Friday, January 11, 2013

The Sounds of Synthesis

Ever paused for a moment, standing in front of your hood, and just listened?

Labs sure are noisy places! But if you really love the "hands-on" aspect of the gig, you can't stand to walk into a lab devoid of all the onomatopoeic chatter our instruments and equipment make.

The whoooosh...pop | click! of an NMR spectrometer engulfing samples

The sci-fi whirs and sputters of fraction collectors and Biotage robot arms

The omnipresent susurrus of fume hoods and make-up air

The reassuring oily gurgle of a well-maintained high-vacuum Welch pump

The crystalline *ping*ping*ping when hot molecular sieves meet cold glassware

The unmistakable FWOMP of an imploding Dewar bath

The "shwack, shwack" noise as you put on protective gloves

"Listen! [Doo-wah-ooh] |
Do you want to hear some glassware? [Doo-wah-ooh]"
Finally, my personal favorite...high-pitched glassware harmonics. You can make these a few ways: by carefully running gloved fingers up a new pipette, slowly twisting an improperly lubed ground-glass joint, or when certain surfaces (rubber mats, wooden dowels) rub flask walls.

Happy listening!


  1. The best noise is the sound of an NMR tube sliding into the machine. As an undergrad it was the first thing that made me really feel like I was actually doing research.

    The worst noise has got to be the sound of metal on dry ice though. Even nails on a chalkboard don't compare.

    1. I find it equally grating! Good one.

  2. My personal favourite was the UV/Vis Microplate Reader. The endless cascade of "PhrrrPreet, PhrrrPreet, PhrrrPreet..." as the Microplate wells were read one by one never failed to make me sink into a dreamy state of research bliss.

    1. Ahh, microplates! Forgot about those, despite one that operates just across the room from me. Good capture of the sound with that word!

  3. Doing experiments at a beamline on a Synchrotron is pretty darn deafening. Constant airflow and the continuous hum of hundreds of computers and fans.

    I like the noises that automated flash chromatography systems make (like the Combiflash RF), because it reminds me of all the work the system is doing that i had to do when running a column normally, and it happens much faster.