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smalls
05-21-2014, 11:07 PM
There are online chemical catalogs where one can order chemical compounds for research, etc. The first result in a Google search says this on its home page:

We provide specialty chemicals and high purity chemicals to industry, individual professionals, life science, educational institutes, pharmaceutical, pilot plants and laboratories.

What I'm wondering is, at a university, who has the clearance required to order from such a catalog? A professor of [fill in the blank]. Who foots the bill? Also, how does the university keep track of who's placing orders and what is being ordered? If the university has an account with a chemical catalog, could the professor pay out of pocket to avoid having his order tracked/logged somewhere?

For example, on Dexter he would order M99 by forging "Dr. Bateman's" signature. While clever, I'm sure in real life that wouldn't fly - but maybe there'd be a grace period between receiving your order and getting caught? (And Dexter was working for the police, whereas I'm asking about this happening in a university setting at a research lab or something.)

Any insight you can provide is greatly appreciated. Thanks!

waylander
05-21-2014, 11:30 PM
I am in a major pharma lab not a university but I suspect there will be a lot of crossover. I order chemicals straight from a database that interrogates a wide range of catalogues. Through the database I can track what I've ordered and find out if anyone has ordered it before. Anything that is on a watch list I have to fill out a justification for and sign in the presence of the purchasing officer. Other stuff just gets ordered and turns up. Each professor in a univeristy would have their own budget, how closely they look at what is ordered could vary a lot, I suspect. It would be difficult to order outside of the university account system - the catalog company would ask questions.

King Neptune
05-21-2014, 11:31 PM
I believe that the process would be the same as for individuals for themselves and payment would have to be made by card or company account at the time of the order. Anyone who could access that account could make the order. Generally, at universities ordering is centralized, so professor che would have to put his order into the order system to get departmental approval, and that would lead to the actual order being made.

Koschei
05-22-2014, 12:19 AM
With the university I'm at, any of the professors are able to order chemicals but they have to fill out a formal request that then goes through stores and it will be them who makes the order and notes everything down to keep track of things. They might even contact senior staff (by this I mean the head of department or whoever is appropriate) for authorisation if necessary.
As for payment, each research project will have a certain amount of funding from the university itself and the price of the chemical will just be subtracted from that (I even used to get lots of free stationery during my last project courtesy of over-funding).
That's just how things are at my university, though. Might be different elsewhere.

AndieX
05-22-2014, 12:42 AM
Hi, I work in a hospital lab not a Uni but this might be of some use.

An order can be initiated by anyone (though typically it's the more senior staff) but the order must be authorised by the head of department and if it's over a certain amount of money the head of the directorate. It then goes to a procurement office who actually place the order. The whole system is computerised, so the orders are emailed from person to person. The item can be from any company but the procurement department have to set it up on their system before they can order it.

If it was something the lab used routinely it would be fairly easy to order excess - but if it was something unusual it could be tricky to slip it under the radar. Plus deliveries are unpredictable - if it had a departmental address / Prof's name there could be a lot of hard work in trying to intercept the package.
With our system if you could hack / get access to the email accounts the item could be ordered but it might come to light when the money was taken from the department budget (depending on how expensive the item was and how large the budget is) or when someone else opened the package.

Our old system relied on faxing orders which had been countersigned by the head of department. This would be much easier to tinker with. The bill was then be sent to procurement for payment from our budget.

Are you asking how a member of staff could order something through a University account without someone detecting it or how you get hold of these products as an individual?

If it's the latter - depending on the item it might be possible to order and pay for it directly as Professor xxx, University xxx, etc stating it was for a self-funded research project. Ring a company and pose the question. Their customer services are usually very willing to help if they think you're interested in their products ;)

Hope this helps.

smalls
05-22-2014, 01:06 AM
Thank you waylander, King Neptune, Koschei, and AndieX for chiming in!


I am in a major pharma lab not a university but I suspect there will be a lot of crossover. I order chemicals straight from a database that interrogates a wide range of catalogues. Through the database I can track what I've ordered and find out if anyone has ordered it before. Anything that is on a watch list I have to fill out a justification for and sign in the presence of the purchasing officer. Other stuff just gets ordered and turns up. Each professor in a univeristy would have their own budget, how closely they look at what is ordered could vary a lot, I suspect. It would be difficult to order outside of the university account system - the catalog company would ask questions.

My story takes place at a university that has teamed up with a pharma company so your input definitely helps! (I was kinda hoping you'd bite on this one. ;)) Does a pharma lab order straight-APIs or do they order separate chemicals to essentially "mix" up the API themselves? Is there a whole different database for APIs?



Are you asking how a member of staff could order something through a University account without someone detecting it or how you get hold of these products as an individual?

If it's the latter - depending on the item it might be possible to order and pay for it directly as Professor xxx, University xxx, etc stating it was for a self-funded research project. Ring a company and pose the question. Their customer services are usually very willing to help if they think you're interested in their products ;)

Hope this helps.

This helps immensely!

I need to have my MC order some chemical(s) which will essentially be the Active Pharmaceutical Ingredient in a medicine the university research lab is developing in partnership with a pharm. company. The MC's father is a professor at the university so I was thinking I could just have him forge his dad's name to adjust the order as needed. He'll be increasing the order that's placed for the research (which, as you stated, would be easier than ordering a one-off chemical that's not used in the lab).

I haven't decided what his father is specifically a professor of - really I could choose whatever makes most sense for him to have access to the orders. What if I made his father the department head and not involved in the research at all?

The part I quoted from you, AndieX, takes care of all that hierarchy mess. Easy-peasy. Plus it would allow for my MC to order more and more whenever he needs it instead of being tied to the lab's ordering schedule. Thanks for that!

BTW, I know this it totally illegal. My MC will be breaking a lot more laws before the story's over. :D

AuthorUnknown
05-22-2014, 01:17 AM
What I'm wondering is, at a university, who has the clearance required to order from such a catalog?

At my university, anyone could request a chemical be ordered, but one person would check paper inventory, making sure we didn't already have the chemical, then order it.

A professor of [fill in the blank]. Who foots the bill? The research group has funding, or if it's for a classroom, I would think that each class has a budget.

Also, how does the university keep track of who's placing orders and what is being ordered? Paperwork. Lots of paperwork.

If the university has an account with a chemical catalog, could the professor pay out of pocket to avoid having his order tracked/logged somewhere?

In my experience, only the person doing the ordering has the authority to do the ordering. In a private company I worked for, it might have been easier, but, in both places, we'd get statements at the end of the month the person doing the ordering would make sure everything was received before signing off on.

If the person who did ordering was maybe flustered/unorganized, the professor might be able to get away with it, but at my university, you couldn't get away with anything.

Hope this helps!

Bolero
05-22-2014, 01:39 AM
My (paper) experience of ordering systems included a cost code. There tended to be lots of different sources of funding within one research group - each PhD might have a different sponsor - so any one research group would have multiple cost codes depending on the sponsor and the account to be charged.

There also tend to be charge levels depending on who you are. The more lowly, the less you can order.

waylander
05-22-2014, 01:49 AM
APIs are a whole different game. They need to be prepared under GMP (Good manufacturing process) so either we make them ourselves under GMP or outsource from GMP certified sources. University labs are not typically set up to work to GMP, nor can they usually handle the large reactions (up to a couple of kgs) needed.
if we're making it ourselves then the orders for the constituent chemicals would go through the system I described above, or we would order an advanced intermediate from a 3rd party supplier and do maybe the last two steps and crucial final purification.

Worth noting that some Professors of Chemistry establish start-up companies to commericalise their research successes, often employing former students who are familiar with the chemistry and using University premises (many Universities have science parks to act as incubators for these companies). Might be easier for your story if you are working through such a start-up,

TellMeAStory
05-22-2014, 07:44 PM
In my US university, the code in question was the grant number. I, the Research Assistant, would order the chemicals and assemble the resulting paperwork: printout of the online order I'd made--that's where the grant number would be referenced, packing slip--to prove we'd received shipment, and invoice--which also references the grant number. These, I'd forward to the departmental Grants Manager for payment. The PI, Principle Investigator, could have, but never did have any interest in this procedure. He'd be busy designing experiments and writing grant proposals.

It was my job to make sure we didn't run low on any reagents (that's what we call "chemicals") we routinely used, and to place orders for reagents the PI wanted that we didn't already have on hand.

It was also my job to carry out those experiments the PI was so busy designing...

waylander
05-22-2014, 09:19 PM
It was also my job to carry out those experiments the PI was so busy designing...
There's no such thing as an impossible reaction to the researcher who doesn't have to have to run it.

jaksen
05-23-2014, 05:06 PM
I was a middle school science teacher who kept most of my school's chemicals in a closet - to which only I had the key - off my classroom. (You also had to go through the classroom and a prep room and each room had a separate key.)

At any rate, we had some heavy-duty stuff in there. Stuff which literally - yes, I mean literally - frightened me. Near the end of my teaching career I asked the dept. head to bring in a toxic-waste specialist to come in and remove a lot of it. He shook his head as he brought it out, most in special containers he brought with him.

But as for ordering? We ordered through chemical catalogues and I never once had a dept. head or administrator say, hey, what do you want this for? The lack of oversight actually bothered me a bit.

We did keep a chem notebook, noting where things were stored, how they were stored and there were numerous guidelines (always being updated over the years) of what things shouldn't be kept together.

Of course the most dangerous chemical I used personally was HCl, which I learned to dilute myself in a fume hood. (Which got blocked up one day by a vandal and I nearly choked myself to death. Fortunately I never worked in the hood with students in the room. Unfortunately, no one was around when this terrible accident occurred. Luckily, I made it to the next classroom and the teacher there knew exactly what had happened, called the nurse, ambulance, etc.)

But I digress. One accident in 35 years is not bad.

But anyhow, we could and did purchase anything we wanted. The only drawback might be price, in which case we'd be asked to buy a smaller quantity, or instead of a lab, do a demo for the class.

This prob. has nothing at all to do with your question. But I am writing this to illustrate how easy - too easy? - it was for someone like me to purchase whatever I wanted.

smalls
05-23-2014, 10:56 PM
TellMeAStory and jaksen, thank you for your input!

TMAS, your post-order procedure as a RA is very helpful. If I use that in an environment like jaksen's example, I may be able to at least make it believable. Thanks again!