December 14, 2012

Advent Chemistry: Sumatriptan

Sticking with the medical theme, this is sumatriptan: It’s a migraine cure, and it’s marvellous. It works. When I have a migraine attack, I spray twenty milligrams of this up my nose, and the pain goes away. It’s not perfect – in particular, it doesn’t...

December 13, 2012

Advent Chemistry: Penicillin

We’re halfway through the month, and today is the day for looking at medical breakthoughs. There’s no actual reason for this, it just seems like a good idea. This is penicillin: Penicillin is, famously, produced by some kinds of mould as a form of self-protection,...

December 12, 2012

Advent Chemistry: Cyanide

The cyanide ion consists of one carbon, triple-bonded to one nitrogen, with a negative charge on the carbon. And it is, as I’m sure you’re aware, a deadly poison. The thing is, though, that it’s only the cyanide ion that’s poisonous. The functional group of...

December 11, 2012

Advent Chemistry: Carvone

Today, I think we’ll give the bonding issue a rest, and look at something new: isomerism. “Isomers” are molecules that have the same structure, almost. That is, if you add up the numbers of each kind of atom, you get the same totals. But if...

December 10, 2012

Advent Chemistry: Capsaicin

Capsaicin is a wonderful compound. It appeals to the evil part of me, because a strong solution of capsaicin is essentially liquid pain. Hey, I never said my evil side was nice. Capsaicin is the active compound in chilli peppers – the bit that makes...

December 9, 2012

Advent Chemistry: Water

That up there is a water molecule. Now, I know you think water isn’t very interesting, but bear with me. There’s a reason I like water, and it’s not just because it makes me live. It’s a really interesting and unusual chemical. Water is extremely...

December 8, 2012

Advent Chemistry: Sodium Chloride

Ionic bonds are really simple. Where covalent bonds are about sharing electrons, in an ionic bond one atom completely loses an electron to the other. The first atom become positively charged, because it’s got more protons than electrons now. The second becomes negatively charged, because...

December 7, 2012

Advent Chemistry: Benzonitrile

This is benzonitrile, a benzene ring (remember those?) with a nitrile group attached. Hermann Fehling discovered it in 1844. It smells of almonds, and is the substance which gave its name to all “nitrile” compounds. Benzonitrile is an excellent example of the kinds of thing...

December 6, 2012

Advent Chemistry: Hydrogen

It occurs to me that thus far I have not really talked about what bonds are. I’ve talked about how we can change them and how they can shuffle around to even themselves out, but not how we get them in the first place. There...

December 5, 2012

Advent Chemistry: Acetone

This is acetone, one of my favourite solvents. Its systematic name is propanone and it’s the simplest possible ketone. A ketone is any compound with a carbon backbone and a CO group that isn’t on the end. Since when there are only one or two...

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