Guest post by Heather Cassell

When starting a new experiment, it is great if there is a standard lab protocol (written by someone else in the lab) that you can use. These tried and tested methods usually increase the chance of your experiment working. On receiving the new protocol, the first thing you need to do is read the method carefully so you can plan accordingly; I’ve been caught out before – I found out part way through what I thought was a two hour incubation that it was really 12 hours, so I ended up having to finish off the experiment on Saturday!

Shelf of chemical bottles

© Shutterstock

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Guest post by Rowena Fletcher-Wood

Nobody had thought to study the orange sludge that was scraped off the Union Carbide pipes after manufacturing cyclopentadiene, but perhaps they should have done. When chemists eventually set their gaze on this colourful by product, the ensuing discovery of ferrocene catalysed a branch of research.

Organometallics had proved themselves a hard puzzle to crack, with only a handful developed by the 1950s, including the infamous Grignard reagents. Iron organometallics remained elusive, which is why Thomas Kealy and Peter Pauson, working at Duquesne University in 1951, had no intention of synthesising any. In fact, they were trying to make a totally organic compound: pentafulvalene, a molecule built from two cyclopentadiene rings fused together by a double bond. Samuel Miller, John Tebboth and John Tremaine, chemists at the British Oxygen Company, demonstrated no more interest in organometallics: their aim was to develop a new method of preparing amides from nitrogen and hydrocarbons, including cyclopentadiene. Both threw in iron catalysts – after all, iron was not going to form stable organometallic compounds, was it? (more…)

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Guest post by JessTheChemist

’The field of scientific abstraction encompasses independent kingdoms of ideas and of experiments and within these, rulers whose fame outlasts the centuries. But they are not the only kings in science. He also is a king who guides the spirit of his contemporaries by knowledge and creative work, by teaching and research in the field of applied science, and who conquers for science provinces which have only been raided by craftsmen.’ – Fritz Haber

This month marks the one hundred year anniversary of the first use of chemical warfare as a strategic tool in battle. Fritz Haber was heavily involved in, and a proponent of, gassing with chlorine as a method of warfare. Whilst his work in this area may have resulted in huge loss of life, he also changed the world for the better through the discovery of the Haber-Bosch process.

The Haber-Bosch process, named after Fritz Haber and Carl Bosch, was one of the first industrial chemical processes that I learned about at high school. At the time, I found it incredibly interesting that some pressure and some heat, with some iron thrown in for good measure, could turn nitrogen gas and hydrogen gas into malodourous ammonia. The reaction had been known before but the low yields and slow reaction times made it an unattractive prospect for an industrial process. Haber realised that the addition of high temperature and pressure with an iron catalyst could make this a highly efficient process. Haber won the Nobel prize in chemistry in 1918 for his identification of the process, while Bosch won the prize in 1931 for his work in scaling up the process.

With cheap access to ammonia, fertilizers were became more readily available and, as such, millions of people around the world benefit from the availability of good quality crops. But the availability of ammonia also led to an proliferation in the use of nitrate-based explosives, as Wilhelm Ostwald discovered that ammonia could be converted relatively simply into nitric acid and nitrates using a platinum catalyst (the Ostwald Process).

Haber’s father owned a dye pigments and paints business, so it is not a surprise that he entered into the field of chemistry. After attending university, a brief period working for his father and various apprenticeships, he took up an academic position at the University of Karlsruhe.

As with the other laureates I’ve researched on this blog, Haber is connected to a number of highly influential scientists, including Walther Nernst, his closest academic relative,. Nernst helped to develop the modern field of physical chemistry, including electrochemistry and thermodynamics. All undergraduate chemists should recognise his name from learning all about the Nernst equation! He won the Nobel prize in chemistry in 1920 for his work into thermochemistry. Through Nernst, Haber is also connected to Irving Langmuir who won the Nobel prize in 1932 for his research on surface chemistry.

Haber is related to Adolf von Baeyer, an organic chemist who is famous for the synthesis of indigo. In 1905 he was awarded the Nobel prize in chemistry for his research in the field of organic chemistry, particularly organic dyes and hydroaromatic compounds. There is also an academic connection between Haber and Bosch, although they worked independently from one another on the same chemical process. Once Haber had developed the Haber process, it was purchased by the German chemical company BASF, where Carl Bosch managed to scale up the reaction to the industrial level, resulting in the Haber-Bosch process.

Whether you believe Fritz Haber is a great man or not, it cannot be said that his (and Bosch’s) finding was not a great one.

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Guest post from Holly Salisbury

There’s just one week left to vote for your favourite Take 1… minute for chemistry in health video.

The shortlisted videos are online for one more week – this is your last chance to pick your favourite to win the £500 cash prize!

The chemical sciences play a fundamental role in improving healthcare. We invited undergraduates through to early career researchers to produce an original video that communicated how chemistry helps us address healthcare challenges in an imaginative way. The videos show the use of nanoparticles for drug delivery through to the development of antifreezes useful for long-term blood and organ storage. Others explain the chemistry of fat cells, illustrate the chemistry of toothpaste, and highlight the impact of chemistry in treating cancer and tackling antibiotic resistance.

Want to get involved? Watch our 6 shortlisted videos (below) and vote for your favourite before 11.59pm (GMT) 17 April 2015! (more…)

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Guest post from Tom Branson

I have tried many different ways to make chemistry make visual sense. I have struggled to make the π orbitals overlap in a Diels-Alder reaction scheme. I have toiled away building cardboard proteins to model a complex. And I still draw little cartoon viruses at work today. We cannot see exactly what goes on when proteins bump into each other or when electrons are shared between atoms, but we can attempt to visualise these natural phenomena in the best way possible. Making this both easy to understand and scientifically accurate, however, is not a simple task.

Chemical reactions and molecular interactions can be displayed in countless different ways. On the front and inside front cover of this month’s Chemical Science are two such attempts to show what is really going on in the reaction flask. (more…)

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ISACS, the International Symposia on Advancing the Chemical Sciences, is a series of meetings where some of the world’s greatest researchers gather to discuss key chemistry topics. It’s a great opportunity to get up to date with the topic in hand, and the extensive poster sessions are a good chance for early career researchers to network with big-hitters in their field. To encourage more researchers to attend and present their work, Chemistry World will be sponsoring prizes for the best posters at all three ISACS meetings of 2015. Winners will receive £250, a highly sought-after Chemistry World mug and a certificate.

To take advantage of this amazing opportunity to showcase your latest research alongside leading scientists submit your poster abstract by 7 April for ISACS16, by 29 June for ISACS17 and by 7 September for ISACS18.

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Guest post by Heather Cassell

Throughout my time in the lab I have greatly appreciated having post docs, PhD students and technicians looking after me. So I try to be as supportive as I can to the students in the lab, especially the undergraduates. This mainly involves answering lab based questions, such as: ‘Do you know where this reagent is?’ ‘How do I get rid of this waste?’  Or ‘this is broken, what should I do?’ The questions are usually straightforward, and I’ll do my utmost best to help (unless I’m in the middle of setting up a big experiment – some people just don’t understand that setting up 64 well plates takes concentration!)

iStock

But sometimes the questions are more philosophical, asking if I enjoy working in science, or what the value of postgraduate studies such as a masters or PhD can be. The answer to the first question can vary from ‘yes, science is amazing’ to ‘no, run away whilst you can, science is awful, it has no future or jobs’, depending on how things are going in my project, how much paperwork I have to do, and how many meetings I have to attend. (more…)

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Guest post by Rowena Fletcher-Wood

It was the 1990s, and drug giant Pfizer was on the trail of an elusive angina medication to relieve constricted blood vessels and lower blood pressure. Pharmaceutical chemists in Sandwich, UK, were focusing their efforts on drugs that release NO (nitric oxide), a highly reactive radical that expands blood vessels and releases physical tension. One promising candidate was sildenafil, which was trialled in Morriston Hospital, Swansea.

It’s always difficult to recruit volunteers for a drug trial: even the best trials in animals, computer simulations and in vitro can’t take into account the full complexity of the human body, it’s strikingly unobvious differences from the rat and the complex interconnectedness of its mechanisms. Unexpected things happen, some of them bad, and some of them beneficial.

Sildenafil, later renamed Viagra for marketing, seemed to be a no-go for angina relief, and the trials were unsuccessful. Pfizer recalled the drug, and an unexpected thing happened: the volunteers resisted. ‘[P]eople didn’t want to give the medication back’, said Pfizer’s Brian Klee, ‘because of the side effect of having erections that were harder, firmer and lasted longer.’ (more…)

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Guest post by JessTheChemist

‘In order to avert such shameful occurrences for all future time, I decree with this day the foundation of a German national prize for art and science. Acceptance of the Nobel prize is herewith forbidden to all Germans for all future time. Executive orders will be issued by the Reich minister for popular enlightenment and propaganda.’ – Adolf Hitler, 1937

Portrait of Richard Kuhn
By ETH Zürich (ETH-Bibliothek Zürich, Bildarchiv) CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Since my February blog post on Carl Djerassi, I have been wondering more and more about all the chemists out there who may have deserved a Nobel prize in chemistry but perhaps died before they could be awarded one or who were prevented from winning a medal for reasons out of their control.

It is well known that the second world war led to huge advancements in chemistry, with, for example, the first organophosphate compounds developed. These were initially used as deadly chemical weapons but have since changed the world through their use as pesticides. While many German scientists were advancing their field, two were forced to decline their Nobel prize in chemistry due to threats of violence and a decree by Adolf Hitler. These talented chemists were Adolf Butenandt from Austria and Richard Kuhn from Germany. (more…)

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Guest post from Tom Branson

It’s a full moon and a cold night. You may be tucked up in bed safely away from the worries of the day, but the night holds its own horrors. On a recent cover of Angewandte Chemie that peaceful night’s sleep was very much in danger of disruption from a rather unpleasant source.

© Shutterstock

Good night, sleep tight

In this disturbing image a resting girl seems to be blissfully unaware of the impending danger she faces. Personally, I would be a little more wary about getting into a bed that had ’bed bug aggregation pheromone’ written on the side of it. But if that wasn’t enough to put you off, then the array of compounds littered across the sheets should surely do the trick. These chemicals are, of course, a mix of volatile components given off by bed bugs.

The cover art accompanies an article from Gerhard Gries, of Simon Fraser University. Gries told me that he wanted to create a creepy image showing a girl ambushed by these bugs that ’come out at night to feed on us humans.’  Delightful. The photo of the bugs was taken in Gries’ lab of their very own bed bug colony. Lead author Regine Gries looks after and feeds the bugs herself, yes literally feeds the bugs herself. Bed bugs favour human blood and there’s no better source than a brave researcher. (more…)

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