Org Prep Daily

August 22, 2017

Breaking Bad in South Florida (3)

Filed under: Uncategorized — milkshake @ 4:47 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 3

(here is the Part 1 Part 2, Part 4)

By the summer of 2013, our CEO switched to making methylenedioxybenzene (1,3-benzodioxole) by alkylating catechol with dichloromethane in DMSO. He was failing every time – the air oxidation of catechol in the presence of base at high temperatures proved challenging for his techniques. (I had to keep re-buying expensive 4L bottles of DMSO for my project that he was taking from our lab and consuming at the rate about one bottle per experiment… The CEO asked me why DMF did not work when he tried it to replace DMSO; he did not know DMF is unstable at reflux and even more so in the presence of K2CO3.) So I still had some reasons to hope that he would give up.

But our CEO grew tired of his attempts to prepare methylenedioxybenzene for his private MDMA project and he decided to buy the stuff from TCI. It alarmed me to see two half-liter bottles of methylenedioxybenzene suddenly in his lab – I informed my chemistry colleagues who freaked out as well. This already got too far along the synthetic route to MDMA, and there was a chance he would manage to finish, maybe throw an Ecstasy-tasting party at his home, with the guests ending up in hospital. The purchase of this precursor was a loud shout to the law enforcement to come and visit our company…

Little did we know that our CEO ordered these bottles of methylenedioxybenzene for delivery to his parents house, DEA intercepted the delivery and invited him to their Tactical Diversion Squad at the District Office, to kindly explain why he needed it. Our CEO put on his best act for the DEA agents (to this day, they are still pretty sore about it), describing to them in detail his revolutionary drill bit boron doping hardening technology essential to his father’s business. Then he collected his confiscated kilo of precursor, brought it to our company and proceeded to brominate it.


He was getting close. Worse still, the expected management change – the IPO or takeover – wasn’t going to happen. Instead, it was our company that acquired another even smaller and more troubled virtual biotech that went belly up, apparently for their phase 1 clinical candidate completely unrelated to our company technology, in some kind of a complicated exchanging shares+debt deal, and our management stayed on to run the joint company. (I later learned that the people who brokered this deal and collected their finders fee actually helped to fleece us, by hiding serious problems. Our top management missed important things when performing the due diligence. But that’s another story.)

What really alarmed me was that our CEO bypassed the last remaining unpleasant step he struggled with, by obtaining a watched precursor. The CEO also recruited the student technician working for my senior chemistry colleague, to help him watch over his reactions while the merger-related issues kept him away from the lab. And the technician was anything but a normal person: He was an Adderall-addled emo kid, a kiss-ass, motor mouth and a braggard. He was also very interested in making drugs. (He never learned to read structural formulas but he loved to rant about random stuff like isoelectric point to impress girls). Now that it became management-sanctioned project run by our CEO, he was more than happy to help watching over distillations and with cutting aluminum foil for the amalgamated Al reductions. (Due to his obsessive behavior when on amphetamine, he was apparently very good at cutting Reynolds foil: in one sitting he could make drawers full of Al foil strips).

This was enough – how many times did I tell this dude not to involve himself in the clandestine project. I’d explain him what it was about – ten year sentences, snitching and paranoia – but he couldn’t resist the glamour of being Jesse Pinkman, and he also hoped to earn extra cash from it. I went to my senior chemistry colleague to complain he should watch over what his technician guy has been doing for the CEO in the satellite lab. Unfortunately my cranky senior colleague really liked his technician, he took this as affront, went to the research director and told him I was oppressing his poor guy, and it was me who got berated and told to stay away. (It even ended up in my performance review)

By the end of year the enthusiasm of our technician somewhat faded, he hoped for loads of money for his extra foil-cutting work but was pretty disappointed when he got only a 1000 USD Christmas bonus check. He grumbled, “that he could go and tell things.” But he must have reconsidered since by February 2014 he was already back and ordering methylenedioxybenzene precursors himself, apparently through the university ordering system, and using his student ID – as if somehow that made the purchase less conspicuous. At which point the university police came looking for him – to interview him about the drug precursor. But they did not catch him because he just left due to family emergency: his father supposedly suffered a heart attack (although now I somewhat doubt it) and while he was away with his family, he received a message from the company and from the university to keep his mouth shut and never ever come back.

So this was already the second time we came very, very close to being busted, the university and the company management covered it up, not for the last time, and we did not learn about it until much later.


Just right at the same time, we also had a big fire in the main lab.

I used to believe it was an accident but now I see the timing as pretty suspicious. Apart from very nearly destroying the main lab (we had tanks with ethylene oxide, hundreds of liters of ether, heptane, THF etc, many gas tanks) the fire made it possible for our management to remove the precursors in the satellite lab in hurry. The flooding from sprinklers put the computers in the office out of commission – it erased the chemical inventory database and the ordering system was unavailable.

The drug investigation was done by the campus police in conjunction with the Department of research integrity and compliance presided over by the wife of our research director (he married the university vice-president). And the conclusion of the official inquiry was that a junior junkie student misused the satellite lab of our little company without the management knowledge. Perhaps he was ordering sketchy chemicals and making who-knows-what in the dead of the night but neither the company nor the university wanted to press the charges in order to avoid bad publicity.

And the fire itself was declared a poor housekeeping issue, not a safety violation. The university signed on this, our management vehemently lied to the police and all was good again.

We did not know about the circumstances of unhappy departure of our young student technician. We were instructed never to contact him so we figured that our student technician left on bad terms but the drug precursor investigation was kept from us, we were sent home immediately after the fire for the entire week while the flood and hazmat-related problems were handled. Apparently the drug investigation was done at the same time…

The week after we were already very busy: The fire disaster almost wiped us out, the official story was that an unsecured big beaker filled with ether placed into a common household fridge saturated the fridge with vapors and it exploded in the early morning hours when no-one was around. A big explosion that shook the building and pushed the drywalls by few inches, the door from the fridge flew across the the entire lab, bounced from the cement floor, narrowly missed our NMR magnet and broke the hurricane-proof window. Kilo bottles of diphosgene and butyllithium strewn across the room and got charred from fire (fortunately our 3kg inventory of diphosgene did not break), flood and soot was everywhere.

I have somewhat perversely happy memories of the fire aftermath. We were without a functioning lab for almost a month but the destroyed benches and fridge and cabinets got replaced at a record speed. It was an unpleasant work – every piece of glassware was soot covered (the main fire and smoke source were the safety blast shields stacked on top of the fridge that exploded – the shields were blast-proof but highly flammable), every single item had to be cleaned and moved to storage and then brought back – but I was impressed by the newfound friendliness and sense of solidarity among my colleagues and by the energetic actions of our management. Everyone was working hard to get the office and labs up and running. Our clothes were perhaps blackened with soot and the floor was still wet but it was harmonious time. Incidentally, the technician was gone & not missed, and the CEO drug lab was now used for temporary storage of all the stuff from the main lab while it was rebuilt and refurbished, so no more MDMA for the duration.

At the end of March 2014 we went happily back to our rebuilt lab, with a gleaming new oversized bench that gave us so much space for the instruments, and wider corridors that made the deliveries and rolling dewars of liquid nitrogen much easier. And our CEO returned back to his lab, now emptied of the stored things, and he started cooking again.



  1. Ok, this is simply hilarious. And what did he start cooking (in your fictional story)? Methamphetamine finally, I presume?

    Comment by OK — August 22, 2017 @ 9:07 am

    • I think it is to be revealed in the next installment

      Comment by milkshake — August 22, 2017 @ 11:27 am

      • I’m just saying, if he cant turn catechol into methylenedioxybenzene with his eyes closed, how is he a PhD?

        I’ve done it with technical (brown) catechol and draino grade Lye in DMSO which is available on eBay. Yield after steam distillation was incredible. Over 85%.

        Bonthorne, 1969


        Also, after this step comes a bromination that is literally set it and forget it, no NBS if you know what you’re doing with Sodium Bromide. And then a Grignard to Safrole. How can this man handle a Grignard if he is stumbling at the first step…….. Oh yeah forgot to mention the Wonderfully tedious and cancerous Allyl-Bromide synth that you’d need as well.

        Better to use Propionaldehyde in the Grignard and just jump right to ISO-Safrole, as Wacker’s in this day and age are neolithic.

        Comment by Charter — October 4, 2020 @ 11:39 am

  2. “due to his obsessive behavior when on amphetamine he was apparently very good at cutting Reynolds foil, in one sitting he could make drawers full of Al foil strips”


    Comment by CRISPR — August 22, 2017 @ 1:52 pm

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