Some things organic chemists should borrow from bio lab

Since I’ve shifted from ‘pure’ synthetic chemistry lab to chemical biology, my set of labware has also changed from borosilicate glassware to polypropylene plasticware. And, you know what, I wish it happened years earlier. Here are some awesome little things that make my synthetic life easier today.

Gel-loading pipette tips


They are so convenient for spotting TLC plates! In contrast to glass capillaries, they are flexible (i.e. do not crack or break entirely), with a very narrow opening, perfect for capillary effect, chemically resistant (your favorite DCM won’t dissolve them), washable (if you care about that), and you won’t lose them in the mess of your bench or on the floor.



A centrifuge of any size will help a lot when:

  1. You are doing extraction of a nasty mixture that takes forever to separate. Just add some g’s to speed it up!
  2. You need to filter a stuff that oils-out and clogs the filter at the most undesirable moment (when you just poured all your 100 mL in the funnel that is). Centrifuge and decant!

Falcon and Eppendorf tubes


They come together with centrifuges. Because you don’t want to clean you centrifuge from glass debris scattered all around. Also in many cases they are good replacement for round-bottom flasks, separation funnels, and Erlenmeyers. You can do the whole reaction-workup-crude sample preparation sequence in the same tube! It’s really handy, especially for very small-scale reactions!

I also use eppendorfs for mini-workups when monitoring the reaction progress by TLC. Just partition a couple microliters of your reaction mixture in EA/water and spot the upper layer on the plate. Forget about ugly smears of acids and bases!

Vortex mixer


Of course, you need to mix those small volumes efficiently and nothing can do it better than vortex. Extraction at sub-milliliter scale? Nothing can be easier when you have this little guy on your bench. And if you upgrade for a bigger cousin (rotary shaker), you may forget about magnetic stir bars.

Naturally, I wouldn’t use these with BuLi, aggressive acids (hello TfOH!), or for thermal reactions. But for a routine day of a medicinal chemist (amide bond formation or reductive amination at room temperature) they can be a huge support! Organic chemistry labware didn’t change for centuries, so maybe it’s time?


Author: Slava Bernat

I did my PhD in medicinal chemistry/chemical biology of G protein-coupled receptors and then explored some chemical biology of non-coding RNA as a postdoc. Currently I'm working in a small biotech company in San-Francisco Bay area as a research chemist. I'm writing about science, which catches my attention in rss feed reader and some random thoughts or tutorials.

6 thoughts on “Some things organic chemists should borrow from bio lab”

  1. I also found a whole new world of labware when I got out of the O-chem lab and into a bio-lab. I’m a big fan of 1-mL centrifuge tubes for small scale reactions and analytical samples. Also, not having to worry whether glassware is clean or not is a big benefit. Still, there’s something about glass… you’ll never get me away from my volumetric flasks, so don’t even try!

  2. I couldn’t pull TLC spotters work a lick, so I used 5 uL capillaries; they were stiff but decently sturdy.

    1. From what I tried in my life, self-pulled capillaries, commercial ones, and gel-loading tips, I prefer the last ones. They always make nice tiny spots, last forever and don’t get lost (I didn’t change one I’m using right now for a year or so).

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