I’m going home now.  Just spent a few hours trying to make a parameter change its state on the GC side of  my spiffy new Agilent GC/MS.  Modern instruments are a confederation of subsystems that must give a thumbs up before a software magistrate will allow the instrument to initiate a run. If it is a hyphenated instrument, then all the more so.  All of the flow rates and temperatures and dozens of software settings must be in the proper state before the method can be executed. 

One of the first things you learn after acquiring a complex piece of apparatus is that the help menu is limited in scope.  The mere definition of a mode or a key or a parameter is hardly enough when an annunciator declares that the boat won’t move because the flippin’ gas saver mode is on. The gas saver feature is meant to reduce helium losses from the splitter when the instrument is idle.  What is especially irksome is when an obscure  feature declares that it suddenly can’t  play ball on the (N+1)th run.

My assistant is a truly gifted chromatographer.  She learned analytical lab management in pharmaceutical cGMP and EPA lab settings. What she can do with GC or HPLC is a thing of beauty.  I, on the other hand, have become a grumpy instrument Luddite. It’s not that I don’t like chromatography. In fact I really dig it.  What I get grumpy and dispeptic about is having to claw up the learning curve of yet another software package and then use it enough to retain some kind of fluency.

So, in order to save face with my staff, I have to figure this thing out myself.  Modern chromatographic instrumentation is now configured around the needs of documentation requirements. Creeping featurism. Long gone are the days of sauntering up to the instrument and jamming a sample in it without having to answer a lot of irksome questions about method names and directory gymnastics. Software packages are designed to provide a robust paper trail on the results of all samples injected. It’s all gotten very “Old Testament”.

What is needed is a simplified mode of operation for boneheads like myself. For my process development work I just want resolved peaks, a peak report, and – please god- mass spectra of the components. I do not need a fancy schmancy report. I just need some numbers to scribble in my notebook and report in order to understand what happened in the reactor.

So there it is. A lamentation on chemistry.