Org Prep Daily

August 22, 2017

Breaking Bad In South Florida (2)

Filed under: Uncategorized — milkshake @ 1:02 am

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. If you find any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events, deadly or lively, or actual molecules, carbons or heteroatoms, it is purely coincidental.

Part 2

(Part 1 is here)

I repeatedly tried to intervene with our CEO, to talk him out of his MDMA scaleup project. At first, he promised that he would wrap it up soon and stop – but he didn’t. The next attempt at conversation, he would ya-ya-ya me, and the third time he just told me to buzz off and mind my own project. When I appealed to him that he was drawing attention and there were many rumors within our little company, his reaction was “the people who spread the rumors should really watch out”. Clearly, this wasn’t the door to push.

I also tried our research director, I would go and start by saying that there are problems with the stuff the CEO is doing, he stinks up the lab with methylamine all the time so people in the adjoining office are complaining and it is unpleasant to walk into that lab and look for the chemicals stored there… The research director interrupted me and said he would handle it himself. (I think he put a better waste container there for the CEO). Next, I brought up a large expensive piece of equipment that our CEO crushed by stuffing his flasks into my base bath – so I got instruction to set up a new base bath for the use of our CEO, the ruined custom piece went back to Chemglass for repairs and everyone carried on just as before. When our research director questioned why I am ordering so many large flasks, pumps, mechanical stirrers and other equipment, I explained that our CEO was taking them from our lab to his, trashing many of them so we had to replace – and this reliably silenced the otherwise stingy manager, he asked no more and had the stuff ordered…

My conclusion – and not only mine – was that the research director knew enough that he did not want to know more, quite aware whom he owed his #2 position at the biotech company, complete with oversized paycheck (triple of our average scientist salary) and all the prestige that goes with it. I think he became fond of his big house with a big indoor pool, flying first class everywhere, driving brand new Mercedes SUV and Lexus, ordering exotic scotch and vintage wines by the case (with company as the receiving address, it often arrived to our lab and sat there on a pile of boxes with the lab solvents and glassware). The research director was in his late thirties, a similar age as our CEO, and about to become very rich if the sale or IPO of the company came through. He wasn’t going to screw it up. And even if he was waiting for someone to come to him with a proof of illegality to stop our CEO, I was pretty sure he would go and sacrifice that poor schmuck to shield himself. (Tomas says you are cooking ecstasy – is that really true?)

I thought up a little ruse: The hood space in our labs was limited; all it would take was to fill the hood in the satellite lab. We could definitely use another chemist since we had more projects than people and I knew an excellent Swiss-American chemist who needed a job. So I talked to my chemistry colleagues, and to the research director and got his approval. All were impressed with the job candidate resume (a Pfizer and Scripps jobs, he worked for prof. Seebach at ETH) and I think they immediately caught on the real reason why I was doing this. They asked me to meet the candidate and set up his job interview. So I went to lunch with the guy, to find out when he could come. Then I received a message that we needed to save money and the interview was to be postponed by few months. (When I tried again few months later, after yet another meeting with the job candidate, I was told the interview is cancelled outright because our CEO does not approve. They were jerking us around.)

Here I should probably explain why I did not run away from this company, with all the shenanigans and deceit around. I thought we were doing an excellent research and just our CEO got off the rails, and we could be a happy little company again – if only there was some way to make him stop or make him leave. The projects that I was working on were interesting and rewarding: not exactly high-level chemistry but the execution had to be immaculate. (10L Schlenk-like reactors with insane level of exclusion of moisture and oxygen). I learned new techniques used by organometallic chemists, and even devised some of my own that allowed us to accomplish this in a humid Florida summer without a glovebox. There were practical problems to solve on kilo scale, and once you found the right reaction conditions it was satisfying to see the progress. We basically inherited a technology that was in stage of a concept when I came aboard and it had so many difficult problems that the practical implementation was impossible but we fixed it and our new improved versions seemed so practical, the material quality was pristine and I had great enthusiasm about the company future… By the time this unfolded I already made key improvements to almost every aspect of our chemistry methodology, the managers kept flattering me how tremendous were my contributions, etc. It was the kind of process development projects I always wanted to do. And we had pretty good working conditions for a small company – while they did skimp on the office area the lab space and equipment was first rate. It was a great place to work until it wasn’t.


By the summer of 2013 the situation settled into new abnormal. Our CEO was puttering away in his lab trying to figure out the best way to cook MDMA. Meanwhile, the chemistry colleagues did not keep this secret – just as I hoped they couldn’t: my Canadian roommate-colleague and the student technician went drinking with biologists one evening and it took about two shots for them to start unloading. Other biology colleagues, long suffering in office next to our smelly CEO lab soon learned what went on there and came to me to ask for explanation. I mean, when you have a bare-chested CEO sprinting across the parking lot in his undies, people do take a notice. (The CEO had a large-scale reaction runaway, a splash of very irritant material on him and all over the wall. Since there was no safety shower he thought he would undress and run to his car and drive home. The reaction mix turned black on air so there was a light silhouette of him left on the darkening splashed wall that had to be re-pained. The unfortunate vacuum pumps nearby remained black for good).

It had unreal sitcom-like quality: while everyone in the company including the intern in the formulation lab was cracking the Walter White jokes, our CEO heroically pushed on. It is now clear that as far as our CEO was concerned, this was his company, he kept giving it cash injections from his family fortune so he did not think twice before turning it into his private chemistry club. In fact, the company existed as a vanity project and the cancer research we were doing was a vehicle for him, to be a biotech CEO and co-founder right out of the grad school, and to impress his older siblings and cousins. The promised success was taking too long to arrive and after 10 years he was getting bored, his failing attempts to sell the company or bring it public probably did not help his self-image. So he needed to become a badass chemist too, to impress himself and perhaps someone else too with his product…

For a short time, it looked like our CEO was finally about to change his project – he asked me about LAH workup, a reaction step that wasn’t on the MDMA route. Soon I found my missing bottle of oxalyl chloride in his hood next to a half kilo of indole and a big bottle of dimethylamine solution – so now he was also making tryptamine hallucinogens… Apparently our CEO was not pleased with the DMT chemistry very much, I remember him bringing a thick brown ooze, his crude product, to our lab to take the NMR, the stuff was giving off a revolting indolic smell. I think he stopped working on DMT because the material turned out too air and light sensitive for his skillz and he did not manage to purify it. It also smelled like a fossilized colostomy bag – it lingered in clothes and would make you unlovable even among the homeless.

After the DMT interlude, the next thing our CEO came up with was an alternative route to safrole and MDMA, starting from catechol. He bought a 5 kilo tub of catechol, 3 kilos of Mg turnings, NBS and bromine we already had kilos from an old project, and a 2.5 liter flask of allyl bromide. It looked like his updated plan was to turn 4-bromo-methylenedioxybenzene into Grignard, alkylate it with allyl bromide and use the produced safrole in the established MDMA route from Rhodium archive. He gathered precursors sufficient to produce kilos of MDMA. And it was a realistic plan.




  1. Looking forward to part 3! (if there is one)

    Comment by andyun19920608 — August 22, 2017 @ 3:36 am

    • Oh yes, quality IKA stirrers can go all the way to 11

      Comment by milkshake — August 22, 2017 @ 3:40 am

  2. F**ck man… this is seriously the next season of Breaking Bad! At this point even I would be running far and fast from this mess.

    Comment by OK — August 22, 2017 @ 3:48 am

    • it is still pretty tame – wait for the next installment of our fictional series

      Comment by milkshake — August 22, 2017 @ 3:53 am

  3. Man he really must have sucked if he couldn’t even put together DMT.

    Comment by CRISPR — August 22, 2017 @ 10:10 am

    • He managed, just that he had no practical experience with purifying sensitive material that reeked and photooxidized. Also the Erowid procedures he was using could be of questionable quality. I think the CEO in this fictional story was a very bright and talented guy and could have been good at anything, for example becoming an accomplished chemist if he did not skip the postdoc and had broadened his background a little – polymer chemistry projects could be very narrow and if you spend the entire thesis work doing for example nanoparticle surface modification using ring opening metathesis polymerization you will not have very good grasp of other areas of preparative chemistry. Exposure to several preparative chemistry projects to appreciate process methodology development would be good in case like his.

      Our CEO was not patient, he kept setting up exploratory experiments on hundred gram scale and so on. All typical beginners mistakes, I used to make them too. I think his problem was that he was wealthy, lots of people wanted to be chummy with him, and ten years of uninterrupted ego massage by our research director built up his distorted view of his abilities, and he was not able to estimate what was/wasn’t likely to be a challenging problem, or who were his real friends. If he did few more years in research or in business and if he was more careful about choosing his associates, the things could have turned different and he would have all the success and bragging rights that he was seeking so desperately

      Comment by milkshake — August 22, 2017 @ 12:07 pm

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