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Some Applications of Murphy’s Law in Process Chemistry


Member of Chimica Oggi – Chemistry Today’s Scientific Advisory Board

Murphy’s law is usually expressed as “if anything can go wrong, it will” (1). As a process chemist, I have found that a more accurate expression of Murphy’s law is “no matter how many scenarios you test in the laboratory, something will happen on the plant which you did not envisage”. In this respect, Murphy’s is the opposite of serendipity, which is defined as finding something useful while not looking for it (2). Unfortunately, serendipitous results occur far less frequently in the life of a process chemist.
While persuading laboratory processes to run safely and smoothly on production plants at various scales, I have come across many examples where the equipment used, or human error by chemists or operators, or a synergistic combination of all of these, have conspired to produce unexpected results in terms of yield or quality. Occasionally a completely different product has been produced from that intended! This happened on an occasion when the batch was sampled in the vessel and found to contain the expected product. However, when the product was isolated and removed from the filter dryer, it was found to be different. The inve ...

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