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Stuck on a Structure Elucidation problem? You need Out of the Box thinking, right?

July 9, 2008

Attempting a challenging structure elucidation of an unknown and being unable to solve the problem can put a damper on a hectic workload and possibly on your skills as an elucidator. Emotionally, the excitement of working on a challenging elucidation problem leads into frustration — results are what count. Subsequently, the elucidator faces the following choices:

-collect more data,

-question the data or the instrument or the instrument operator,

-discard everything and start from scratch,

-leave it alone for a few days and then come back to it with a clear mind,

-hand it off for someone else to do,

-forget about it and pretend it never existed, or

-file it in the cabinet under the X-file for another day.

The diagram below presents the situation whereby an elucidator is fixated on a core fragment and thus unable to budge from the enclosed Structural Bias box. A classic example is the elucidation of a synthetic product whereby the chemist synthesized an unknown compound far from what he/she intended. The elucidator then falls for the bias of a specific fragment upon seeing the synthetic route.


How to avoid the Structural Bias box? There is no easy answer (or answers) other than to simply broaden your scope of knowledge. Definitely, the willingness and enthusiasm to never give up is a plus while ensuring every idea is panned out to its fullest. Also, be sure to be open to more than one solution as you venture outside of your comfort zone. Explore the literature and databases in search of that elusive tidbit that could unlock the missing piece. Finally, focus on piecing the data together in new and creative ways.


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