Efficiency in the Research Lab
Hints for working smart in the available time!!


At this time, you should be working in accordance with the "Notes on Good Research"
guidelines, and are ready to fine tune and hone your research skills,
moving to the next level of becoming an independent, efficient researcher!



1. Do not fall into the various traps that slow lab work!  These are common places where researchers tend to delay, when it isn't necessary at all.
  • Drying an organic solution with a drying agent - MgSO4 takes less than five min. to work - 10min at the outside.  Magnetically stirring the drying agent speeds its time to just 2-3min.
  • Drying on the vacuum line - removing the last traces of solvent on full vacuum can require widely varying times, depending on the nature of the compound (oil vs. crystalline solid) and the solvent being removed (ether very fast, DMF extremely slow).  Removing ether from an oil takes 2-3hrs. much less if you tilt the flask occasionally to "roll" the oil around, exposing fresh surfaces to the vacuum.
    • Hint from experience: If you anticipate extended vacuum time, as in a very thick oil and/or high-boiling solvent being removed, try using the Kugelrohr, with its ability to gently roll the oil (or solid) around under gentle heat; this can cut the time by 75%.
  • Recrystallization - once your super-saturated solution is ready, allow it to cool to r.t., then place it in the refrigerator for 1-2hrs.  That's it.  Such operations seldom need to stall in the fridge overnight, and it's easy to forget about things in there.

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2.  Run simultaneous reactions!!  This will increase your productivity, involvement, and enjoyment of the research experience, since there will be very little "down time".
  • If you are doing the same reaction on several substrates, doing them one at a time is the ultimate time-waster!
    • It also wastes glassware - why dirty 3-4 syringes to dispense n-BuLi, when you can use one to dispense it into 3-4 flasks?
  • When you do this, use a permanent marker to write, on each reaction flask, the notebook page number corresponding to the experiment. 
    • THIS IS MANDATORY!!  If you don't do this, I guarantee that you'll get the reactions mixed up, and you'll spend loads of time doing analyses to figure out which is which!
  • Be sure your notebook is prepared appropriately for each reaction!
    • Do not yield to the temptation to skimp on this - doing so will add to the opportunities to screw up which flask contains which reaction.
  • After awhile, you should then start doing simultaneous reactions which are not related to each other
    • This obviously requires even greater care, and adherence to the guidelines listed above.


3. Use the chemical literature!  Whether you run into trouble with an ongoing reaction, or just need to find out whether a compound you made is new or not, you need to develop this skill.

Now that the Department has SciFinder Scholar®, finding specific data in the literature is trivial.

  • If you have yet to experience SciFinder, PLEASE let me know - we'll do a quick demo early in the semester.  It's so easy that documentation/instructions are useless.
  • You can search for specific compounds or general research topics
  • The literature "hits" provide detailed information about the articles, so if EIU doesn't have the resource, it can be ordered easily via Interlibrary Loan.

We have the entire ACS archival database.

  • This means that we can access every ACS journal published, back to vol. 1, issue 1.

Booth has a very good selection of other chemistry journals.

Our group (i.e., I) has access to any journal on UIUC's electronic journals list.

  • Just go to the UIUC journals list, and if the reference you seek is there, just bring me the citation, and I'll have it for you within an hour.  [Note: If you have trouble with the link to the journal list, go to the Chemistry Library link, and click on the "electronic journals" link.]

We also have access to ISI's Web of Science - see THB

  • This is a database of most chemistry literature articles, searchable by topic, chemical name, and several other parameters.  It gives a linked list of every reference in every paper, AND a list of all papers which cited the paper you found.  Very handy!
Don't forget the link library covering the literature of organic chemistry!


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