I note with some surprise that Philip Ball, in his Science in Culture article “What's in the flask?” (Nature 433 17; 2005), says that gazing into a flask held aloft — as in the stereotypical image — “is not what real chemists spend their time doing”. As a synthetic organic chemist, I would like to point out that this is exactly what real chemists do.
My research group regularly observes the initiation of crystallization or precipitation in this fashion. Magnification through the curved walls of the flask, with the brightly lit background of the ceiling lighting, lets one see the changes in the morphology of small particles as they form (often at the liquid surface), while trying to avoid solutes crashing out of solution unselectively.
As chemistry is so often the glue connecting biology, physics and medicine in this interdisciplinary age, we can only hope that more people will discover what chemists actually do.