The Modern (Gas) Chromatographer’s Song

Full credit goes to my boss for coming up with this idea, however all the wording is my own. Don’t ask me to sing it.


The Modern (Gas) Chromatographer’s Song

I am the very model of a modern Chromatographer

I’ve information vegetable, animal, but volatile,

I know the phases of columns, and I quote them all historical

From injection port to detector, in order categorical;

I’m very well acquainted, too, with matters mathematical,

I understand equations, both Gaussian and quadratical,

About temperature programming I’m teeming with a lot o’ news,

With many cheerful facts about the carrier gas you should use


I’m very good at integrating all of the peaks numerous;

I know the scientific names of organic chemiculuous:

In short, in matters vegetable, animal, but volatile

I am the very model of a modern Chromatographer


I know our mythic history, Van Deemter’s and Sir Kovats*;

I can do the hard extractions, I’ve a pretty taste for paradox,

I quote in journal papers the crimes of other’s poor analysis

I’m not afraid of making the injection aqueous

I can tell the chemical’s identity from just retention indices

I think that STD’s a standard and not venereal disease

Then I can hum the order of which compound will elute before

And whistle all the airs from that infernal LC I abhor

Then I can make a splitless injection that will no doubt perform

And tell you every detail of a split ratio that’s the norm

In short, in matters vegetable, animal, but volatile,

I am the very model of a modern Chromatographer


In fact, when I know what is meant by the absorptive travelling

Of the analytes whose identity I’m un-a-ravelling

When such affairs as how to decide where the baseline’s drawn at

And when I know precisely what is meant by the mobile phase’s effluent

When I have learnt what progress had been made in column ‘fficiency

When I know the film thickness, diameter, peak capacity

In short, when I’ve a smattering of chemical strategy—

You’ll say a better Chromatographer has never done GC


For my chromatographic knowledge, though I’m plucky and adventury,

Has only been brought down to the beginning of the century;

But still, in matters vegetable, animal, but volatile,

I am the very model of a modern Chromatographer


*artistic license, Ervin Kovats was not knighted, as he was Hungarian.

Two Nobel Laureates in Two Weeks Makes for One Excellent Fortnight

I recently had the pleasure and good fortune of meeting two science Nobel Laureates in a fortnight. First was Professor Peter Doherty (Physiology/Medicine 1996) and secondly Professor Dan Shechtman (Chemistry, 2011).

Doherty was included as part of a panel discussion ‘The Story of Science’ which was held as part of the Melbourne Writers Festival. A bunch of the local twitterati all attended, and my friend Vanessa (@andanin) did up an excellent summary of the event with a Storify of our tweets, which you can find here. The panel members stuck around afterwards, signing books and talking people. I went to buy Sentinel Chickens, Doherty’s latest book with the mission of getting him to sign my copy. Purchase completed, I was amazed to find him quietly sitting on his own against a wall, rather than surrounded by other Nobel Groupies like myself. I guess I should stop being surprised that laureates don’t draw the same type of fans as Beiber et. al. Anyway, he was lovely and asked me about my work, of which I promptly thoroughly bored him with details about, and he also knew how to spell my name correctly, with the acute over the second last ‘e’. I’ve since discovered that opera singer Renée Fleming is mentioned in Sentinel Chickens, and this is how he must have known.


The second encounter with Professor Shechtman was at a lecture held at Monash Uni. The small lecture theatre was full to the brim, with people sitting in the aisles. I live tweeted the lecture, and you can see the Storify of them here. I apologise for all of the spelling errors, especially seeing as I have been reasonably consistent in mis-typing Shechtman’s name. I went prepared and took with me his famous Phys. Rev. Lett. paper and a Sharpie. After the lecture I asked him to sign it, and was duly rewarded. I also tried to ask him if he’d seen the Penrose tiled floor in the chemistry building at UWA, but unfortunately he is deaf and couldn’t hear my question properly.


Two more signatures to add to my collection, and new Laureates to be announced in just under a month. Exciting times!

Scientists in Schools – Term 3 2012

I had another visit to my partner primary school this week which was loads of fun. The lead up however involved quite a bit more thinking and planning than I anticipated. I was visiting the prep class and the teacher told me that their science topic for this term was ‘animals’. I’m finding it quite difficult to think of experiments and demonstrations that are appropriate for 5 year olds, especially related to animals. They really need hands-on learning at this age. My first thoughts for a science experiment related to animals was a dissection, in particular a squid dissection. I thought this would be a good choice, given that squid don’t have blood, and very few organs, yet still have interesting features like the beak and ink sac. It’s also likely that many of the kids would’ve eaten squid before. Anyway, as great as I thought this idea was, it was vetoed by the teacher because of the paperwork required to do a dissection at the school (really, Education Department!? DISAPPOINT).

So moving on from the dissection idea, I’d seen some footage of a science class on Catalyst, of a demonstration of how yabbies breathe underwater. You place some food dye in the water in front of them, and can then see the dyed water filter through the yabby’s gills. Great idea, right? WRONG. Turns out it’s not yabby season and there are no yabbbies to be found. Thankfully I can say that the old cliché ‘third time lucky’ came through for me this time. My colleague recently acquired a couple of spiny leaf insects as office pets. I managed to get hold of an adult female, and took her in for show and tell. The kids loved it, and I let them keep her as a class pet – although they already have a bird – so I hope they keep them apart! After a Q&A session about the insect, most of the kids wanted to have a hold (there were a couple of resisters) and I was really impressed with their bravery. I have to admit that when I first picked it up, I thought it was pretty creepy and weird. After everyone became acquainted with the insect (who has since been christened ‘Sticky’) we did a bug walk around the school grounds, looking for insects, spiders and other creepy crawlies. At first it surprised me that the teachers were happy to let 30 or so preps run wild around the school looking for bugs, but I guess they’re not going to go anywhere. Can’t wait to go back next term when I’ll be visiting one of the older classes.

postscript. I’ve always had a small (or large) amount of disdain for children, but damn, these preps are adorable. I can’t resist when one of them comes up and holds my hand, it melts my cold, cold heart. Stupid biological clock.

An update and apology.

I’d like to reinvigorate this blog and I didn’t feel like I could do this without first carrying out two actions:

  1. Deleting some blog posts that I wrote quite early on in the piece. I wrote some really hurtful and ignorant things, with no regard for the feelings of those I was writing about. I really regret this and I sincerely apologise to those people. 
  2. ‘Coming out’. I’ll discontinue my half-hearted attempt at pseudonymity. This should help me avoid repeating the mistakes I made in 1. 

I don’t care if nobody reads this blog, but I do care if people read it and are upset by what I write. I also want to write about things that make me think, and things that make me happy. A new blogosophy, and a new start.