Archive for the ‘Medicinal’ Category

Better Drinking Through Chemistry

Tuesday, March 19th, 2013

Hey, look what the American Chemical Society produced for St. Paddy’s Day: it’s a tutorial on the chemistry of alcohol, including its effects on your body and how your body attempts to rid itself of the poison.


Uh oh, but there’s a WWWTP? in there. If you pause at the 2:45 mark, you can see that they flubbed the structure of “amyl alcohol”:



While there are several isomers of amyl alcohol, instead of drawing one of those, the ACS has shown the structure for isoamyl acetate (commonly known as banana oil). When banana oil is dilute, it kind of smells like Juicy Fruit bubble gum. In concentrated form, it smells really gross. I know, because I made it in 6th period orgo lab in high school and the people around me in 7th period religion paid the price.

But good effort, ACS! This is exactly the sort of info we (as chemists) should be communicating to the People. It’s news they can use. Of course, in the future, try to get the structures right! (And for the record, you also misspelled “judgment” at 0:49. Boo.)

H/T to Kim the Magnificent for the tip.

Armpitin – “A Peerless Contraceptive”

Wednesday, March 21st, 2012

This article from 1965 might be the first example of the publication of a purely farcical chemistry paper in a respectable journal. This article also appears to have completely eluded the attention of blogs, most likely because bloggers were especially lazy in the 60s. The unmistakable quality of the paper is certified by a consequent letter to the editor, in which a concerned member of the Canadian Medical Association wrote:

I was appalled to read J.S. Greenstein’s Very Original Article on “Armpitin”…I am very sorry to observe that the official journal of Canadian doctors has published this article.

The paper describes the development of armpitin as a powerful contraceptive agent. While the author provides a structure for a portion of the molecule, he refuses to provide the full details of its synthesis because he “intends to make a fortune.”

The results seem unsurprising. I would wager that a majority of us have collected anecdotal evidence that a repetitive string of NOs can be very effective at preventing pregnancy. The author reports he serendipitously stumbled into the field of contraceptives while designing deodorants. One deodorant led to a noticeable increase in libido without concomitant increase in pregnancy. His initial studies proceeded from there:

With typical male self-assurance, we undertook to examine the females for the causative factors leading to their infertility. We employed every known gross anatomical, histological, histochemical, biochemical, endocrinological, physiological and psychological test of reproductive capacity and could find no evidence of malfunctioning of the female reproductive systems and accessory structures. We could only conclude, reluctantly, after months of exhaustive investigation, that the females were normal in all respects, and that we should turn our attention to the males.

When we took the trouble to examine the ejaculates obtained by masturbation, artificial vagina, or by post-coital recovery from the site of deposition, the answer to the enigma stared back at us through the narrow barrel of the microscope tube: THERE WERE NO SPERMATOZOA IN ANY OF THE SEMEN SAMPLES.

Yeah, this paper was actually published in a respectable journal—and in 1965, when by all accounts, people were humorless. (There is simply no other rational explanation for the popularity of Jerry Lewis.) What shocks me more than anything is that the content of the paper is 98% pseudo-legitimate technobabble and only 2% punchlines, yet the editor allows the damn thing to go on for 5 pages. That said, the list of references is particularly amusing. The author acknowledges “A. Gabriel” for divine inspiration in the form of a personal communication, and also cites a paper on orgasm by C. Men as well as a child’s guide to erotica by M. Goose.

While I regularly advocate that Carl Djerassi should be recognized by the Nobel Committee, I don’t think that Dr. Greenstein’s seminal contribution rises to the same level.