Surrey Chemistry Blog The blog of the Department of Chemistry at the University of Surrey Fri, 13 Apr 2012 14:04:57 +0000 en hourly 1 I follow this bloke called Tim Minchin on Twitter Fri, 13 Apr 2012 14:04:57 +0000 Julia

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

**  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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Nanoputians Fri, 24 Feb 2012 11:26:52 +0000 Julia

Who says chemists don’t have a sense of humour?  You know how “funny” emails can get sent around an office despite the usual company policy of “If its funny don’t forward it – someone will get upset and we will get sued”.  These emails are usually either faintly offensive or contain many photo-shopped pictures of kittens.  Once you have seen one kitten in a teacup asking if it can “haz bizkit plz” you really have seen them all (trust me on this).

Today however I got sent a keeper.  Before I share the details with you, do bear in mind that scientists are fundamentally just very tall, occasionally bearded children.  We still have that child like curiosity that makes us question everything.  If you don’t believe me check out this comic which is an excellent example of the scientific condition – This is great for research but does sometimes mean we find the strangest things amusing.

Organic chemists are known for this scientific messing about, probably because of all the solvents! They already have a whole range of amusingly names molecules – Arsole, Moronic Acid and Penginone being just a few examples.

This morning I got an email apparently containing a scientific paper (fairly normal so far).  The paper was an organic one (getting less normal, I’m not an organic chemist) and it was about a whole new species … called NanoPutians! Someone inTexashas been synthesising compounds based entirely on how much they look like little people! 

They started with NanoKid, obviously the smallest of the family, this is him (or her). 

Not satisfied with making one, they then went on to make NanoBaker, NanoTexan, and NanoScholar just to give NanoKid something to aspire to.  Once they were done making individuals they did some polymerization and joined lots of NanoPutians in lines to make dancing NanoPutians.  Their technical names are “anthropromorphic molecules” although I was very disappointed to find they hadn’t included the systematic name for NanoKid.  If anyone fancies working it out there is a prize in it for you! 

While this might seem like a strange thing to spend research money on, the authors do make a good point.  They say that natural product chemists, organic chemists that synthesise molecules already found in nature, do so not because it is easier than extracting the compound from a plant, but because they learn so much chemistry in the process.  They suggest that this should not be limited to natural molecules but could include interestingly shaped molecules of any type as they learn just as much about the chemistry.

Now I just have to work out how to synthesise my name and my life will be complete…. 

If you want to read the paper it published in 2003 here:

Journal of Organic Chemistry, Volume 68, p8750


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Hello World! Thu, 23 Feb 2012 11:27:04 +0000 Julia

Hi…this is my first blog post so be gentle with me.  Today I was asked to do some “social networking for the good of the department”.  This all sounded quite ominous – conjured up images one of those cringe-worthy office parties where everyone has just worked out they have nothing in common and is studying the cracks in the ceiling to avoid starting a conversation.  Fortunately it turns out that we have just got a Twitter account…phew, no soggy canapés for me!  Follow us at @SurreyChemistry.

This is hot news in chemistry, I have my own Twitter account (@JuliaPercival if you are interested) and I tweet from that occasionally, I mostly use it for following other interesting people.  We haven’t had a collective account before so this concept is completely new to us and could prove very interesting!

We had two options for tweeting….either I get the username and password myself and use the Twitter app on my phone or do it on my PC….or I can pass twitter-worthy news to Dr Pounds for him to put up.  I’m not sure he knew what he was letting himself in for when he agreed to this – all day he has been inundated with “can we put this on Twitter?…..” Who knew the chemistry academics could be so vocal!

Which brings me to the ultimate question….what do I tweet about? On my own Twitter account that is easy, I can talk about anything I like…but on here, I represent the department – the wrath of the university could come down on me if I did something inappropriate! Decisions decisions!

I found several amusing things online that on careful consideration I decided were not really appropriate for our Twitter, so the search is now on for cool chemistry stuff that means I can tweet lots at work and not get into trouble!  It turns out this is actually a lot of fun and there are some seriously creative people out there.  Here is a link to something made by our very own Dr Anna Tanczos…

If you have a cool chemistry thing you want to shout about, let me know and I will do some shouting on your behalf.  It needs to be clean (obviously!) and not defamatory (also obvious?) and preferably your own work but I am open to all suggestions.  Anything goes as long as it fits into 140 characters and doesn’t get me fired!

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