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Was wollen Sie!?! … The Experiment “Stick-in-Hand”

during my undergraduate degree, my professor of organic chemistry was quite the character. he was an expert in the synthesis of squaric acids and also convinced that his discipline was the only true chemistry (hence he called any other chemistry “pressing buttons”). he was very old school, meaning that he was not very approachable and would normally greet you with the phrase “WAS WOLLEN SIE???” or “GEHEN SIE!!!” (i.e. “what do you want?” or “go away!”). if you wrote something in an exam that he did not like (for example superfluous explanations about reaction mechanisms), he’d take a thick marker pen and write “prose” across the page or even cross out the entire answer. he was famous for drawing “chaos-snakes” too, highlighting the point at which your answer had become too complicated and he would not read on any further. admittedly, his many quirks could be quite entertaining, but if you were on the receiving end of it, then it could become quite difficult.

one of his favourite stories was to tell us about the experiment “stick in hand”, that every chemist has to perform at some point in his life. to phrase it more clearly, every lab chemist one day accidentally sticks some kind of glass item into their hand or other body parts, resulting in injury. in his eyes, this was essential chemistry.

i have to say that he certainly wasn’t one of my favourite lecturers, so i never really think about him much any more. except from today, when for the first time, i performed the experiment “stick in hand”! i was simply putting a pipette aid onto the top of a glass pipette (those 30cm long ones for NMR tubes), and somehow it ended up jammed in between two fingers of my left hand. there wasn’t much harm done, so the experiment was a full success… somewhere in chemistry-heaven where my professor is synthesising squaric acids for all eternity, someone is laughing in confidence that he is always right!!! 😉

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