Chemistry Carnival: Your Favorite Chemical Reactions!

Welcome to Your Favorite Chemical Reaction chemistry blog carnival!

A total of 22 entries were received since C&EN Online Editor Rachel Pepling put out the call for posts earlier in the month. The writing was superb, the science spot-on, and the personalities of the bloggers on full display. Anyone who thinks that chemists are just a bunch of stodgy old folks mumbling to themselves at the fume hood will have the stereotype turned on its ear after reading this batch of fine writing.

For those of you who might be reading a carnival for the first time, we’ll introduce the blogger with a link to their blog frontpage first so that you can get a sense of the overall blog gestalt and, we hope, bookmark it for future reference. Some of these bloggers may be new to you and one goal of any carnival is to give greater exposure to some of the rising stars in the blogosphere. Then within our description of the chemical reaction post, there will be a hyperlink to the post of interest under the name of the reaction.

So let’s get the show on the road!


An Oversight (updated October 11)

I feel absolutely terrible that I missed an entry by organic chemist-turned-journalist Sarah Webb at her Webb of Science Blog. Dr. Webb gave us, Seeing the forest for the Birch reduction on, well, the Birch reduction. Hearty apologies to Sarah for missing this and not getting to it for so long!

Simple But Powerful

Sharon Neufeldt at I Can Has Science? took the high-altitude view to reactions by giving us the o-chem standard, the SN2 reaction. Her detailed teaching examples of the SN2 illustrate why it is “the treasure trove of organic chemistry principles.” The cancer pharmacologist in David also gives Sharon extra points for the historical treatment of nitrogen mustard chemotherapy.

Carmen Drahl provided the entry from The Haystack blog with a multitude of humble but useful reactions for amide bond formation. Anyone who reads her C&EN or blog with Lisa Jarvis, knows that Dr. Drahl has a personal attachment to the Mizoroki-Heck reaction. Always the community-minded writer, Carmen drahls draws from fellow blogger See Arr Oh’s med-chem toolkit. And Carmen leads the pack contributing to her gallery of hand-drawn structures, the chemist’s personality test pointed out by Chemjobber.


Chemical Oscillations

When it comes to favorite reactions, particularly for engaging public audiences or groggy undergrads, nothing can quite compete with oscillation reactions. First, our own Jyllian Kemsley at The Safety Zone safely holds forth on the Belousov-Zhabotinsky reaction, discussing the history and the ten (!) equations underlying this magnificent reaction. The video she provides of the BZ reaction occurring in a Petri dish is superb.

How many of you love chemistry *this* much?

Next, the grand dame of scientific ethics, Janet D. Stemwedel, harkens back to the work for her first PhD (see her tattoo) at her new Scientific American blog, Doing Good Science. Yes, folks, before she did her PhD in the philosophy of science, the San Jose State University professor was entrenched with the chlorite-iodide reaction. But in reflecting on the reaction mechanisms, Janet distills seven major lessons for any student of science. The beauty of Janet’s writing is that she always nails the science but teaches us the greater messages we should take from our work.


Here, Smell This

Chemistry professor and science writer Rebecca Guenard was so excited about restarting her new blog, Atomic-o-licious, that she offered two posts. She first speaks in The Smell of It of befouling herself with short but stinky carboxylic acids as a University of Florida graduate student prepping for the esterification undergrad laboratory. But she doesn’t hold it against her students, as in her second where she describes her love of the Grignard reaction and “the pimp daddy of all reagents.” Both posts have quite a few nice metaphors that would be useful and humorous interludes for lectures – and two words of wisdom for the organometallics lab: dry glassware.

Hey, what’s that smell? Oh, it’s just Christine Herman making waves at Just Another Electron Pusher. What do you get when you mix ammonium thioglycolate, hydrogen peroxide, and keratin? All I can say is that her Mom has beautiful hair!

More satisfying chemistry, and definitely one with mouth-watering olfactory delights, comes from Matt Hartings at ScienceGeist who tells us about a low-percent yield process that’s conducted in the kitchen: the Maillard reaction. Like Stemwedel and Guenard, Matt shows why he’s such a great teacher, complete with a passage “for the electron-pushing crowd.” Dr. Hartings, I like mine medium-rare.

SeeArrOh at Just Like Cooking got us dreaming of steamed crustaceans until we realized that he was talking about an alkyne reaction, the Crabbé reaction. His description of the autumnal colors seems quite appropriate for the end of September (in the Northern Hemisphere, that is).


The Most Important Reaction?

Ash Jogalekar at The Curious Wavefunction comes in with his typically lush writing for his entry on, “a reaction so elementary that it will occupy barely a tenth of the space on a napkin or t-shirt and which could (and should) be productively explained to every human being on the planet.” Which he then does. Go read.



Stuart Cantrill at Chemical Connections (and the Chief Editor of Nature Chemistry) reflects on his two years at the Mecca of Metathesis, Cal Tech, with 2005 Nobel laureate in Chemistry, Bob Grubbs. But he didn’t choose a metathesis reaction. Instead, he chose the making and breaking of imines. The word azeotrope is certainly beautiful one, Stu. And it seems you share some fans of the Dean-Stark trap.

And Chemjobber should be fortunate that Stu didn’t pick Grubbs’ work. Why? Because our dear CJ chose to hold forth on the Grubbs’ ring-closing metathesis reaction. CJ also shares his own story on a connection to Grubbs’ Nobel. Happy anniversary, Mr. and Mrs. CJ!

STEM_Wonk is “a chemistry PhD navigating the world of science policy.” In ROMPing around the Carnival, they take a different approach to metals, this time as catalysts for ring-opening metathesis polymerization. I don’t know why but we had the urge to go make some popcorn after reading the post.



Shannon Morey at chembites submitted a nice alkyne reaction: the azide alkyne Huisgen cycloaddition. Her post concisely covers ground from the history of the reaction to modern applications (semi-synthetic natural products!) and its relative ease: “It is almost too good to be true, though I know I don’t feel that way when I’m doing the dishes…”

Shannon also mentioned that the Diels-Alder reaction always tends to steal the show when discussing cycloadditions. So, it’s no surprise that Azmanam at ChemistryBlog comes in with his characterization of the legendary reaction:  “No reaction is more elegant, more heartwarmingly satisfying.” As with several of our entries, Azmanam also satisfies the reader with a lovely collection of hand-drawn examples and beautifully detailed explanations – he must be great in the o-chem classroom.


Who Doesn’t Love A Good Polymer Story?

Just one word. . . Credit: The Graduate/WHYY

Polymerization reactions are also a great starting point for showing anyone the utility of chemistry in daily life.

John Spevacek, the lion-tamer at It’s the Rheo Thing, shares with us his love for the thiol-ene polymerization reaction. He’s used the reaction to rapidly create a floor coating, “using just a lamp plugged into a 120 VAC outlet, not a souped-up unit drawing enough electricity to power half of Tokyo.” John, I could use a little help with my garage floor.

Mana Sassanpour at Advancing Green Chemistry shares with us a nice epoxidation reaction to go from oranges to plastic. While we don’t yet have consumer products made from limonene polymerization, this is great example of the potential of green chemistry.

And while not necessarily a polymer story, the lecturer at Endless Possibilities v3.0 leads us through the end-of-summer reflective thought process leading to her carnival entry. And while not necessarily a polymer story, the Michael addition reaction of methyl acrylate and ethylene diamine in methanol leads to dendrimers.


Not Quite A Reaction

Of course, we received entries from excellent chemists who were not necessarily synthetic organic chemists. C&EN Associate Editor and “un-chemist” Lauren Wolf reminisced at the Newscripts blog about her days in the dark doing laser chemistry. In My Favorite Reaction’s Not A Reaction, Dr. Wolf sings the praises of the HeNe laser (not HeLa for you biology types) and it’s superiority to the Nd:YAC laser for physical chemists possessing long hair.

Jessica Morrison at I ♥ the Road comes in apologizing that she’s not a chemist but rather a crystallographer-in-training. Did you know about the natural nuclear reactor at Oklo in Gabon, Africa? Yes, a naturally-occuring nuclear reaction from history.

Paul at Chembark bemoaned blog carnivals but broke down and gave us a reaction without a name that caught his eye over a chicken curry. So, he gave it a name: the Mukiyama thioester synthesis. Dare we say that Paul found quite a bit of pleasure in participating in the carnival?


Breaking It Down

Finally, C&EN Senior Editor Bethany Halford also joined in at Newscripts to post on “the destructive beauty” of ozonolysis. Dr. Halford, I personally find the reaction a great conversation starter, although it does leave me a bit blue.


So there you have it. Twenty-two posts from 21 of the finest chemistry bloggers out there. A huge thank-you to everyone who participated and responded to the call. More details will follow on how posts will be selected for an upcoming issue of Chemical & Engineering News.

Happy reading and may all of your reactions be satisfying and high-yield!




Author: David Kroll

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  1. Thanks for reading and summarizing all of the submissions. Some great stuff here!! Let me know the next time the Carnival is in town; I had fun participating!

  2. A super summary, David! Thanks for such lively descriptions. It was great to learn about some new blog faces through this carnival (which I suppose is half the point of a carnival anyway).


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