Neil Withers


Hopefully, it hasn’t escaped your notice that our December issue had a feature about chocolate in it – one of our tastiest articles this year! As soon as we knew that article was going in the issue, we knew exactly what we wanted on the cover: chocolate, and lots of it. But we’re Chemistry World, not Cadbury World, so we had to shoehorn in some chemistry.

What better way than to make a molecule of theobromine (one of the key alkaloid compounds found in everyone’s favourite cocoa-bean-based confectionery) out of chocolate?

In extensive (and hunger-inducing) discussions among the team, we came down to a couple of options: make a model ourselves out of shop-bought chocs or get a pro to do it. So armed with £20 out of the magazine’s budget, I headed to the shops to try the first option. (more…)

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This week’s compound is so bitter (a thousand times more so than quinine) that it’s used to stop people drinking alcohol. Discover denatonium benzoate - the bitterest compound in the world – in this week’s Chemistry in its element  podcast.

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I bet many of you have used this ingredient of bath salts in your undergraduate chemistry labs. Discover magnesium sulfate in this week’s Chemistry in its element  podcast.

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Vancomycin – the drug of last resort for treating resistant bacteria – was isolated from soil taken from the Borneo jungle. Find out more in this week’s Chemistry in its element  podcast.

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Be careful with that drink! Brian Clegg looks at the chemistry behind chloral hydrate – the knockout drops in a ‘Mickey Finn’ – in this week’s Chemistry in its element  podcast.

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Oh no! It’s nitrogen dioxide (ONO). Find out about the chemistry behind this rocket oxidant and urban pollutant in this week’s Chemistry in its element  podcast.

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From the vibrant yellow in van Gogh’s paintings to providing the cadmium for batteries, this semiconductor’s looking bright. Find out about cadmium sulfide in this week’s  Chemistry in its element  podcast.

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Like the Fonz, this week’s  Chemistry in its element compound is cool – but how does menthol create that cooling sensation? Find out in the podcast.

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These compounds are helping your eyes and brain read these words right now! Find out how opsins, the molecules of sight, work in this week’s Chemistry in its element.

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You might have noticed in today’s news that three Silicon Valley squillionaires have funded a new megabucks prize for life sciences, the Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences. The 11 initial winners get a cool $3 million (three MILLION dollars) straight from the chequebooks of Mark Zuckerberg (Mr Facebook), Sergey Brin (Mr Google) and Yuri Milner (the other one). Actually, do they still have chequebooks in Silicon Valley? Probably not.

The winners also get the job honour of selecting the winners of future awards – unlike some other awards you might be familiar with, it will be possible for more than three people to win the prize in any one year. (more…)

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