It’s funny how you can deceive yourself into thinking that you understand a reaction. Then you do that last experiment and get a result that shows unexpected sensitivity to one thing or other.  Depth of knowledge comes from doing a lot of experiments, not hand waving. It is important to try to learn something from every experiment. If the rxn went south, what happened?  Can you do a mass balance?  What happens to the mass that doesn’t convert to product?  Consider every “poor” result as an opportunity to extend your understanding of the reaction.

If you want to claim true expertise in a process, you have to know what the reaction system is broadly sensitive to and what it may be insensitive to. In short, you need to know what affects the velocity of the reaction or what steers it to side product formation. Exactly what are the boundaries of “normal”? 

Running the same reaction a hundred times successfully by carefully following the directions confers proficiency, not expertise.  It is fine for most workers to have proficiency. But someone should take the trouble to acquire broad expertise for the inevitable off-normal event somewhere down the timeline.

An upset condition can stem from an off-normal engineering input or from some reactivity issue. How many watts per liter will your reaction generate?  How will your reaction mass behave if there is a solvent boil-off? Does the solvent boiling point fall below the maximum temperature of the reaction in an off-normal condition? In other words, can the reaction mass self-heat in a manner leading to a runaway condition?  If so, what layers of protection are in place to prevent this kind of event?

The ability to push electrons in a mechanism or facility with named reactions is not enough skill for process scale-up. A chemist has to walk over the entire acreage to thoroughly map out the hills and valleys of the process. The people who operate the big pots and pans, and their families, are depending on your thorough knowledge to keep them safe.

Acquiring expertise is going to annoy people. It necessarily slows things down. It will make you a colossal boor at parties. But never confuse motion for progress or data for knowledge. Over time, people will come to you for advice on things. Be patient.

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