Friday, August 31, 2007

Lovely Vodka

While drinking a bottle of Russian Standard Original I was closely inspecting the bottle. I thought I was just drunk but the next day I looked again and indeed there was the signature of the nuber 1 of the Top 5 alcoholic beverage chemists.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

A Synthetic Environment Beast

I looked at the profile of A SynthEnv and noticed the 'Profile Views'

The number of the beast on A SynthEnv! I wonder what The Beast himself would think of it.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Colorful but lousy glassware for sale!

A lot of companies try to sell their lab equipment by sending those glossy catalogs with colorful pictures.

Glassware is always filled with some colored solution.

Okay, a few colors for a nice picture, I can understand that. But why all those silly pictures that makes you wonder if they know what they are selling?

The blue solution was refluxed in an erlenmeyer equipped with an Allihn condensor.

And there are things that are really weird.

Okay.. They are doing an extraction and one layer of the yellow solution is collected in a red erlenmeyer. The collected layer is stirred with a magnetic stirrer, while the distillate from a red solution in a retort on a burner is allowed do drip into the collected layer. This is done while enjoying a blue cocktail on dry ice. (Who uses a retort nowadays?)

I really think these guys want to tell you how bad their equipment is.
Distill a blue solution and the distillate is just as blue. This must be the most lousy distillation equipment there is.

Nature Chemistry! Looking for a job?

Do you want to be an editor for Nature? See here.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Top 5 banknote chemists

1) Louis Pasteur - 5 Francs, France
A colorful banknote with his portrait, lab-glassware and the Pasteur institue in Paris.
This building is now Pasteur's Museum where his tomb is.

2) Marie Curie and Pierre Curie - 500 fancs, France

Another colorful banknote, Pierre in the background and lab-glassware on the backside of the banknote. 100 times more value than Pasteur is quite an honor.

There is anothe banknote with Marie Curie, but this one is not that colorful.

20000 złoty, Poland1 złoty is about 0.36 USD, so you may think that this is a lot of money. But in 1995 after hyperinflation 10,000 old złotych became 1 new złoty. This old banknote represents about 0.7 USD.

3) Janet Mullen - 20 pounds, ScotlandThe picture of a woman in the lab was used to refer to illustrate research and education. The banknote was issued in 1995 to mark the 300th anniversary of the Bank of Scotland. It took three months untill she realized that it was her picture on that banknote. When she spoke with the bank they gave her two of the £20 notes in a framed presentation case. In 2005 journalists of the RSC searched for the unknown chemist on the banknote.

4) Paul Ehrlich - 200 DMark, Germany

No very colorful but it has a portrait and a molcule of Arsphenamine on it.

5) Justus von Liebig - 100 Reichsmark, Germany
An old and dusty banknote for an old chemist.

Janet Mullen is the only chemist who's still alive, and the least famous as well.

Nobody knows what kind of banknotes will be issued in the future.Hmmmm, I hope not...

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Top 5 depressed and nervous breakdown chemists

There already was a Top 5 suicide chemists and we decided to exclude them for this list. It will not be a surprise that 3 of the 5 committed suicide and that one possibly did.

Top 5 depressed and nervous breakdown chemists

1) Wallace Hume Carothers (1896–1937)

Du Pont's brilliant polymer researcher was obsessed with the idea that is work was useless. He wasn't laughing much on photographs. With his friend and colleague Julian Hill they produced Nylon that went in production in 1939. According to Hill, Carothers could list all the famous chemists who had committed suicide. He added himself to that list in 1937 by ingesting cyanide. He used to carry a capsule of the poison on his watch chain.

2) Archibald Scott Couper (1831-1892)
Scott is credited with inventing the use of straight lines to indicate bonds and he developed the theory of chemical structure, namely that tetravalent carbon atoms can link together to form large molecules. He did this work simultaneously with Kekulé's work. In 1859 Couper had a nervous breakdown and entered a private mental institution. When he was released 3 month later he immediately suffered another breakdown. In 1862 he was released again from the institution. The 30 years thereafter his mother cared for him, he never published again.

3) Max Joseph von Pettenkofer (1818-1901)

The chemist and hygienist never seems happy on photos. He is a founder of epidemiology and is known for his research on the spread of cholera. When he wanted to prove his incorrect belief that cholera spread via the atmosphere rather than directly from person to person he made a soup made from the excrement of a dying cholera patient and took it for dinner. He became very ill but survived. At the end of his life suffered from depressions and he finally shot himself.

4) Viktor Meyer (1848–1897)
The discoverer of thiophene and inventor of the Victor Meyer apparatus studied under August Wilhelm von Hofmann, and later worked for Robert Bunsen. He was a hard working man. He became an overworked man suffering from nervous breakdowns. He continued to work and took sleeping pills that further damaged his nervous system. Like Carothers he committed suicide by taking cyanide.

5) Primo Michele Levi (1919–1987)
The chemist and writer said in later life that he suffered from depressions and at took anti-depressants. Concerns for his own health and the fear that he would not be able to write anymore, the care for his old and senile mother and mother in law and his memories as a holocaust survivor were probably some of the causes of his depressions. In 1987 he fell from the interior landing of his third-story apartment in Turin to the ground floor. Possibly suicide.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Wöhler's posing skills

I have added another picture to the Friedrich Wöhler gallery.
Wöhler was famous for his posing technique. His poses were copied by many people. This 'sitting with a stick-pose' was copied by Hans Christian Andersen.
Another writer saw the 'bent over with piercing look-pose' performed by Mendeleev.He decided to combine this with the 'sitting with a stick-pose', that is the origin of this famous picture of Oscar Wilde.
Hans Christian Andersen admired Wöhler posing skills and copied more of his poses.

The 'desk leaning-pose'
Wöhler was an expert on 'desk leaning-poses' and Andersen tried to copy them all.

Wöhler's poses were not copied by writers alone. His poses were so famous that even emperors copied them before Wöhler was born.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Alexander and Adolf

I recently bought the opera Prince Igor.Composed by the #2 of the Top 5 musician chemists : Alexander Borodin (1833-1887).

As Jordan commented on the top 5-post, Borodin was both famous as a composer and as a chemist.
Borodin was a member of The Five (or 'The Mighty Handful') a musical partnership of Russian composers who met in St Petersburg between 1856-1870. The aim was to create a new style of Russian music.

Here is Borodin on a photograph with 'The Mighty Five', not the most insignificant composers.

Six people on the mighty five picture? Well, Stasov was not a real member of the group. Stasov acted as a kind of advisor.
Here is Borodin on a photograph with another chemist, not the most insignificant chemist.
Borodin, Dmitri Mendeev (1860 during a holiday in Italy.)

So there I was, listening to Prince Igor, discovering that Borodin had quite some friends who were (or became) quite famous. A few days after I bought Prince Igor I saw Borodin's name in a newspaper report.

Lew Besymenski, a Soviet intelligence officer who helped to interrogate captured Nazi generals, found a record collection in Hitler's chancellery in May 1945 when he was ordered to make a search shortly after Berlin fell to the Red army. Mr Besymenski did not mention the collection in his lifetime, because he was worried he might be accused of looting.

After Besymenski's death this summer the collection came in broad daylight. Besides the obvious contents, works of Wagner Beethoven and Bruckner, the collection contained record of Jewish and Russian composers/musicians, including records of Alexander Borodin.

Hitler may have had a taste for good music (Hmm, can't imagine that Hitler had a good taste for anything.), but I don't think he knew something about chemistry.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

What they said: Chemists going to WWI

Otto Hahn going to Ypres to give Haber a hand
Fritz Haber explaining how to use his poison gas
Walther Nernst inspecting the use of an irritant powder in shrapnel shells
Marie Curie driving her mobile X-ray unit the 'petit Curie'