Update 03/04/2013: Chemjobber made a few!
Thanks to a recent xkcd comic I've just discovered a wonderfully concise new way to communicate – non-overlapping Venn Diagrams:
For example, here's a statement my boss made last week expounded thus:
I quite enjoy the contradiction between the visual simplicity of displaying information in this way and the fact that it's actually a lot more effort to construct these than write a sentence that conveys the same information, as well as their highly inefficient use of space. There's just something kind of amusing about them. Or I think so, anyway.
Give it a go, and share any good (chemistry related) ones you can think of in the comments. I've just put one in a talk I'm writing on acyclic stereocontrol for a group meeting; I'll let you know how that goes down next week!
Most of the credit for this one goes to occasional commenter Martyn!
Is it just me, or will green chemistry journals publish anything these days? For example, check out this paper published this morning in the Journal of Sustainable Agitation:
Unpowered Mechanical Stirring of Reaction Media Using Renewable Stirring Fish (RSFs). [PDF]
I couldn't make this stuff up!
Sorry things have been so quiet around here; it's been a hectic month! Here's something silly born of an unusual conversation over coffee.
The office microwave: unnecessary chemophobia?
The Merck Index, along with Fieser and Fieser's Reagents for Organic Synthesis, Greene’s Protective Groups, March’s Advanced Organic Chemistry and Amarego’s Purification of Laboratory Chemicals is one of those books that any self-respecting organic research group will have a copy of. It’s an iconic reference work, although its usefulness has definitely waned in recent decades with the rise of the internet, Scifinder/Reaxys/Chemspider and Wikipedia. As Derek reported before Christmas, it was recently acquired by the RSC, who have just released an updated edition. I mostly use mine to pass the time waiting for NMRs to run, or when I need a more reputable reference than Wikipedia for a paper or report. However, all of that changed last week when a tea break conversation sparked a bizarre new game: The Merck Index Challenge.
Anyone who’s ever flicked through a copy will probably have noticed that amongst all the drugs, solvents, salts and plants there are a number of… aberrant… entries. For example, Whiskey. And Lard. And Raspberries. And Quorn. And Milk. Thus, the question arose: could a meal be constructed using only ingredients from the Merck Index? Better yet, could one manage three courses?
Have you ever tried to look up famous chemists on Wikipedia only to end up misspelling their name or finding a more famous person who shares it? Although sometimes this can be frustrating, it can also be pretty funny. Here are a few amusing namesakes I discovered recently:
As well as being one of the leading figures in the organocatalytic revolution, according to wikipedia.org, "David McMillan is a British-Australian drug smuggler who is best known for being the only Westerner on record as having successfully escaped Bangkok's Klong Prem prison". A man of many talents. Apparently, Dave avoided recapture by his immediate acquisition of an umbrella once outside the prison walls... because escaped prisoners never carry umbrellas. Clearly a clever man.
2. Phil Baron
The real Phil Baran. Credit: Sexy Science
Although he tends to make the rest of us look bad and just won't stop writing review after review after review, I still get excited whenever he publishes something. Apart from all that chemistry and reviewing, I have just learned from the Phil Baron wikipedia page that he's also a "voice actor, puppeteer and songwriter who voiced Piglet in the Disney Channel live-action/puppet television series Welcome to Pooh Corner". Where does he find the time?
From Chem. Soc. Rev., 2012, DOI: 10.1039/C2CS35116A
Just a quick post to remind you that I need your Colouring Competition entries by the end of Tuesday so I can write some kind of round up post in time for Nicolaou's birthday on Thursday. This weekend would be a good time to spend just 10 or 15 minutes messing around in Photoshop, the GIMP, or at a push, MSPaint. Heck, you can even print them out, colour them in and scan them if you don't have mad image editing skills. Not that it matters; I certainly don't. Give them to your children! If you're short of inspiration you can check out the entries from See Arr Oh and DrFreddy, or look at the latest Nicolaou review above.
Or: Somewhat Like Cooking
We all know what it’s like to be desperate for a reaction to work; to need a result so badly, or to have a supervisor breathing down our necks, telling us that something must be possible. I’m sure all bench chemists can remember searching the literature for a procedure to prepare a given compound, only to find one, read it and then discard it for being too dangerous or just plain ridiculous. We can all probably think of a few procedures that we're just not paid enough to follow. For example, before Christmas I wanted to make some of this carboxylic acid.
Easy, right? Surely you just oxidise the 2,5-hexadienol that you can get in one step from allyl bromide, unprotected propargyl alcohol and indium? Nope, there are numerous preparations reported, and they all use either tin, or worse, nickel tetracarbonyl. A thing that myself and Derek Lowe definitely won’t work with.
Yup, chemists love to talk about dangerous procedures. But what about ridiculous ones? I once heard an academic tell a story about his time as postdoc with Steve Ley. In his first few months in the group, another postdoc whom he referred to as ‘Crazy Norman’ had been working out the last few steps in a natural product synthesis. The final reaction was the selective reduction of one of three or four double bonds in the molecule by hydrogenation. Norman performed this reaction once on a small scale, got some NMRs and then left and moved on. After he was gone, Ley set another postdoc the task of making a little bit more of the natural product, by repeating Norman’s final step. But they couldn’t. The particular selectivity that Norman observed (and had the NMR data to prove) was never seen again. His successor tried everything – different catalysts, solvents and temperatures. New glassware, clean stirrer bars, old glassware and dirty stirrer bars. They stirred clockwise and anticlockwise, by the window and in the dark. It was rumoured that someone in the lab might have been doing some sulfur chemistry on the day when Norman did his reduction, so they tried even tried wafting some thiols at the flask full of catalyst and solvent, to maybe poison it just a little bit. Eventually, they rang up Norman to ask if he remembered doing anything – anything at all – unusual when he ran the reaction. He thought for a while and then replied, in total seriousness, “I think I might have washed the glassware with Vimto”.
Image from americansweets.co.uk
Give that man a Tet. Lett.! Here are a few other examples of ridiculous things you’ll never try:
Here’s a little something I wrote on the flight back from the conference I attended before Christmas. It didn't quite turn out right, which is why you haven't seen it yet, but I'm a bit busy and uninspired right now so I've dredged it out for your enjoyment.
Answer: All of them, obviously
As anyone who has ever read a paper will know, scientific English is a bit different from the stuff we speak around the coffee table (and what you’ll read here). Basically, the aim of academic writing is to sound as intelligent as you can while still being quite vague. Language should be as grandiloquent as possible, to the point of obfuscation, and common words must never be used when more bookish ones are available. There are several classic papers which I needed a copy of the Oxford English Dictionary to decode. And I’m fine with that; that’s how it should be.
Unfortunately, in recent years, the primary literature has become increasingly accessible and easy to read. It all began with the advent of Chemdraw, robbing the world of the beauty of stencilled/hand drawn structures, and the unabated simplification of the language still proceeds apace. This must stop. It is not acceptable to write that reactions ‘give’ or ‘yield’ particular compounds. Words like ‘furnish’, ‘afford’ or even ‘educe’ are far superior, and one should try to use a different one in each instance. Here are a few further ways to decrease the readability of your work and frustrate and confuse native and non-native English speakers alike. Just remember, you’re really doing them a favour.