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Birth of an Idea

Cliff Diving

I haven’t given any updates on my side project experiments recently. I’ve been preparing a number of starting materials and getting things ready for another big run. I’m using a number of systems that people use for other (more normal) purposes at work, but I’m bending things around so much that everything has to be re-checked. And I don’t have priority over anyone, which is as it should be for something this speculative, so I have to work in between what everyone is supposed to be doing. Finally, I think everything is in order. I’m setting up a new round of experiments tomorrow.
It’ll be a few days before I know if anything has worked, though. The experiment itself is rather lengthy, and the analysis isn’t trivial, either. I actually have two or three different variations of the idea all about ready to run, so it’s going to be a real flurry of activity by the long, slow standards I’ve been working by. I wanted to take more risks in my research this year, and here they are, reporting for duty.
Are any of these things really going to work? I wish I could evaluate the chances better, because that would help me figure out what to run next. As it is, this is such terra incognita stuff that I just don’t know what to expect. I shouldn’t complain about that, though, since that’s what being a scientist is supposed to be about. It’s an odd feeling to be living it, though. There’s nothing quite like it.
I’ve been out on several edges of knowledge over the years. Plenty of chemists experience the no-one’s-ever-made-this-molecule edge (in industry, of course, we count on that being the case). You can get out to that territory pretty quickly, even now. Then there’s the discovery of a new reaction, the no-one’s-ever-made-something-this-way edge of knowledge. I’ve been in on one or two of those, too, and there are research groups that make it their whole business.
But this one is really out there, to the point where colleagues raise their eyebrows at me when I explain it to them. This, though, is where I’ve wanted to be ever since I started doing research. Win or lose, I feel privileged just to set experiments like these up. Here we go.

9 comments on “Cliff Diving”

  1. qetzal says:

    Good luck! Hope it works.
    The nice thing is, even when these don’t work out, they’re still a blast. Just trying something that novel, knowing there’s a chance it might work, is a huge rush.

  2. Mark says:

    I’ve been wondering what was up with those experiments…do keep us posted!
    These types of experiments are the essence of why many of us have chosen chemistry–the thrill of the chase and not really knowing what we will see down the path.

  3. Derek Lowe says:

    Just made up the last stock solution that I need. Now I’m sitting down a label a whole pile of little vials, which is something (like rota-vapping) that you never seem to budget enough time for. . .

  4. Milo says:

    Derek,
    1) I am glad that folks like you in the world of Pharma get to mess around and do something cool, risky and exciting (when time allows!).
    2) Without giving too much away… can you give us a hint as too what you are trying to do (obviously no specifics… just really broad generalities)? Are you doing synthetic methodology? Making Taxol from cigar ashes and used motor oil?
    Regardless, I still enjoy reading about the progress. This is the same idea from 2002?

  5. steve says:

    I’ve just been reading “Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!” – I think he lived on this kind of experimentation – it’s great to read that you get a chance to do something ‘out there.’

  6. Derek Lowe says:

    There, the first batch of stuff is all set up. Lots of vials out there, each with its own mixture of stuff. They’ll be sitting out on the bench for another two or three days, and it’s down to the analytical dept. they go.
    Milo: I’ve been trying to think of a way to talk more about these experiments without giving too much away, and I’ve failed so far. All I can say is that it’s one of those chemistry/biology hybrid things that are so popular these days, so even if the experiments don’t work, at least I’m fashionable. (If they do work, though, I’d eventually like to publish – I’ll certainly keep everyone informed on that, too).

  7. bcpmoon says:

    That was also one of the best moments in my PhD: Realizing that the molecules forming in my reactions were unique on this planet, nobody ever had made them before. (And probably noone will make them again…). And hitting on a new way to make things, to expand a methodology…bliss.

  8. Skorch says:

    I was just wondering what this post had to do with cliff jumping or diving?

  9. tomas says:

    i know how to dive in. no need for scientologists 🙂 im an experimentator

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