November 2012



We forget today, in these days of the two cultures, just how close the arts and sciences once were. The era of the romantic poets, for example, was also an incredibly exciting time for chemistry, as new elements started to be discovered and explored. Humphrey Davy, for example, was not only a scientist, but a poet and an editor of Lyrical Ballads and many of the romantics looked to the clear language of the sciences to help them in defining the language for their new style. (more…)

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The beer drank by ancient Nubians contained an antibiotic, which kept them healthy. Find out about the discovery of tetracyclines – antibiotics isolated from soil fungus – in this week’s Chemistry in its element

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It’s the kitchen acid everyone knows and loves. Find out about the hundreds of uses of vinegar – and the chemistry behind them – in this week’s Chemistry in its element

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This is a first for us at Chemistry World – a rock song about chemistry. Many of you out there will readily recall Tom Lehrer’s elements song, where he puts the entire periodic table to music in under two minutes, but I can’t think of any rock that features chemistry. Whatever next? Slash in a lab coat?

Chemistry rock comes courtesy of Craig Graziano, a youth librarian from the US, and his band The Crypts! with his song about Marie Curie. In his catchy tune (shades of the Sex Pistols?), he sings about Curie’s discovery of polonium and radium, her Nobels and her untimely death caused by radiation exposure in the course of her work. I even learnt a couple of new things about this already very well-known public figure, including that she was a keen cyclist! The rest of the Discover Science album can be downloaded here.

Craig says that his song is more than just a bit of fun. It’s also about building interest and trust in science, which he says is on the wane in the US. Have a listen and let us know what you think: can you think of any other chemistry songs?

Patrick Walter

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It may come from something as mundane as the castor oil plant, but it was used in one of the strangest spy murders in the cold war. Find out about ricin in this week’s Chemistry in its element

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Over at CENtral Science, they’re having a food chemistry blog carnival in the run up to Thanksgiving. As my contribution, I thought I’d share a recent food chemistry encounter with you all…

Whether you prefer butterscotch, toffee, honeycomb hokey pokey, spun sugar, nut brittle or the unctuous dulce di leche, caramelised sugar is a sticky treat that goes straight to the heart of most people’s idea of pleasure on a plate (or in a bowl of icecream…)

The chemistry of caramelisation is fascinating, but the other day, while I was settled in front of the TV to catch up on the Great British bake off masterclass on crème caramel, the description of the process had me shouting indignantly at the screen. (more…)

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David Glowacki is on a mission to ‘bring spectroscopy into the public consciousness’, he says. But Danceroom Spectroscopy, his enchanting fusion of quantum molecular dynamics, music and dance, is in no way pedagogical. If it has any kind of take home message, it is simply that movement should be fundamental to our collective understanding of atoms and molecules, the buildings blocks of matter. (more…)

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Pseudevernia furfuracea

Pseudevernia furfuracea

Pseudevernia furfuracea - the source of 'tree moss' extract. Credit: Wikimedia Commons/Stemonitis

In various news outlets over the past few days, a lot of noise has been made about the EU calling for a ban on some of the signature ingredients of Chanel No 5 and other high-end perfumes.

These stories stem from an opinion report by the European commission’s scientific committee on consumer safety. The opinion report expands on a list of fragrance ingredients that are demonstrated to cause allergies, and suggests that some should be banned. Perfume makers are currently required to list 26 ingredients on the packaging of products that contain them.

The new list comprises 82 ‘established allergens’ and many more ingredients identified as ‘likely’ or ‘potential’ allergens. That list includes 54 individual chemical ingredients and 28 natural extracts, and it is the inclusion of one specific extract that is causing the majority of the fuss. (more…)

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The tragic story of this drug is well known – but do you know how the Food & Drug Administration managed to prevent it being used in the US? Find out about Frances Oldham Kelsey’s work with thalidomide in this week’s Chemistry in its element

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