I have come to the realization that, after a career of avoiding it, I really dig physical organic chemistry. While I do have the synthetikkers love for developing a synthesis, I really enjoy taking the rare opportunity to do a focused study on a single transformation or compound.  It is a stylized form of play that any developmental psychologist would recognize. Discovery is about learning, just like play, and many of the exploratory behaviors observed in play apply just as well to discovery (well, except for hitting and crying).

One way a scientist learns is by doing a search for boundary conditions. Where or how in parameter space does a thing change? What is the best solvent for the desired outcome? What effect does stoichiometry have? Does dry, inert atmosphere really make a difference? What are the best leaving groups? Yes, it’s just research. But there is more.

In order to claim that you have expertise with a substance or process, you must have an understanding of how a process or substance behaves under a variety of conditions. If faced with a product that is off spec and the prospect of having to rework or remake, it is very helpful to understand what conditions lead to the off-normal outcome. Either the chemist sleuths each upset for a cause, or the chemist goes in the lab and purposely exposes the process to off-normal parameters and analyzes the outcome, or both. After a while, patterns begin to arise and trends become apparent. This is play.

Seems bloody obvious. But in a production environment the opportunity to explore  parameter space is often not possible. Favor almost always finds the more practical, though short term, fixes. Production managers are not always chosen for their focus on the long term. They are short term oriented- a necessary predilection for timely delivery of product on a tight timeline.

Part of a good process development program is a study of how the process behaves in various upset conditions. This is important for understanding the thermal safety issues, but it also is a good time to take snapshots of how the composition of the process system behaves when it is out of whack.  A reaction profile under conditions of reagent mischarges or off-temperature can give many clues as to the operating window of the process. It can also tell you something about the best way to do an in-process check and define flags for particular types of upsets.

Many companies do this, but a good many find a way to gloss over such work.

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