I’ve been reading the biography of Fritz Haber (Stoltzenberg) lately, and I stumbled upon this quote. For his doctoral thesis, Haber synthesized a derivative of indigo based on piperonal. In discussing his work, he said to Max Warburg,
The thesis is miserable. One and a half years of new substances prepared like baker’s bread rolls… and in addition, lots of negative results just where I was looking for significant results, and further, results that I cannot even publish because I fear that a competent chemist will find them and prove to me that the camel is missing its humps. One learns to be modest.
This comment on organic synthesis as a field of study is interesting. This “baker’s” mentality to churning out compounds is a very large part of what drove me to study methods and mechanisms, but I have to wonder if it’s a glass half empty situation.
Readers, what do you think? Is organic synthesis just baking rolls, or is there a more delicate art to it? What inspires you to do organic synthesis, or just as importantly, why don’t you (other than being unemployed)?