Archive for the ‘Games’ Category

WWWTP? – Mohawk Edition

Thursday, February 14th, 2013

Bobak “The JPL Mohawk Guy” Ferdowsi dyed his hairdo several weeks back to celebrate the discovery of chloromethane on Mars:

Very nice, though I’m not a big fan of the atomic radii. That turquoise chlorine atom should be huge—4 times the diameter of the red hydrogens.

You just can’t trust engineers these days…

WWWTP? – Sci-Fi Classic Edition

Monday, September 17th, 2012

It’s time to start attacking the ChemBark mailbag. Let’s begin with this little gem sent in by Excimer:

Photo credit: Excimer


Excimer writes:

I’m currently reading the sci-fi classic series Cities in Flight by James Blish, and hooray! there’s organic chemistry in it. Unfortunately, it looks like this.

Indeed. You’ve gotta love the: (i) Texas carbon, (ii) doubly-bonded hydrogen, and (iii) calcium–carbon bonds. I guess this sci-fi classic is heavier on the fiction than the science.

WWWTP? – Nomenclature Edition

Sunday, June 24th, 2012

There is nothing like a trip to my mailbox to bring a nice little blogging hiatus to a crashing halt. While attacking my pile of C&ENs, I caught this ad for TOSOH Organic Chemical Company on page 43 of the 11 June 2012 edition:

I guess the hair net and painter’s mask ensure that—unlike my Orange Chicken at Panda Express—these products arrive free of human hair. Matters of lab attire aside, what actually piqued my interest in the ad were the compounds for sale:

Sigh. That is not how I was taught to name organic compounds. My orgo professor—on the recommendation of IUPAC—told us to start by numbering the longest chain of carbons. Thus, 1-bromo-2-ethylbutane is properly named 3-(bromomethyl)pentane, and 1-bromo-2-ethylhexane should be 3-(bromomethyl)heptane.

Avid readers of ChemBark know that I love trick questions, and structures like the ones above make for great nomenclature practice. Many students will instinctively assume the carbon chain extending from left to right is the longest. When I taught orgo, I had to purchase red pens by the dozen.

Chemical-Free Treason

Wednesday, May 23rd, 2012

Matt at ScienceGeist is hosting a blog carnival this week on “Our Favorite Toxic Chemicals.” The idea is to generate posts about chemicals that have reputations for being toxic, but that also have important applications and non-toxic manifestations (e.g., in low concentrations). All of your favorite chembloggers have posts up, including Excimer, who has returned from a long blog hiatus.

I should have my contribution up by Friday. What I love about this carnival is that the posts will live for eternity, standing ready to drop some knowledge on any curious soul who runs a Google search for one of these molecules.

In other news, I have been busy going around the department in preparation for a visit next week from a very special guest. On my recent travels from office to office, I came upon a number of these signs in the hallway outside of a research lab:


NO labcoats, gloves, tlc plates, NMR samples or other chemical contaminants


The extra exclamation mark lets you know that they mean business. I’ll refrain from identifying the lab to protect my colleagues, but the scene definitely made me cringe. I understand it when marketers raise the “chemical-free” dagger, but a lab of chemists? Et tu, Brute?

In a subsequent discussion on the matter, a member of a different lab pointed out that my concern was probably a trifle, because this building was a laboratory not generally accessed by the public. Under these conditions, the sign is widely understood to succinctly communicate that contaminated items should not be brought into the office space.

While I think such an argument is tenable, it is preferable (and relatively easy) to avoid the controversy completely. If we—chemists—can’t be bothered to find a suitable alternative to “chemical-free”, then why should we expect the same from laymen? It seems like a sign that says “No lab equipment or samples in this room” would get the job done with only a slightly less economical use of words.

And finally, a kind chemical engineer sent me a link to the following paper, in which a freshly-minted Harvard professor railed against “chemical free” in 1995:

Chemistry and the chemical industry often are misunderstood by the general public. It is not uncommon for products to be advertised as “chemical free” or for a product to be labeled dangerous because it contains chemicals. As chemists, we know that these claims are incorrect. Unfortunately, many people in today’s society do not have the chemical training necessary to determine whether or not such claims are valid.

I guess J. Chem. Ed. was where bloggers blogged before there were blogs.

Some Thoughts on Ads

Wednesday, May 9th, 2012

Part of the fun of having a blog is monitoring its traffic, and more traffic equals more fun. I say this because, eventually, someone is going to read this blog and finally create a respectable chemistry journal where all of the correspondence—including letters to the editor, original submissions, referee reports, responses to referees, editorial decisions, and reader comments—is signed and available online. That post was from 2007. What is the delay, people? Let’s make this happen.

Long ago, I had the fanciful idea of running an ad for ChemBark in C&EN. What better way could there be to reach out to so many chemists? Unfortunately, I quickly learned that I couldn’t even afford a single line in those mind-numbing walls of text at the end of the magazine. If you want an ad in the middle of the magazine, the minimum you’ll have to shell out is $3,560 according to this notice (16 April 2012, p. 54).

And what kind of magic was I expecting from an ad in C&EN, anyway? Oh yes…all 150,000+ readers would be so intrigued by a URL under a head shot of Ed the Dog that they would race to their computers and hit the site. Once they had the chance to read my biting criticism of Swiss department stores and admire my poor skills at Photoshop, they’d fall in love and become addicted to blogs, for sure!

Ummm, no. And it is through such a lens that I have wondered what other advertisers have hoped to achieve with expensive print ads—especially those who list random compounds they have available. I think my bewilderment hit an all-time high last month when this ad from Quanta BioDesign was published in back-to-back issues:

“Non-Quenching Fluorescein!” certainly grabbed my attention, and the first thing I felt compelled to do was look at the structure to see what was different about this fluorescein. That is when I noticed something was terribly wrong. At least, I think.

That’s not fluorescein, right? It has a methylene group where an oxygen should be. Wait, is that why this molecule is special? Wait, that shouldn’t even exist…it would tautomerize (such that one of the methylene hydrogens would move to the carbonyl group to make the ring system aromatic).

I was confused, so I went to the Web site and searched for Product #10885. It turns out, there is no product #10885.

So, let me get this straight…this company paid $6,150 (x at least 2 weeks) to run an ad with a wacky structure for a product that doesn’t exist?! I wish I had that kind of money to throw away. I’d save up and get Ed on the back cover.

I have found so many errors in ads run in C&EN that I could probably make a decent living proofreading them on commission. And I sometimes wonder how much money a chemistry blog could make if it wanted to get serious about selling ads. C&EN has a weekly circulation of ~164k and lists a rate of $6,150 for the ad above. Could a blogger like Derek Lowe, who reports traffic of 15-20k pageviews per day, make $615 from running that ad? Seems reasonable to me, and I’d just as well see people throw money at Derek.

Someone should run the experiment, but it won’t be happening here anytime soon. I purposely make sure I’m losing money on this site in an attempt to show I’m not in this for financial gain. That said, just to be on the safe side, I have still reported the blog to my employer as a potential conflict of interest. My job provides me with access to nice things like journals, which are useful to the blog and would cost a pretty penny if I were a professional journalist working from home. I think you can mount a reasonable argument that a revenue-free ChemBark meshes well with the educational mission of a non-profit research university.

Incidentally, the “ads” that you see running on ChemBark are fake. Several weeks ago, I added space for a 150 x 150 pixel image to the left sidebar and a 500 x 80 pixel image to the footer of the page. The ads that you have seen in these positions—for instance, the one linking to the assistant editor position listed at Nature Chemistry—have all been designed by me, for fun. They were neither solicited nor purchased, and I will continue to use these ads to link to things I like. Click them and warm yourself with the knowledge that no one is making a penny.