How did you get into organic chemistry in the first place? For me, it started with amphetamine.


It is not as bad as it sounds.

In the summer of 1994, fresh out of high-school, I was at a party at this girl’s place, and some guy I had never met before came up to me and started to ask questions about what I wanted to do in life. I said:

– I am thinking about chemistry.
– Chemistry, huh? Cool. Then you know how to make speed.
– Speed?
– Amphetamine.

I did not get any sleep that night. I could not shake it. I had no idea at the time how amphetamine was being made, or even the chemical structure for it. I am not a person who is comfortable with being without answers. The very next day, a Sunday, I headed straight to the library to ask them if they had any kind of chemistry encyclopedia. I cannot for my life remember which book they eventually showed me (possibly The Merck Index, 9th ed. or so), but this exact sentence is forever etched in my mind:

Amphetamine may be obtained by reduction of the condensation product between benzaldehyde and nitroethane.

What is a condensation product? What is benzaldehyde? What is nitroethane? What is reduction? So many questions. How can I make speed?!

I started reading. I could not stop. I became possessed. It felt so damn close every time I grasped a new concept, but in every answer – another question. Little did I know then that I was several years away from fully deciphering the code, understanding the mechanism for the Henry reaction and getting a personal acquaintance with the intrinsic anger of lithium aluminium hydride.

Ten years later, almost exactly on the day, I defended my doctoral thesis. And here I am today, working full time in the lab to uncover more truths about drugs.

What is your story?


7 Responses to It all started with amphetamine

  1. James says:

    I had similar curiosities. Anarchist’s cookbook, PIKHAL, alt.drugs. It wasn’t the only thing, but the forbidden nature of the subject helped spark me to want to learn more about it.

  2. Dominic says:

    Did you end up ever making amphetamine?

  3. “I am not a person who is comfortable with being without answers. The very next day, a Sunday, I headed straight to the library to ask them if they had any kind of chemistry encyclopedia.”

    This quote says it all. This, my friend, is why you are and will always be, a success. Nice post.

  4. Dr. Elemental says:

    Reducing with phosphorous and iodine either ephedrine or pseudoephedrine gives a¨n interesting crystalline compound with a slightly higher lipophilicity than amphetamine thus enabling effective crossing of the BBB. This compound was approved by the FDA in 1944 for a number of indications including narcolepsy and depression.

    I got interested in organic chemistry after making a tiny amount of TNT in school (as part of a science lesson) and extracting limonene from oranges.

  5. CatalysisAlex says:

    I bought this chemistry kit at age 12 – to complement it I needed conc H2SO4, HNO3 and HCl, plus NaOH. Worked through the included book in a matter of 2 weeks or so, learning (errr, well, reading but not fully understanding) about orbital models.
    After a few accidents and having read some organic chemistry books when others still read comic books, it was clear I will become a chemist.
    Unfortunately, the focus on organic chemistry made me neglect later physical chemistry and other topics, thus making University life a bitch despite the obvious focus…. And look where I am now… for better or worse, I guess.

  6. Daniel Mayhew says:

    For me it when learning about amino acids and proteins in an a-level class.
    Most of the class hated organic chem but i loved it

  7. […] up a LiAlH4 reaction, reductive amination, nitro group reduction and a host of other procedures. And I’m not the only one.  My curiosity was stoked: what’s a Soxhlet extractor? How does aluminum amalgam work? […]

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