June 2012



Nobel prize medalDeveloped as an explosive over 160 years ago, this compound has been used to treat angina for over 100 years. Peter Wothers handles the history of nitroglycerine with care in this week’s Chemistry in its element podcast.

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People are talking about Alan Turing again as it’s the centenary of his birth tomorrow. And when people talk about Turing, they talk about him as the father of modern computing or the man who helped with the number-crunching that cracked the German’s top secret enigma code during the Second World War. But what’s less well known – unsurprisingly as he’s better known as a mathematician – is his one, sole and seminal contribution to chemistry.

Turing wrote a paper in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society in 1952, two years before his untimely death, titled The chemical basis of morphology. In it, he laid out his groundbreaking idea that chemical reactions could create patterns. He postulated that, if reacting chemicals were separated into small reacting cells that can freely diffuse they can create an array of different patterns. And this goes beyond just chemical oddities like the beautiful Belousov-Zhabotinsky reactions. His theory was a chemical just so story that explains how the zebra earned its stripes and how the jaguar got its spots. You can learn more about Turing’s chemical connection in Philip Ball’s feature here.

Patrick Walter

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Toothpaste on toothbrushUsed on the million-tonne scale in domestic products from toothpaste to self-cleaning windows, this material is more than just a white pigment. Phil Robinson tells us how titanium dioxide brightens up our life in this week’s Chemistry in its element podcast.

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Blacks Technicals logo

What is that chemical?

A couple of years ago, a letter popped up in the Chemistry World inbox, wondering about the identity of a chemical-looking logo on the Technicals line of outdoor gear from UK chain Blacks. General concensus at the time was that it could represent some kind of stylised neurochemical, but strictly the logo looked like a saturated hydrocarbon.

Well, two years and an undergraduate synthesis project later, another letter has arrived… (more…)

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The saltpetre men of the 17th century could be described as the first biochemists. But they could also be described as a ‘rowdy and undesirable’ lot, hated and feared for the disruption and distress they caused in their search for their precious namesake. Lars Ohrstrom tells the story of potassium nitrate in this week’s Chemistry in its element podcast.

 

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In the June podcast, we’re cooking with science – we’ve got sun-baked solar cells, flambeed pharmaceuticals and a silicon spread, all washed down with some champagne science and a well-stirred Suzuki. Mmm… get it while it’s hot

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At its height, it was as an all-purpose cleaner, refrigerant and even fire extinguisher but we have since learned (the hard way) that it is dangerously toxic. Brian Clegg charts the downfall of carbon tetrachloride in this week’s Chemistry in its element podcast.

 

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