our work simulating the prebiotic atmosphere.

Manual Dexterity: Replace the regulator on a nitrogen cylinder using no tools but your bare hands. Fastest time wins maximum points, but leaks in the system will result in penalties.


I’d be happy to take any students who could finish these tasks, even if they were lazy and skipped one or two of them.


An Interesting Position at Columbia

Tuesday, May 14th, 2013

I don’t know why I find myself writing so many posts about happenings at Columbia, but I do. And the trend continues, thanks to this ad I found on page 84 of the March 18th edition of Chemical & Engineering News:


The ad begins:

THE DEPARTMENT OF CHEMISTRY seeks to appoint an Associate in Discipline beginning July 1, 2013, for our busy undergraduate laboratory programs. This is a full-time special instructional faculty position with multiyear renewals contingent on successful review…

An Associate in Discipline, you say? Great. I can think of a few chemists at Columbia who need to be disciplined (1 2)…

Radio Prank: Dihydrogen Monoxide in the Water

Thursday, April 4th, 2013

I was amused by a news story out of Florida, where a pair of disc jockeys were suspended after going on the radio Monday (April Fools’ Day) and reporting that the local water supply had dihydrogen monoxide in it. Unaware that dihydrogen monoxide is H2O, and H2O is water, many residents went crazy:

Click for Video

As if we needed any more evidence that science education in this country is absolute crap.

What’s more, the DJs might face felony charges. From a legal standpoint, I’m interested in seeing how this one turns out. I haven’t heard any direct quotes from the broadcast, but can you charge someone with a crime for stating a scientific fact? I’m assuming they were careful and said something along the lines of “there’s dihydrogen monoxide in the water” as opposed to “the water is poisoned with dihydrogen monoxide.” Anyway, I suppose the DJs went in with a fair amount of mens rea; what else did they expect to happen?

Synthetic Champion

Wednesday, March 20th, 2013


Black Smoke

Friday, March 15th, 2013



Photo sources/credits: User “Vdp” on Wikipedia, Catholic Church (of England and Wales), Prince George’s County Fire Department (via C&EN)