The project where I realized I wanted to go from chemist to pro dev.

I built a flow-chemistry spectrometer with monitoring backend in Haskell.

Spectroscopy is where you add a reagent to a glass tube, it changes color, and by measuring the exact color it tells you how much of something (for example, a toxin) is present in the sample.

I had to do that a lot on factory samples, writing down measurements using pen & paper.

I'm lazy so I decided to do the logical thing: Automate it. I bought a second hand spectrometer, stripped the casing, did a shitload of glassblowing and hooked up tubes to the production pipelines, so I could get samples, mixing them in the correct ratio with reagents in continuous flows using valves.

I ended up using 2 home-crafted arduino-like boards (etching PCBs is fun!).

One to calibrate the mixture against known samples and control solenoid valves to continuously cycle through various reagents and deionized flushing water, the other to record the measurements and send them to a server running a Haskell/Yesod API.

The server collected the information into InfluxDB (A time series database), displaying all data on a graphite dashboard.

Eventually I wrote Haskell plugins for most of the chemistry processes, from pH & temperature measurements to polymer property and pigment tests (they made a lot of printer ink).

Then I was fired because they didn't need chemists anymore, and the code "could be maintained by the intern" (poor guy)...

But I did find out that I loved functional programming, chemistry automation projects, and crafting my own electronics during that time.

  • 49
    so you made yourself obsolete? 😲
  • 36
    Intern? Haskell?
    That poor, poor person.
  • 28
    Sucks they didn't have the vision to have you do that kind of work to automate more stuff. Some companies are so short sighted.
  • 8
    Sir, are you the Jesus of IT-Chemistry? 😎
  • 6
    Left me wondering how you licensed the code, if you ever did.

    You could possibly get them to pay you royalties on it depending on the laws where you live and the exact circumstances (especially given you even used your personal arduino boards to begin with).

    Still, ianal.
  • 11
    @dejaime Most contracts have intellectual property / copyright clauses. I had also sold all the hardware to my employer when I got it working. But I did get a pretty good severance package :)
  • 6
    LOL I once wrote a script in automating beer brewing, cuz I'm also lazy af and beer in Australia is damn expensive;P Had a few batches of amazing Schwarzbier before the chip melted :(

    Sorry to hear you got fired but a chemist with programming skills like you isn't hard to get a job.
  • 4
    Oh hey. astro needs some help with spectroscopy stuff. Cool payout including knowing the size of the visible universe more closely if you're keen for a new project. Likely similar to your previous work.

    It's less automating grunt work and more analysis stuff, though.
  • 2
    @Gaveuxifort It was years ago though, went on to do much better stuff 😄
  • 2
  • 2
    How did you etch the PCBs? Can a chemistry newbie like me pull it off?
  • 2
    Why the fuck would they get rid of a person who can build such a project
  • 3
    @starless @hash-table There's a world of difference between spectroscopy in analytical chemistry and physics/astronomy though 😄

    I did work for aerospace (Arianespace/ESA contractor), but completely different topic: QA NDT software for welding xrays and surface tolerances. We repurposed the dicom format from the medical world to be used on rocket parts (mostly fuel tanks), and paired it with image recognition to assess weld quality and stress/strain deformations 🙂
  • 4

    Hell yeah! Not gonna pretend it's super easy, you might mess up a few times, but it's a great weekend project to build your own Arduino or RPi shield.

    This is one of the best complete guides in my opinion:

  • 5
    Wow what a shame...
    Chemistry, electronics and programming?

    I wish i could give you more than 1

    Good job. And shame on them!
  • 3
    Time to start your own business ;)
    Still, I get the feeling. At my previous company we created a viable alternative to MailChimp and the company didn't want to sell it... Some time later the branch went bankrupt and had to be shutdown.
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