Have you ever sat down and had an open discussion over coffee with an industrial chemist
or chemical technician about his or her work? Have you ever “shadowed” a chemist or a
chemical technician for a day as he or she went about the daily routine in an industrial
or government laboratory? If you have done these things, you were likely surprised at
how foreign the language seemed or startled at how unfamiliar the surroundings were,
despite what you perceived as your thorough academic grounding in the principles of
chemistry. Is there any talk of the quantum mechanical model of the atom? No. Is there
any activity relating to the molecular orbital theory of bonding? No. Is there any use made
of your knowledge of Lewis acids and bases? Probably not. Is the lab a large room with
six 12-ft lab benches capable of accommodating up to two dozen chemists? No, not usually.
The labs are typically small, with from one to six lab workers in each.
Do you hear anything about safety in the laboratory. Yes! In fact, if you visited a lab,
you probably had to go through some sort of safety check, such as reading basic safety
guidelines or the viewing of a safety video, prior to even entering the facility. You probably
also had to “sign in” and be issued personal protective equipment, such as safety glasses
and a lab coat. If you later followed a chemist into the production facility to take samples,
you may have been issued a hard hat or perhaps a small white disposable stretch-cap to
cover your hair.
If you toured a lab facility, you probably toured a “wet lab,” a “quality control lab,”
or perhaps a “process development lab,” or maybe all of the above and wondered what
these terms meant. You probably saw a control chart and wondered what it was. You may
have sat in on a meeting to prepare for the upcoming quality assurance audit and wondered
what an audit actually was or what GLP, MSDS, and SOP meant. You may have heard
someone talk about certified reference materials and wondered what that was. You may
have encountered a formal means of disposing of chemical waste and said, “Wow!” Or
you may have noticed an experiment or an instrument that wasn’t working properly and,
subsequently, observed chemists and technicians teaming together for troubleshooting.