Monday, July 31, 2006


Chemistry students spend many hours studying the topic of handedness in molecules. Molecules can be either left- or right-handed. Today I met another aspect of handedness in chemistry: gas connectors! As a safety measure, the connectors that screw into gas cylinders are either left or right handed: fuel gasses have left-handed threads, oxidizer gases use right-handed threads. Knowledge of this did not prevent me from constructing a connection line with the wrong connector thread! I'll try again tomorrow.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Hollow or filled?

The portable instrument I'm working on has a complex circuit. The complexity is increased, because part of the circuit is in gas and part of the circuit is electric, and the tubing is as colourful as the wires, so it is easy to confuse the two.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Mature or over-aged?

I'm trying to get a portable instrument working again. It is with a mixture of feelings that I see the phrase "Copyright 1983" on a printed circuit. It means it won't be too complicated or small, but what's the chance of finding sprares: especially those tiny little plotter pens!

Thursday, July 20, 2006


The same experiment four times in one day. The instument gave a little bit of trouble, but the colours were pretty!

Tiring. Everything else can wait until tomorrow.


Preparing for tomorrow's practical teaching prevented me doing real research today.

Dok Fanie had problems with the program today, but he fixed it. Of course I had worked on it while he was away, and after he had found the error he apologized for what he thought!

Tomorrow: teaching engineering students about spectroscopy using colourful liquids!

Tuesday, July 18, 2006


The GC oven won't cool. OK, I know it is silly to call it an oven if it cools, but that's the name. It can heat up too. OK? The chromatogram is supposed to start at −35°C, but the cooling is not working. I can't figure out why, the carbon dioxide is connected and one can hear it blowing, but nothing freezes.

Monday, July 17, 2006


There were some presentations this afternoon, and it is being followed by cocktails. No cooking dinner for post-grads tonight!

LabView in anger

I've played around with LabView a bit, but today I programmed it in anger. I found the problem of why the program wouldn't write the configuration file. Strangely enough, LabView won't close a file if it was never opened, and creates an error message to boot.

The promise of teaching

My next three Thursdays are booked now. I am to present a practical to second-year chemical engineering students. This morning I got the information on the experiment I am to do. It's pretty simple UV-Vis spectroscopy, so it shouldn't be too hard for me if I prepare properly.

Friday, July 14, 2006


I did the transesterification reaction today. What I saw was what I expected, but the resulting compound is dissolved in ether, so there is nothing to show for it. We'll have to put it through the instrument to see anything: I started with only 7 microlitres! I forgot how messy I can be in the lab.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Day umpteenth, doing stuff.

Hey, what does one write about progress in studies that doesn't go in the lab book? Put it in a blog! Today I tried to run the instrument, but the Varian GC oven wouldn't cool. I don't understand why, the problem wasn't the same as last time (i.e. this time the oven temperature control was actually swithced on!) I spent some time in the lab today, doing real chemistry! I prepared a catalyst (sodium methoxide) for the transmethylation of sunflower oil. Maybe I can try a transmethylation tomorrow.