As a function of my new post-doc, I found myself in the need of a refillable fountain pen, which could contain organic solvents. It also needed to be refillable by a plunger or cantilever and, once I was done with the science, I wouldn’t mind converting it to a nice pen for my own use.  (You may be wondering, wtf kind of chemistry are you doing where you’d be using a fucking FOUNTAIN PEN?  To wit:  I am doing awesome chemistry.)

In any regard, I have (as most scientist do) an inexplicable compulsion (it has nothing to do with masturbation, just FYI… I know that’s a common one.)  My compulsion happens to be the exclusive use gel pens. I thus figured, if I’m going to get a refillable fountain pen, I might as well inquire into the availability of that gel ink they use in gel pens. (It’s not really available…)


Of course, at the time, I didn’t know what made them so gel-like and why I loved them so… but regardless, now I appreciate that I can feel much safer knowing that the federal government can’t track my ink. (DOI:10.1111/j.1556-4029.2006.00144.x)

As every Republican can tell you The Federal Government has been evil for at least the last 3 months – ever since Glenn Beck started warning you that “they” are coming for your guns and your personal rights and your Fieros and whatever redneck accoutrement that you find so appealing yet have parked out on your lawn.  What you may not know is that the feds have been keeping a meticulous database of inks since the 1920′s and at ANY TIME they could take your ink and compare it to their stock samples of ink by… wait for it… TLC! (oh noes! blow up teh fedural buldins!)

Srsly.  Co-spotted and everything.  The fucking FBI will compare ink composition by how far the little constituent dyes run up a TLC plate:

TLC is one of the most widely used and generally accepted scientific methodologies used to compare and help characterize ink formulations. TLC has been discussed extensively by Witte (21), Brunelle and Pro (22), Brunelle and Reed (23), Brunelle and Crawford (24), Kelly and Cantu (25), and Aginsky (26). TLC analysis begins by removing an ink sample from a document, and subsequently extracting the ink in an appropriate solvent. The extract is then applied to a specially coated TLC plate (e.g., glass or plastic surface coated with silica), and placed in a solvent-equilibrated glass chamber containing a solvent or mixture of solvents. The sample components then migrate up the plate via capillary action. Typically, the colorants (e.g., dye components) that are present in the ink sample will separate into colored bands or spots. As described in the aforementioned study conducted by Roux et al. (20), ‘‘thin layer chromatography had the highest discriminating power for the individual techniques at 0.98 for blue and 0.99 for black.’’

I know, I know… we sent fucking human beings to the moon 40 years ago and we still don’t have one of those fantastic neon lit LC/GC/MS/Magic box from CSI that spits out the type of ink and where it was purchased.  But fear not, they can (and will) track your shit down with the almighty TLC plate…  unless… you use gel pens.  Turns out gel inks are poorly soluble in the highly polar solvents they use for TLC (EtOAc:EtOH:water in a ratio of 70:35:30… not a typo… [these people fucking solve crimes]). While most pens contain inks that are water soluble or organic soluble – gel inks contain both, plus some insoluble pigment shit.

The Gelly Roll, a name which could only be dreamed up by the psychotic lotus eating scientists of Japan at Sakura Color Products Corporation was the first gel pen invented in the mid 80′s and contains water and oil based inks dissolved in an aqueous mixture thickened by xanthan gum and pigments suspended therein.  Fountain pens and rollerball pens use water based inks while ballpoint pens use organic derived dyes.  Thus, the inherent insoluble nature, as well as the broad range of polarities in the gel pen resulted in EPIC FAILS:

The colorants in 15 of the writing inks did not extract into solvents and/or migrate on the TLC, which indicates that they are pigment based. These inks were not feasible for comparison with the library of standards based on their lack of a colorant profile on a TLC plate; however, this would not preclude additional comparative testing using alternate methods such as Fourier transform-infrared spectrometry (FT-IR), gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC-MS), liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry (LC-MS), and/or scanning electron microscopy (SEM) coupled with energy-dispersive X-ray analysis (EDXA). It is noted that 14 of the 15 inks that were not extractable were gel inks [...]

I am pleased to know that the feds will be unable to know where I purchased my ink.  That’s one more “freedom” I can keep. (I purchased them at Sam’s Club. Great fucking deal. I got, like, 50 of them for $40.)