B.R.S.M. All this happened, more or less.


US Here I Come!

Hi all,

Somewhat later than planned, I'm off to the US tomorrow to finally start my postdoc! I suspect I'm gonna be pretty busy finding a place to live and settling into my new group for the next couple of weeks, so things could be quite quiet around here for a little while. I hope to resume blogging when I've gotten into a new routine, and I'm looking forward to having lots of new experiences to write about. Thanks for your advice and patience!



P.s. Although this is a dedicated organic synthesis blog, lots of people have asked me about my move to the US, so I'll probably attempt to write a series like Nessa's Transatlantic Tales about my experiences and mix that in with the usual content when normal service resumes. What do you think?

Filed under: Ask the audience, Not Chemistry | 16,711 views | 3 comments 3 Comments

And Now For Something Completely Different 8: Summarising Blogs With Wordle

Reading blogs is fun, but find new ones that you'll enjoy can be time consuming. Fortunately, there's a really useful tool to simplify the process: Wordle.[1] Just give it a URL or a block of text, and you get out a 'word cloud' that helpfully illustrates the frequency with which words are used.[2] This can give a useful flavour of what a blog is about! For example, entering the URL of this blog give the following:

'Synthesis' and 'reaction' are the most abundant words, and I think this gives a pretty good idea of what you'll find here on a typical day.If we subject Chemjobber to the same treatment we get the following (you can changes the colours easily):


Clearly, Chemjobber mostly writes about chemicals and percentages! Finally, I thought I'd subject Just Like Cooking to the same, rigorous analysis:

See Arr OHI'm not sure sure what to make of this one; it appears that the most common word recently used by See Arr Oh on his blog is 'really'![3] I wonder how this thing would cope with actual papers?

1. I got this idea by reading this post from Chemically Cultured this morning.

2. Apparently really common words like 'the', 'and' and  'a' are omitted to make things more interesting!

3. I think the program works by just pulling your RSS feed, so it only 'analyses' the most recent posts on a blog.

Filed under: ANFSCD, Fun, Not Chemistry | 22,829 views | 3 comments 3 Comments

BRSM is Two Years Old Today!

I had completely forgotten that today was my 2nd anniversary as a blogger until my girlfriend sent me this photo a bit earlier:


Apparently, as there were no number 2 candles (cf. last year), she instead made two cakes (possibly setting a dangerous precedent in the process!).

I can't believe that it's that time again – I've now been talking to the internet for two whole years! It's been really busy period for me in real life but in contrast a quieter one for BRSM. Although I've written 5 papers,[1] I've only managed 44 blog posts in the past 12 months, which is unfortunately quite a bit short of the one-a-week target that I try to aim for. How people like Derek, CJ and See Arr Oh write so much decent stuff, I don't know!

I still think of this a total synthesis blog—after all, it began with me reading a Totally Synthetic post one day and thinking "I could do that!"–but it seems that the posts that get the most hits tend to  be the ones based on random observations or conversations with friends. For example, here are my top posts of 2012-13 (In descending order of pageviews):

1. Where Did It All Go Wrong? – I probably wrote this in about 10 mins after glimpsing a ridiculously misassigned structure in J. Nat. Prod., but a link from Derek probably helped this to the top.

2. Drugs I Shan’t Be Taking This Week 1: 2,4-Dinitrophenol – I really have no idea why people keep reading this. It must be high on some Google search!

3. And Now For Something Completely Different 4: Wikipedia Fun – Based on the chance tea time observation that my PhD supervisor is outranked on Google by a number of golfers and DJs with the same name. I think that occasional commenter Martyn (of gyrofaunal fame) did most of the legwork for this one.

4. Superlatives 3: The Longest Polyene – A friend emailed me a photo (thanks, James!), which I posted.

5. A Birthday Surprise for K. C. Nicolaou – Inspired by a drunken conversation in a pub.

Not a single scheme in sight – I am constantly surprised by what you guys will read!

While I'm reminiscing, I'd like to thank this year's three guest authors: my long-time benefactor DrFreddy, who promised me a post 'about teenage love, the Greenwich Observatory and TNT' that he surprisingly was able to deliver; Brandon from ChemTips, who wrote about Hanessian's recent full paper on pactamycin; and Siddharth Yadav, whose post on pentacycloanammoxic acid will be up later in the week. Conversely, I also wrote my first ever guest post, which attempted to give some practical advice for the Birch reduction, over at ChemTips. I also contributed a little bit to Blog Syn, by mostly failing to reproduce other people's work. I hope that we'll find a way to get that site going again!

I'd also really like to thank everyone who has gave me advice for my imminent move to the US whether it was in person, on twitter, or via the recent mini-carnival that Jess and Freda organised. Hopefully I'll catch up with some of you one day!

Finally, thank you all for reading and commenting! I don't know what a couple of years in the US will do to my ability to spend hours messing around on the internet, but hopefully I'll keep this thing up for another year!


1. This claim would be a lot less impressive if I told you where we sent them...

Filed under: Not Chemistry | 18,381 views | 9 comments 9 Comments

I’m Unemployed And It’s Awesome

I don't like to apologise too much for things I do (or more often don't do) on here, because, well... it's not like you pay me anything. That said, I am sorry things have been so quiet around here for the last couple of months. It's been a hectic end to my postdoc, but I'm able to kick back for a couple of weeks at least before I head over to the USA. I'll try and write a few posts before then. And after. In the meantime, here's a talk I wrote for a group meeting at the start of the month on the topic of Felkin Ahn selectivity. We've been revising 'basic' topics, and I was amazed how much I've forgotten  Maybe this'll be useful to someone.


Yes, I did steal that image from Dave Evans' notes...

Here it is: Substrate Control in Acyclic Systems BRSM (2 mb)

Filed under: Literature, Not Chemistry | 17,006 views | 2 comments 2 Comments

And Now For Something Completely Different 5: The Merck Index Challenge

Sorry things have been so quiet around here; it's been a hectic month! Here's something silly born of an unusual conversation over coffee.


The office microwave:  unnecessary chemophobia?

The Merck Index, along with Fieser and Fieser's Reagents for Organic Synthesis, Greene’s Protective Groups, March’s Advanced Organic Chemistry and Amarego’s Purification of Laboratory Chemicals is one of those books that any self-respecting organic research group will have a copy of. It’s an iconic reference work, although its usefulness has definitely waned in recent decades with the rise of the internet, Scifinder/Reaxys/Chemspider and Wikipedia. As Derek reported before Christmas, it was recently acquired by the RSC, who have just released an updated edition. I mostly use mine to pass the time waiting for NMRs to run, or when I need a more reputable reference than Wikipedia for a paper or report.[1] However, all of that changed last week when a tea break conversation sparked a bizarre new game: The Merck Index Challenge.

Anyone who’s ever flicked through a copy will probably have noticed that amongst all the drugs, solvents, salts and plants there are a number of… aberrant… entries. For example, Whiskey. And Lard.[2] And Raspberries. And Quorn. And Milk. Thus, the question arose: could a meal be constructed using only ingredients from the Merck Index? Better yet, could one manage three courses?

Filed under: ANFSCD, Ask the audience, Fun, Not Chemistry | 22,706 views | 3 comments Continue reading

Merry Christmas 2012!

Happy Christmas from all of us* at BRSM! Thanks for reading and all your comments and help over the past year!

*it's actually just me.

Filed under: Not Chemistry | 9,709 views | 3 comments 3 Comments

Happy Birthday… To Me!

This is an actual cake that my girlfriend made me. I'd share it with you if I could!

Well, I didn't think that this day would come, but I have now been blogging for exactly one year! One rainy weekend last June, I sat down and wrote my first three posts, all on recent total syntheses. At the time, Totally Synthetic had been dormant for several months, and I planned to fill the void left by its absence. I only had about ten months funding left for my PhD, and I didn't know if I'd stay in chemistry after I finished, so I was entirely uncertain about where this site was going. In retrospect, it was probably a pretty stupid thing to start when I was supposed to be working my hardest in the lab to finish up.

Although I was pretty nervous at first, it turned out that very few people actually read my early posts, and I discovered that it's really hard to promote your own blog if you wish to remain anonymous. However, thanks to some advice offered in a comment by Freda I created a Twitter account, and after a few links and retweets by Nature Chemistry and New Reactions, I finally got some readers! Fast forward to the present and, as of this morning, this site has got been viewed almost 104000 times, which is a response I could never have imagined when I started. In my third post, See Arr Oh (in his homeless, pre-Just Like Cooking days) left me some very encouraging advice in a comment:

People are always looking (although they may not seem like it) for erudite but approachable discussions of the literature. Many just don’t have the time or access to look themselves, so they’re happy to have you guide them through it.

The niche takes a while (says the guy who doesn’t manage his own blog!). Just keep writing about good, current stuff, and people will find you.

How right he was! As I started to experiment with different types of posts, I was surprised to see that many people were more interested in shorter, more varied posts than the long, detailed total synthesis-based posts I'd planned to write. In fact, I'm not even sure how to describe this site to people any more - with posts from explosives to etymology, from chemical history and biographies through to the latest stuff you'll never try from slightly disreputable journals, I think I've shed my label of a poor man's Tot. Syn.!

Right, I'm not got to ramble on any longer, as people come here to read chemistry and I try to keep the personal stuff to a minimum. Many thanks to you all for reading, commenting and getting the word out! A special thank you to Dr Freddy from Synthetic Remarks, who offered me space on his webserver after my hosting became too unreliable, set me up with my own domain, and continues to host this site. I don't know what I'm doing next, but hopefully I'll be writing another post like this one next June!




P.s. More science soon! If anyone has any good tips for things worth writing about, or is interested in guest blogging here, please get in touch or leave a comment!

P.p.s. Should you wish to celebrate this auspicious day, but find yourself sadly incapable of making a cake, then here's the recipe that was used for the one above. It's just a regular Madeira cake that's been dressed up a bit, but was quite tasty. Although I love to cook, I don't make many cakes, so this recipe is courtesy of my better half. Enjoy!

Filed under: Ask the audience, Not Chemistry | 19,746 views | 9 comments Continue reading

Hi Everybody!

The amount of traffic that this site has got since Thurday's conditions you'll probably never be desperate enough to try post has been truly unbelievable.[1] Thanks to Derek for featuring this page on In The Pipeline, as well as other readers for submitting it to reddit and getting the word out on twitter. Hell, I somehow even got on the front page of actual news site arstechia.com:

Spot the odd one out!

Despite the fact that I've had this blog up for over 11 months now, I got some 15% of my total traffic ever in the last three days. So, thank you all! More updates later this week!

brsmblog.com daily traffic over the last month!

1. What's funny about this, is that that post took me all of about 30 mins to write. I already had the links saved from when I'd first come across them. I didn't really think it was very good, but wanted to write something that wouldn't take too long. On average, a total synthesis write up can take me 4 or 5 times that long to write, and they don't even get 1/10 of the traffic that post has. Oh, well. The response it got was still incredible!

Filed under: Not Chemistry | 12,522 views | 7 comments 7 Comments

I’m Not Dead Yet

Greetings all,

I was just going to let you all wonder (or not) where I've been for a couple of weeks more, but it turns out that having readers makes me feel really guilt for just disappearing. So, for the last two years, among other things, I've been working on a total synthesis project. After more than a few false starts, dead ends and detours, things picked up and progress has been good for the last couple of months, with the end finally in sight. To make things more interesting, I desperately wanted to finish the darn thing for a conference abroad at which I'm speaking next week. This effort has left me with little free time for things I enjoy, blogging being an early casualty. Fortunately, I completed my synthesis on Tuesday (with 4 days to spare!), the data match and I'm leaving triumphantly this Sunday to go and brag about my work. I'm out of the country until 21st December, after which I look forward to having a lot more time for writing again, and I'll get some posts up as soon as I can. Until then there's not much point checking this blog. I have about half a WW post on Woodward's epic synthesis of chlorophyll A, which I hope to finish while I'm away, and that'll probably be the first thing up when I get back.

Thanks for your patience!


P.s. An actual quote from my supervisor on Tuesday: "do you think you can get the paper written before you leave?". Don't count on it...

Filed under: Not Chemistry | 13,865 views | 9 comments 9 Comments

You may have noticed some… changes…

Hi all! Although this news is actually over a week old (and things are still in progress), I have an announcement to make. As many of you may have noticed, my old webhosting sucked - my domain was unmemorable, and when you did find the site it was often down for some reason. Well, thanks to a generous gift from DrFreddy over at Synthetic Remarks I now have a new domain name, and some decent hosting to back it up! So, the reason for this post is twofold: firstly, to tell you all to update your bookmarks for I can now be found at brsmblog.com and secondly, to again thank DrFreddy for helping out a poor student - this is easily the nicest thing anyone's done for me all year!

By way of warning I should say that the database which powers the blog is still over at eristocracy.co.uk, which is slowing things down at the moment but it will hopefully be migrated soon, as are the schemes of posts written before last week because I can't seem to get the links to change to the new server. When these issues are resolved then everything should be much better. In the meantime, please be patient and expect things to be a little shakey for the next week or so while I work things out!


Filed under: Not Chemistry, Serious | 14,298 views | 1 comment 1 Comment