No fail no gain

While astronomers recently have been celebrating great discoveries (gravitational waves from colliding black holes keep rolling), at the opposite end of matter size ruler things don’t look as brightly. For instance, the search for ‘sterile’ neutrinos didn’t spot anything, despite the IceCube, a massive 2-km long neutrino detector buried in the Antarctic ice.

Even more dramatically, LHC failed to confirm its earlier observation of new 750 GeV particle beyond the Standard Model, which would promise a whole new physics. The observation appeared to be just a fluctuation of the background signal. Yet before the decisive amount of data was collected, theoretical physicist submitted 500 papers to ArXiv explaining intermittently observed ‘anomaly’.
I wondered if there are any examples of failed chemistry ‘discoveries’ that would similarly affect the field. At a much lower scale, maoecrystal V seems to be a good recent example. After initial discovery of biological acitivity, the molecule kept quite some synthetic chemists busy for 12 years. Once synthesized in enough quantity, however, the molecule ended up completely inactive.
What do scientists learn from this? Apparently nothing, and that’s how they make progress.

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.

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