Monday, November 08, 2010

If All You Have is a Hammer...

The ChemJobber had an entry today about interviewing at a small company. I posted some comments there, but realized that I could have said more.

As CJ notes, small companies do not have complete analytical labs and instead use analytical labs to fill in the gaps. Even analytical labs don't have everything - we certainly don't, but I don't see that as a bad thing. It's great having the equipment on site as you can play with it on your own to solve a question that is nagging you and you don't have to worry about whose paying for it, but at the same time, the fact that you do have the equipment can limit you.

An example might be best. We don't have any NMR equipment. However, when we do need, NMR, we have the whole world to choose from for the testing. Sometimes a simple setup is all we need, sometimes we need cutting edge equipment - it's our choice as to who to work with.

Compare that with any instruments that we have onsite. They are all good instruments, but as a result of a) easy access, b) laziness, c) financial incentives [*] and d) the "If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail" syndrome, we can often use them when sending a sample out could be better choice.

That said, sending samples out can still be a hassle. Some companies have good turnaround, some don't. Some will give you great analysis, some will tell you "we conclude that the sample was 12% carbon" which you already know from looking at the data tabulated in the report. It takes a while to develop a good network, so I certainly ask colleagues for recommendations before sending anything.

[*] If we use our instrument, we can charge the client for the instrument time and keep all that money. If we use outside equipment, we only pass those charges through. The bill to the client is the same, but the amount we keep is different.


Anonymous said...

I'm doing monomer synthesis without an NMR or Flash chromatography setup.

I was just able to get NMR and GC/MS last week from a vendor.

I almost wept for joy.

John said...

I would agree that for doing small molecule synthesis, an NMR would be pretty essential. (Fortunately with polymers, you can tell if it polymerized or not.)

But most people don't see the limitations of actually having equipment on-site, and that was the point of the post.