The Sanctity of the (Electronic) Balance

electronic balance

Good day, gentle readers:

Back in the day, and I’m talking, like, over 40 years ago, I had the good fortune to be invited, in spite of my lackluster performance in Organic Chemistry, to work as a summer student in Professor Tom Tidwell’s lab at the University of Toronto.

A post-doc, Albert was his first name, made two big impressions: The first was that lab-brewed Turkish coffee could ruin a perfectly good lab coat. The second—and equally, if not more important—concerned the sanctity of the balance.

Albert saw one of my fellow undergrads playing with a milligram balance while monitoring the drip, drip, drip of a distillation. My friend was weighing paperclips to kill time. In the nicest of ways, Albert pointed out that while the balance recorded mass, it was really an atom—or molecule—counter.

“Holy Avogadro, Batman! You’re right. Wow . . . cool. I should have realized that.”

Albert went on to say that no quantitative work can happen without a balance, which struck us as perfectly logical.

We were converted; we saw the light. No more playing with a balance. Reverence, dude. Without a balance we got nuthin’.

The same goes for a spectrophotometer: it can count molecules per volume of solution— “concentration” I believe it’s called.

Do I tell this to my students?

You bet.

Does it stop teenagers from putting pen-tops or erasers on the balance?

Get real . . .

May peace be with you.