Tribute To A Numerical Inorganic Icon: Kenneth Wade
Apr11

Tribute To A Numerical Inorganic Icon: Kenneth Wade

University of Durham chemistry professor Kenneth Wade, famously known for the borane electron-counting rule that bears his name, passed away on March 16 at age 81. Chemists at the University of Nottingham, led by big-haired chemistry professor Martyn Poliakoff, have prepared a lovely video tribute to Professor Wade as part of their Periodic Table of Video series. Chemists use electron-counting rules to determine bonding patterns in different classes of compounds, such as the familiar octet rule for first- and second-row elements, the 18-electron rule for transition metals, and the Hückel 4n + 2 rule for aromatic compounds. However, these rules don't readily apply to electron-deficient molecules such as boranes that utilize multicentered bonding--a pair of electrons shared between more than two atoms--so other rules have been devised. In 1971, building on the collective observations of other chemists, Wade formulated his n + 1 rule. Wade's rule states that a cage molecule with a geometry based on a closed polyhedron constructed of triangles with n vertices will possess n + 1 skeletal bonding electron pairs. Wade's rule and its corollaries have been refined and extended by a number of researchers. When coupled with spectroscopic studies and theoretical calculations, these rules have been successful in showing the structural interconnections between boranes, carboranes, other heteroboranes, carbocations, organometallic complexes, and transition-metal cluster compounds. Hats off to Professor...

Read More
Tattoo Advice For Penning A Synthetic Symphony
Mar24

Tattoo Advice For Penning A Synthetic Symphony

This week I wrote about the "Atalanta Fugi­ens," a gorgeous 17th century alchemy text that includes a musical score. What's crazy is that this score is not just a background melody for the musically inclined alchemist. The score is actually a recipe for making the philosophers' stone, with individual musical parts for the chemical components, mercury, sulfur, and salt. I'm desperately hoping some modern-day chemist will be inspired to write a musical score for their next total synthesis, and that some journal agrees to publish this music in the Materials & Methods section. (Or at the very least, the Supplementary Information section.) Butt! A word of warning: Should any musically inclined chemist decide to pen a synthetic opera, however, they should certainly consider the admonishment of medieval artist Hieronymous Bosch. Namely, DO NOT tattoo that score on to your behind. Taking a closer look at the hell component of Bosch’s masterpiece "The Garden of Earthly Delights," discriminating viewers will note that the poor soul with the Gregorian chant on his nether region is being whipped by a demon tongue. Don't say I didn't warn you. Incidentally, that demon-whipped, butt-hugging music is also available for download, thanks to Amelia Hamrick, a student in Oklahoma. Have a...

Read More
90 Obscure Reasons to Celebrate
Sep09

90 Obscure Reasons to Celebrate

While C&EN celebrates 90 years, the Newscripts column (or News-Scripts, as it was originally known) is also marking an anniversary that's an integer of 10. The column debuted on July 10, 1943. For seven decades the Newscripts gang has been on the lookout for news that, as Newscripts Grand Master Ken Reese put it, "favors the chemical over the nonchemical, the scientific over the nonscientific, the grotesque over the normal." Mostly we spend a paragraph or two on these, but occasionally just a sentence will do. And so there is the Department of Obscure Information. DOOI's sentence-long factoids have been steadily supplying Newscripts readers with cocktail party fodder even before Reese took the reigns of the column in 1967. To mark C&EN's 90th anniversary, we thought we'd give you 90 of these gems that have appeared over the years. Each day this week, we'll add 19 18 new items to this space. Here's Monday's batch: 1) An old Arkansas cure for boils was to swallow buckshot every morning for nine days. (December 21, 1953) 2) The per capita consumption of coffee in the U.S. is 10 or 12 times as great as that of other English-speaking countries. In England, on the other hand, the per capita consumption of tea is 10 times as great as that of even China. (October 21, 1957) 3) In the 1967 “World Almanac,” the ACS Priestley Medal is listed right under the Pillsbury Baking Contest. (November 25, 1968) 4) The specific gravity of a tomato appears to be an indication of its ripeness. (December 9, 1968) 5) The second U.S. citizen to receive a Nobel Prize was charged with 129 infractions of the rules at the U.S. Naval Academy. (July 21, 1969) 6) An inch of rain falling evenly on 1 acre of ground is equivalent to about 27,205 gallons of water. (July 21, 1969) 7) American Oil’s No. 3 flare at Texas City, Tex., was reignited recently by a flaming arrow. (March 23, 1970) 8) Texas A&M will install an Astro Turf football field with an underground sprinkling system. (April 6, 1970) 9) The address of Reliable Chemical Co. is 10 Mothball Terrace, Passaic, N.J. (April 13, 1970) 10) The world’s largest one-piece molded polycarbonate part is an 11-pound snowmobile hood. (May 18, 1970) 11) The national average home electric rate in January 1969 was $18.03 for 1,000 kwh. (June 1, 1970) 12) The infrared heat detectors in the boa constrictors head are accurate to within 0.001 °C. (June 8, 1970) 13) The American Waterways Operators, Inc., has published a 108-page book entitled “Big Load Afloat.” (June 15, 1970) 14) The gopher’s incisors...

Read More
In Print: Pitch Drop Experiment Tests Our Patience
Aug02

In Print: Pitch Drop Experiment Tests Our Patience

The Newscripts blog would like to be closer Internet buddies with our glossy print Newscripts column, so here we highlight what’s going on in the current issue of C&EN. They say that good things come to those who wait. This is not true for John S. Mainstone. For 52 years, the University of Queensland, Australia, professor has been hoping to one day see a drop of pitch, which is a derivative of tar, fall to Earth. And for 52 years, Mainstone has been fruitless in his efforts. All that, however, may soon change. As C&EN associate editor Emily Bones writes in this week's Newscripts column, Mainstone's pitch drop experiment--in which pitch is monitored as it slowly descends from the top of a glass funnel--will soon result in a drop of pitch actually falling. And to make sure no one, especially Mainstone, misses this magical event, the university has set up a live webcam to monitor the experiment. Because of pitch's viscoelasticity, which results in the material exhibiting both viscous and elastic properties, more than a decade can pass between individual drops, thus makes the impending drop especially exciting. What's more, the impending drop could not come at better time for Mainstone, who is still attending to the salt that was rubbed into his wounds on July 11 when a replica of the pitch drop experiment at Trinity College Dublin actually captured, for the first time ever, a pitch drop on film. This event, recorded by Trinity physicist Shane Bergin and colleagues, can be seen in the video below. “The existence of the Trinity College Dublin pitch drop experiment was certainly a great surprise to me--and apparently even to the locals in Dublin, too," says Mainstone, who tormented himself by watching the replica's video "over and over again" for "many hours." Don't feel too bad for Mainstone, though. As he tells Newscripts, there is definitely room for improving upon Trinity's pitch drop. "It was certainly a disappointment to me that their drop was so large that it 'bottomed' in the apparatus and thus led to the final rupture being generated bilaterally,” he says. Here's hoping that when Mainstone finally does see his pitch drop, it lives up to the expectations that he has been building up for 52 year long...

Read More
John D. Roberts: The Seattle Veteran at NOS
Jun26

John D. Roberts: The Seattle Veteran at NOS

The Seattle conference welcomed chemists from near and far. They came from Berkeley, from Harvard, and from everywhere in between. Thirteen of the most eminent among them readied talks about their cutting-edge research, which they hoped would send everyone home inspired to further their own work. That meeting, the 16th National Organic Chemistry Symposium (NOS), took place fifty-four years ago. This week, the gathering is in its 43rd incarnation, and it's back in the Emerald City. So is one of the original speakers from that 1959 meeting-- John D. Roberts. As a young Caltech faculty member, Roberts gave a presentation entitled "Rearrangement Reactions of Small-Ring Compounds." It was already his third NOS talk, but he returned as a speaker several more times, collecting organic chemistry's highest honor, the Roger Adams Award, in 1967. Roberts, 95, is a pioneer in physical organic chemistry and nuclear magnetic resonance (J. Org. Chem. 2009, DOI: 10.1021/jo900641t). Conference cochair Paul B. Hopkins of the University of Washington made note of Roberts' presence during opening remarks. "I believe Professor Roberts is the only one of us in attendance who was also there at the 1959 Seattle NOS," Hopkins said, as the crowd gave Roberts an ovation. "But if I'm wrong about that, you'll have to let me know during the coffee break." Later that evening, this year's Roger Adams awardee, David A. Evans of Harvard, started his talk by thanking Roberts, who he called "inspirational," "my teacher," and "my friend of nearly 50 years." When Evans was a college student at Oberlin, the school "had just gotten an NMR, so we spent the summer poring over John's books" about the exciting new instrument, Evans recalled. He would get to know Roberts while earning his Ph.D. at Caltech. So Roberts could attend Evans' award lecture, NOS organizers broke with decades of tradition and moved the Adams Award Lecture, held on Tuesday nights for as long as anyone can remember, to Monday evening. Over a cup of black coffee, Roberts told C&EN about his experiences at NOS over the years. He reminisced about some of the scientific feuds that played out at the podium, including the epic cation controversy between Saul Winstein and H. C. Brown. Asked about the history of the meeting, recently published in the Journal of Organic Chemistry (DOI: 10.1021/jo302475j), which notes a decline in talks about his field of physical organic chemistry, Roberts is optimistic. "Physical organic is not dead--it's just been co-opted by everyone," he says. Problems in biochemistry, which might involve enzyme mechanisms or noncovalent interactions, are often very appealing to people trained in the field, he adds. The last time...

Read More
Amusing News Aliquots
Aug02

Amusing News Aliquots

Silly samplings of this week's science news, compiled by Bethany Halford and Lauren Wolf. Chemcraft nostalgia: Ah, the good old days of chemistry sets with cyanide and uranium dust. [iO9] Meth-cooking chemist sets up early for the ACS meeting. [Philly Inquirer] Using a 3-D printer to replicate your own brain in chocolate: hilarious and fun [Newscripts]. But using a 3-D printer to replicate your unborn fetus as a keepsake statue in clear “amniotic” resin? We think this might be crossing over into the Creepy Zone. [iO9] Deep-sea squid breaks off its arms to confuse predators and then flee. And you thought Arm Fall Off Boy was a lame DC Comics superhero. Shows what you know. [Gizmodo] Fish in Spaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaace. [WA Today] If you’ve got a smartphone and 100 million yen, you could control this massive, gun-toting robot. [Guardian] You can keep your fancy office espresso machine. The Newscripts gang would prefer this pancake-making machine any day....

Read More