One of the hazards of having a degree in chemistry is the appealing idea that you can explain everything and predict everything on the basis of textbook notions on solubility, electronegativity, pKa’s, or molecular orbitals. These are important things to be sure. But in the field, the recall of knowledge isn’t always enough. More often than not you have to collect data and generate new knowledge.

Rationale of a result on the basis of hand waving and a few reference points can seem compelling in a meeting or brainstorming with a colleague to understand a problem. But in the end, nothing can top having solid data from well conceived experiments.

My chemical “intuition” have proven wrong enough times now that I am deeply skeptical of it. After prolonged periods of absence from the lab I find myself resorting to a few cherished rules of thumb in trying to predict the outcome or explain the off-normal result of a process.

In chemical process development there is no substitute for running experiments under well controlled conditions and capturing solid results from trustworthy analytical methods. It is hard work. You may have to prepare calibration standards for chromatographic methods rather than the preferred single-transient nmr spectrum  in deuterochloroform.

We’re all tempted to do the convincing quick and dirty single experiment to finesse the endpoint. Certainly time constraints in the manufacturing environnment produce an inexorable tilt towards shortcuts. But in the end, depth of knowledge is only had by hard work and lots of struggle in the lab. The most important part of science seems to be to frame the most insightful questions.The best questions lead to the best experimental results.

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