It had been a long couple of weeks already, with too much taken up in distracting meetings. Still, the next project meeting was coming up and progress was expected. With the crush of my schedule, I had attempted to make that progress through straightforward chemistry. Something that was sure to work. But the thing before me now, looking so innocent in my hood, was that most dangerous and insidious of foes, the literature procedure.
Of course, they make it all look so simple. Mix this with that, add a little of the other. Wait a few hours and you’re done. Simple extraction and no purification required. What could go wrong?
I gave a hollow laugh. I had given it my most close attention, let it stir all day. Then all night. Then all weekend. And still it remained in its constituent parts. I could almost hear it chuckling at me.
Well, we will see about that. If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the lab. I watched the rising temperature on the digital read-out with satisfaction. Something was sure to happen now.
Two hours later, as far as I could tell from my analysis and despite my earlier confident prediction, still nothing had happened. I made a slight adjustment to the heat. About 15 seconds later, I added another nudge upwards.
I waited, seemingly entranced by the stirring bar inside the vessel. I don’t think there is much evidence to support activation of chemical reactions by sheer will, but I was willing to get in on that research effort.
Perhaps it was that intense concentration and (I admit it) quiet desperation to get somewhere with this. Or perhaps it was a bottle of ether left out on a bench somewhere. Perhaps it was sun spots or the phase of the moon. Perhaps it was a subtle combination of all of these things. Either that or I was going crazy and no one is saner than the scientist, so it couldn’t be that. Anyway, I heard something. A voice. It appeared to be coming from inside the hood. I leaned closer. My forehead bounced off the pane of glass protecting me from my work.
That broke the spell. Clearly, I had been out of the sunlight too long again. Hearing voices now.
“Look, you, I don’t want to hang around with that one.”
I blinked. “You … don’t?” I managed.
“No. I mean really. This other one, well, it’s OK for a little while, quite fun as a matter of fact. But I’m not looking for anything long term.”
“I’m not denying that amines and aldehydes do get on pretty well for the most part. But I am still young, I’m not even a millimole yet. That’s no time to be going off and becoming all secondary.”
“I didn’t realize millimole was…”
“You wouldn’t, would you? I don’t know, why do you biologicals think you can understand us chemicals?”
I took a step back. I looked around to see if anyone had dropped an entire bottle of ether, with perhaps some kind of hallucinogen mixed in.
Other than the chatty amine in my reaction, it seemed remarkably quiet.
“OK,” I muttered to myself. “Don’t want to get together, eh? Maybe a little something to loosen the inhibitions.”
I took out the bottle of 200 proof ethanol and measured out a milliliter. I added to slowly to the stirring reaction. As an after-thought, I added a little chaser. A moment later, a further nudge to the heater.
My eyes may have lingered too long on the vessel. Plus, I recalled that I still hadn’t gotten out of the lab and perhaps into some fresh air. But again a voice.
“It won’t work, you know. The amine just doesn’t like me.” It was a new voice, with a perpetually peevish tone. “Can’t say I am too keen on any of them either.”
I flung my hands up. Then I realized what that might look like to anyone observing my activities. I went to get a fresh and special vial for my little reaction and its talkative contents.
The microwave was originally adapted to chemical reactions to give efficient heating and the debate over whether it truly has any beneficial effects beyond that is ongoing. Reactions are certainly cleaner and what is more, at least with the machine in front of me, you could heat to above the boiling point of the solvent, in effect giving a pressurized reaction. Of course, you had to be somewhat careful. Probes and monitors looked for pressure spikes and the thing had thick metal walls in case of any fault in the vial. In any case, it looked like it should suit my needs right now, which were, briefly, to show this reaction I meant business and to find something to show my boss in the project meeting tomorrow.
I detected some muffled sounds from the reactor. I dismissed them. Given the success rate so far, I could not as such claim to be feeling optimistic, but I did feel vindication that I was giving it my all. I pressed the start button and there was a hiss and a whir from the instrument.
“And nothing happened at all?”
“Well,” I answered carefully, “I didn’t detect anything more. The reactants appear to be sitting in different corners of the vial sulking.”
“I must say,” said my boss, jotting something on his pad, “that was one of the more colorful attempts to cover a total lack of progress.” He looked up. “I just hope I don’t have to hear one next group meeting.”
“Me too,” I replied. “Me too.”