To Synthesize or to Buy? That is the question.
Happy summer, everyone! Sorry for the cheesy title. Because I’m still an undergrad, I get the chance to take some pretty cool classes that have a little to nothing to do with chemistry. This can either be a nice break (i.e: Shakespeare, see title) or an unwelcome distraction (…Spanish). I’m soaking in as much diverse education as I can before I start specializing in my PhD. This is all besides the point.
Anyway, I wanted to pose a question. When you’re running a synthesis, an assay, or whatever else it is you do in your lab, and you require a reagent that is expensive and difficult to synthesize, do you spend days synthesizing it yourself, or buy it at ridiculous price from a manufacturer? From what I can gather, there are two camps. Tell me if I’m wrong. PIs/Professors are more likely to encourage grad students to synthesize everything from scratch, and the graduate students vice versa. Whether their opinion is born from distrust of the manufacturers, a desire to teach you (the student) some more synthesis, or plain sadism is up to debate. The advantage is that you get to gain some more experience in what is probably a very classic synthesis, helping you gain some ‘lab chops.’ The disadvantage, of course, that that you have to stop watching Futurama to synthesize this molecule that you could just buy.
I’ve recently had an interesting experience. I had bought a reagent from a manufacturer, expecting to use it as a positive control. For whatever reason, it wasn’t working. After around two weeks of frustrated testing, I found that the molar mass of my positive control didn’t match to mass it was supposed to be (by MALDI). So therefore, we got sent a faulty reagent. Kind of a bummer, right?
After this debacle, I resolved myself to synthesize it myself, spurning the multimillion dollar industry for my own two hands. After a week of synthesis and purification, I am a proud owner of a compound which has a molar mass that is too large for the compound I would’ve wanted to synthesize. I still haven’t run enough tests to see how far I’ve gone wrong, but as of now it seems possible that I’ve somehow messed up, which puts me at a unique crosscroads.
Do I synthesize my positive control again? It only took me a week, and is much less expensive than buying it from a manufacturer. Also, I can make gobs at a time (technical term), and I can only buy a small quantity. On the other hand, I could just buy it again and hope for this best. Sure, it’s much more expensive, but it’d be so easy! Plus, I could finish this episode of futurama.
So, my chemist friends, if you were in my place, what would you do? Synthesize or buy?