I follow this bloke called Tim Minchin on Twitter (@timminchin), you might have heard of him…he plays the piano and sings songs that are occasionally amusing.  Mr Minchin tweeted an article about the arguments global warming sceptics use and how they are all basically just wrong*.  It’s a fairly standard internet rant to be honest.  It seems fairly well researched and has some of those little superscript numbers which look like they might be references if I could be bothered to click on them…which I can’t (I’m brushing my teeth at this point… peer reviewed papers and toothpaste don’t mix well in my opinion).

This article is basically just something to keep my eyes amused while the rest of me gets on with the teeth brushing so I’m reading it going “blah blah blah” in my head over the more ranty bits.  A word then jumped out at me…”Arrhenius”…. What is he doing in here?  Arrhenius is a bloke I talk about a lot in my lectures.  He did a lot of important work into the effect of temperature on how reactions happen.  I teach students to use his equations to work out how much energy a process will take to accomplish. 

For example, if I can do an extra hard Sudoku in 10 minutes at room temperature but it takes me half an hour to do one if I’m shut in a domestic freezer (-20°C) then the process of doing an extra hard Sudoku requires 15.6 kJ mol-1 **.  Useful huh?  So the units are a little hinky and it would be dark in the freezer but you get the idea.  We can do this for ANYTHING.  That’s quite awesome in the world of chemists (maybe we should get out more?). 

Anyway, this chap Arrhenius was in this global warming thing – turns out that as well as knowing about energy, he was also the first person to ask if gases in the atmosphere could affect the temperature of the ground.  He then went on to calculate the effect on the ground temperature of doubling the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere. This was in 1896! This was a good 50 years before anyone else had twigged that the environment might be important and around 100 years before anyone did anything about it!

I have lectures to write so instead of doing that I went on a small data mining exercise looking for more cool stuff Arrhenius did – his PhD thesis completely changed how people thought of solutions.  He almost failed his PhD because the examiners thought he was nuts – they passed him but only just in the end…probably because they thought he’d lost it and they wanted him to go away now please.  That was in 1884, then in 1903 they gave him a Nobel prize for his work on solutions – that must have been embarrassing. 

For me, to work on just one thing that would have a fraction of the effect Arrhenius has had on chemistry would be mind blowing.  This bloke was a legend and I don’t think the general public appreciate him enough.  So listen up general public…Arrhenius….jolly clever chap! There, that’s my bit of chemistry ranting done for a week….I had better get back to that lecture.

* The article is here if you want to read it http://bit.ly/xz9VRh

**  Yes….I actually worked that out…with data and everything.  I should mention the data was hypothetical – I’m not that good at Sudoku.  No, I don’t have a life but thanks for asking J

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