Ask an expert

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If you’re an organic chemist, you’ve probably already seen this blog entry, but for those of you who don’t read Tenderbutton regularly, you should check it out. Dylan Stiles is a graduate student in the Trost group at Stanford, and a few weeks ago, ‘Ask Tenderbutton’ was conceived: you can send in your chemistry question/problem and Dylan will try to answer it/give you some advice. In addition, you’ll also get plenty of suggestions from his regular readers – ‘Debenzylating in Despair’ has already received 20 comments from Dylan’s readers. The best part: Dylan’s asked people to write their questions in the cheesy ‘Dear Ann Landers’ style (hence the letter from ‘Debenzylating in Despair’…)

I think this is a fantastic idea – there are lots of universities where you can’t swing by another lab and talk with someone who developed the catalyst you’re using or someone who might be able to give you some quick advice that can save you a few weeks of trial and error. This is especially true for chemists who are in laboratories at medical schools – the chemistry department might be across town… And since there are all sorts of little tricks that mean the difference between 20 and 90% yield, blogs might be the best way to quickly tap into a broad range of experts…

For some reason Dylan’s entry reminded me of the InnoCentive project that was started a few years ago – I hadn’t checked that site for a few years (and didn’t know if the project was still running), but there are still a number of ‘Challenges’ in the chemistry and biology categories. With the long weekend coming up, maybe it’s worth sitting down and taking a crack at some of those problems: for many of the challenges, the prize money is between 10,000 and 50,000 dollars (and I’d love a 61’’ HDTV…)


Joshua Finkelstein (Associate Editor, Nature)

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