Sugar Daddy: HPLC, I’m stuck on you

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Posted on behalf of Sugar Daddy

Sometimes there are those days in grad school when I feel like I have a zillion different things to do. I’ll have multiple experiments going, timers on my belt beeping, and I’m running around lab (uh, I mean walking, of course) like one of those lottery balls inside the big spinning containers that used to come on the TV right after Mad About You and before the news, at like 5:58 pm. At the end of those days, my brain and legs are both so thoroughly exhausted from overuse that it’s hard to stay awake until 10 pm, let alone muster up enough energy to cook dinner.

Today, however, is not one of those days.

I’m sitting at the HPLC, waiting for my peak to come off. I’m aware that I could use a fraction collector, but I just don’t trust them enough given how precious this compound is. And plus, it’s kind of a nice excuse to be “doing work” but also be surfing the web at the same time. So I sit, staring at a growing trace. It’s baseline for a long time, and then a spike. Is it what I want? Is it real? Who knows, I guess I’ll figure out later. And then it’s back to baseline. It kind of looks like an EKG, but of quite an arrhythmic patient. Boy, I wouldn’t want to have that guy’s heart. Or maybe, it is a metaphor for grad school. Baseline, baseline, and then, eventually, usually when you’re not looking, a peak comes. Is it desirable? Often, but not always. And then back to baseline.

I guess the metaphor only goes so far, because the HPLC run will definitely be finished by a certain, pre-determined time, whereas, well, grad school? Who knows… Ah, another peak. Why does this reaction have so many peaks? My advisor likes to joke that a reaction that gives you 15 different spots isn’t so much a failure as it is combinatorial chemistry. But more on that later…