Over on ChemBark, Paul and co. have been talking about welcome packages, the formal documents given to incoming students to make them acquainted with lab culture, duties and equipment. The discussion so far has focused on lab culture and unwritten rules, like the notes emphasizing the importance of bathing and guidelines for asking for a reference letter. However, what’s caught my interest is (of course) the groups’ standard operating procedures.
One of the hazards of a long-running lab is degradation of the “institutional knowledge”. Learning a new technique alone can require exhaustive reading or extensive trial and error, but once mastered it’s a relatively simple process to teach other members of the lab . Over time everyone in the lab becomes proficient in the common techniques (flash chromatography, 2D NMR analysis, etc.), but more specialized skills often remain the domain of a single student. When that person graduates the knowledge is effectively lost.
These welcome packages (and other, less public documents) are an attempt to retain information from the best and brightest of days gone by, while cutting down on the amount of time spent on simple training. Not surprisingly, much of the details aren’t widely applicable , but the readers of Chembark have turned up some real gems. I’ll highlight my picks below; leave a link if you have a favourite I’m leaving out.
1) Using the Schenk Line and Glovebox in the Bartlett Lab (PDF, pg 12-21)
Dr. Bartlett only set up his lab in 2009, but has already put together a comprehensive booklet for incoming students. There’s a strong focus on anhydrous/anoxic techniques, and I found the glovebox section in particular quite informative. Points for being one of the few welcome package to include colour photos.
2) GC Yield Determination in the Watson Lab (PDF, pg 13)
This forms a nice complement to the NMR yield determination method I highlighted last August. There’s a few additional steps for converting standard peaks to a true GC yield measurement, and they’re covered well.
3) Working Air-Free in the Tolman Lab (PDF, pg 9-12, 17-19)
Similar in form to the Bartlett Schlenk Line guide. This lab uses a “dry box” instead of the standard glovebox, as well as vacuum ovens. The safe use of pyrophoric materials and peroxide genearating solvents is explained in some detail.
Most strong non-nucleophilic bases can be purchased directly from chemical suppliers, but there’s something to be said for the home brew. The Collum lab’s website has detailed instructions for generation of nBuLi, LDA and LiHMDS, with the latter two generated from either nBuLi or isoprene. There’s a wealth of ancillary information as well, from a guide on quenching solvent stills to physical data on a hundred or so enolates, phenolates, carboxylates and miscellaneous alkoxides. Well worth a look.
 Incidentally, this is one of the best reasons for hiring post-docs. Because of their prior training a postdoc is likely to have specialties distinct from the rest of the lab, expanding the total toolkit.
 See: “How to get that one troublesome HPLC bought in 1993 to work” and other seminal guides.