28 Juni 2007

The Old Country.

Something about a week ago, Hannes came in with something he'd made. It was a metal jar, probably fashioned out of an old coffee can, but with a topside slot for inserting money. You know, like a piggy bank or something. Why, in fact, there was even an image of Snoopy on the side:

Seems ordinary, doesn't it?

Well, not if you spin it around. The rest of the jar:

In case you can't see the writing, due to the lighting in the picture or the gamma of your monitor, it says: "womanish behavior cash." A little backstory: Prof. Wagner and his good friend and colleague, Prof. Holthausen, have this floating cash sum that gets deposited into whenever one of them engages in womanly behavior. This could be for saying something in a particular manner, dressing properly, eating with a knife and fork -- who knows. This jar is simply that tradition or pact taken physical form, and it has become of something of an workgroup joke. When I was asked by Prof. Wagner if the wording on the side was proper, I replied that it was, but would be considered politically incorrect. He replied that therein lies one of the advantages of being in Germany, for "in the old country, you can be politically incorrect." This sentiment is not unique to Prof. Wagner either.

Now, on to why this pertains to me:

1. The pump for my Schlenk apparatus is, in fact, small. Cute, even.
2. My chemistry is quite colorful:

-A white, substituted imidazole deprotonates to form the blue potassium (should I say "kaliates?") salt. The filtrate is also quite blue, but becomes quite pink after awhile.

-Dissolution of this salt in DMF yields a magenta solution that forms similarly colored crystals.

-A colorless diborate liquid combined with the white imidazole and potassium salt forms a reaction mixture that is reminiscent of taro. Sample this with DMF and you get grape juice. Reflux the taro to get pepto-bismol, which the solid product also looks like. This solvated in DMF turns quite rose.

Those annoying color tags should speak for themselves.

This sort of jar would never work in my more politically "correct" home. Not that I would want such a jar in our workgroup, but hypothetically this would especially never work at JSD given how many of the other students and professors are women. I don't think I need to mention Scripps College. I do intend to graduate in one piece, and I don't think that diplomas are awarded posthumously.

Please don't kill me.

20 Juni 2007


I'll post more later, but I'm just really exhausted right now. On the upside, we (Kerstin, Thorsten, and myself) are going to Hiedelberg for a catalysis conference. Originally, more people were going to go, but there was something of a snafu. I'm not sure of all the details, but... oh well.


15 Juni 2007

Oh, the Metric System.

For those of my less worldy American readers (of which most are the latter, and hopefully not the former), everywhere else in the world uses the metric system. We, however, still hold to our old and somewhat arbitrary and strange Imperial/English system of units and measures. As such, our body weights are in pounds (which is an actual unit of weight, as opposed to mass) and our heights are in inches and feet (or just inches). This is opposed to body mass in kilograms and height in centimeters.

The list goes on: volumes (for beverages or gas tanks), temperatures, distances...

All of this, you should already know and if I haven't yet bored you, please read on for the more interesting information.

Everyone in lab assumes that I work universally with the English system, including in lab and so (at first) made an effort to explain everything to me in such units. This includes volumes of solvents and liquids reagents (though they like to use the word 'educt'), masses of such items, and temperatures. All of this as though we don't use the metric system in lab in the States, which all of you Americans should know is insane. I don't think I've seen a paper written within the last century that used non-metric units.

All the same, it's very nice of my colleagues to make the effort and it's much appreciated, if somewhat humorous.

As a quick aside, a liter of gasoline here costs about the same as a gallon at home and there are approximately 3.8 liters per US gallon. Think about it.

14 Juni 2007

Such a weird day.

Well, I don't even know where to begin.

In the early afternoon, let's just say that I got an interesting chance to interact with some of my lab colleagues while we were setting up (of all things) a volleyball net. I'm not going to say any more than that, because you know what they say about opinions -- everyone's got them (you can fill in the parts I didn't finish).

Then, on the way back, I kind of jinxed the day because I pointed out a weird sign on the perimeter of campus. Sebastian informed me that the sign signifies the meeting point for fire drills... and real fires. I laughed because I thought the sign looked funny, it almost looked like it was promoting family cohesion or picnics on lawns or something. You can decide later when I get a picture of it. Anyway, Sebastian was deadly serious when he described the sign to me.

A few hours later, I'm in the computer lab processing NMR data (I hate data collection and analysis techniques -- seriously, they have some of the worst interfaces for any type of software) and I hear a weird noise. It sounds like a car alarm. It is, in fact, a fire alarm, but I didn't know it at the time. The janitor is in the room with me, and he scrambles out. I take the hint and poke my head out into the hallway. The door to next room over (a lab) opens, and there's a bright orange flash with a color and feel that only a fire, specfically, a quickly combusting fire, can make. Anyone who's been to a Benihana (I'm ashamed to have to reference it) or a place where there are large gouts of flame on a regular basis can relate. Then there's a smell of burning. People are in motion now, and there are fire extinguishers and such. I make my way along with everyone else outside and the whole building is evacuated.

Talk about jinxing the whole thing by noticing that stupid sign.

Names have obviously been omitted because you know how rumors and gossip spread. I'm not saying anything because I know only periphery details, and I'm not going to say anything more.

In fact, this whole post could have very well been fiction.

In other news, we have a party tomorrow!

13 Juni 2007


...Okay, technically it was yesterday.

...Okay, technically there wasn't snow.

But the power was out (sucks for anyone who had a pump running... say, like someone with a glove box) so we couldn't really do anything for awhile, so it was sort of like a snow day. Basically, there were two different modes that people occupied: standing around and drinking coffee, or sitting around... and drinking coffee. It was great:

While we were waiting for the power to come on, one of the group members, Ph. D. student Hannes Vitze, asked me for advice on wording for his presentation (to occur later that day). The working language is indeed English as English is quickly becoming (if not already) the standard language of chemists worldwide. He wanted to describe future work with his silanes (which are silicon compounds somewhat analogous to carbon alkanes), specifically to add sterically demanding substituents. His original word choice was "explode" which I explained was perhaps not the best word due to the other connotations of the word. Thus, he suggested "pimp" as in to "pimp up" his compound. David, standing behind us, then did a rendition of the show with the appropriate analogous statements substituted in. Imagine a world where Xzibit went around and helped chemists to pimp out their compounds. A strange world indeed.

Hannes kept the descriptor.

So here's a little explanation of scorpionates, though I have yet to work with any specifically, and in fact, I might be working with metalloborotranes instead. But, they have a neat sounding name as well as chemistry and application, so I'll proceed.

Scorpionates were invented by Swiatoslav Trofimenko ("Jerry" to his friends) in the mid 60's while he was working at DuPont. The more systematic name would be polypyrazolylborates, meaning that they consist of N-bonded pyrazoles to the tetracoordinated boron center, yielding an anionic species. The pyrazoles form the coordinating sites to a metal, and in fact, are the reason for the name of the class of compound: two of the pyrazoles (called pseudo-equatorial) latch on to a metal, forming the two pincer-claws of a scorpion (here, "pincer" describes the individual claw, not the manner in which the scorpionate binds to a metal). The remaining pyrazole (the pseudo-axial one) forms the stinging tail. Where all three coordinating moieties are the same yields a homoscorpionate, and where the tail moiety is different yields a heteroscorpionate.

Their other properties, in summary (and compared to the ubiquitous Cp or cyclopentadienyl ligand):
1. Are nominally tridentate, six electron donating ligands that attach in a facile manner (as opposed to meridional, like a pincer ligand).
2. Generally have C3v symmetry, as opposed to C5v symmetry (I have to look that up, I forgot the symmetry designators).
3. And more, but I have to run off to the break room because one of our group members is celebrating!

Speaking of chemistry, just the other day, I was working with d7-DMF (deuterated dimethylformamide) and just to give you an idea of how nervous I was, a 10 g ampule of the stuff costs about 170 € or about $ 226. So imagine now that I was told to take the whole ampule along with the rest of our stocks and cold distill it. I know that other isotope enriched solvents cost even more, but hey, I'm still kind of new.

I also got a haircut today at the mall (specifically NordWestZentrum). I was told by Kai to go into this one particular shop (whose name I now forget) and simply say "wash, cut, and go," but it turns out that's also their slogan. Anyway, I think I might have to do a little trimming on the back, lest it turn into a mullet. I'll be sure to put up pictures before, during, and after this process.

11 Juni 2007

My First Post.

I'm hoping that everything looks alright for Blogspot accessed over here in Germany appears (coincidentally) in German.

Anyway, as a general overview, this blog is to keep a general log of my thoughts and semi-daily events while on exchange to Frankfurt am Main, Germany.

I am a RISE (Research Internships in Science and Engineering) scholarship holder from the DAAD (Deutscher Akademischer Austausch Dienst) studying chemistry at the Wolfgang Goethe Universität of Frankfurt am Main. I am assisting Ph.D. (or Promotion, as they call it) student Kerstin Kunz in her research for AK Wagner (the work group/circle or 'arbeit kreis' of Dr. Matthias Wagner).

So far I've really only just familiarized myself with basic air and water free laboratory techniques (Schlenk techniques). I had a basic handle of their operations before, but not quite to the level of caution and sophistication that is used in Kerstin's lab. I've run a basic reaction while learning to, I imagine, get working experience with Schlenk technique while doing something useful.

Germany (well, just Frankfurt am Main) is pretty neat. It's also not altogether that different from the States, but as you well know, I don't get out often back home and that hasn't changed much here. I'll give myself some time to get familiarized before venturing out. Note that there are indeed two Frankfurts, one for the river Main (am Main), and the other for the river Oder (an der Oder).

I'm working on getting some pictures up soon, but I have to find a hosting service. Is Photobucket a free service? I'll look into that later.

Lastly, the time difference, for general reference, is nine hours -- California PST is GMT -8, and Frankfurt is GMT +1. Perhaps I could use Zulu time for all things, but that would be both expected of me and perhaps confusing for everyone else.