Friday, 26 April 2013

Chemical poetry

This week on Twitter has been all about Real Time Chem, if you've somehow missed it then you are spending too much time in the lab.

Real Time Chem is a great community project on Twitter using the hashtag #RealTimeChem. Chemists all over the world have been sharing their daily experiences, lab work, cool articles and finding solace in the fact that they are not the only one failing to purify that unknown black mess.

Amongst other things this week, I have been doing some isothermal titration calorimetry (ITC). A wonderful technique (when it works) of measuring the binding enthalpies and association constants for non-covalent interactions. It's one of my favourite pieces of kit to use; it can give great insight into the success (or failure) of synthesised ligands and makes some pretty graphs.

ITC machine
ITC results

After setting the experiment going I had about 30 minutes to procrastinate before the run was finished. So the internet gets fired up and through a strange connection of aimless link clicking, on websites including "Facebook", "Chemistry World" and "Jet2 cheap flights" (possibly not in that order), I came across Nobel prize winner Roald Hoffmann. Whilst obviously being a great scientist, Professor Hoffmann is also the author of a large number of poems. Some of his work focuses on chemistry and I thought what a fantastic medium poetry is for expressing the wonder and excitement of uncovering nature. I'm sure it would work equally well for portraying the torment and anguish at failed reactions, but let's stick to the wonder for now.

Back at the ITC, a flash of inspiration hit me and I came up with a poem all about the technique...

Isothermal Titration Calorimetry

Separate they contemplate their lives alone
But this the only thought they share
Not knowing their worlds are about to collide
Never loneliness will they again bear

One passively waits for an injection of life
Floating in their own little cell
The other poised to mix at the first chance
That stirring sensation will tell

But it takes another to set their paths
One who knows what makes them attract
To turn up the temperature, wait for the calm
Push the right buttons, see them interact

An initial touch, not sure where it will lead
At first you can never quite know
But a second feel, a larger reach
The heat given off starts to show

As if they had always been as one
They're together and will never part
The creator watches his successful work
Plotting their lives as a chart

Their story lives on for others to see
An example for anyone that looks
To find a guest for that elusive host
Written down in the wisest of books

Saturday, 20 April 2013

Imaginary elements

It's time to sit back and relax. Put your feet up and put on a good film... oh here comes some actual chemistry, a surprising rarity in sci-fi. Oh and it's totally inaccurate, excellent. 


As part of the "chemistry at the movies" blog carnival hosted by @SeeArrOh I'm going to look at a film that split viewers into lovers and haters. Avatar. An epic sci-fi and a basic remake of every other struggle of good vs evil, but with a huge budget and in 3D. So obviously, I thought it was awesome.

The film's premise is based on chemistry. Well at least it is based on the hunt for a new resource, a new mineral, a new element, whatever it is they give it an interesting name; unobtanium. Since Mendeleev put together the world's most famous piece of furniture, chemists have been working to fill in the gaps and add on to the end. So where does unobtanium fit on our nice little table?

Well it doesn't really fit anywhere, it's not real. But being not a real element is not a problem. The fictional element dilithium in Star Trek and the alloy carbonite in Star Wars have both become cult favourites and their use in the films is totally acceptable. The only problem that I have with the fictional unobtanium, is its name. The people at the Resources Development Administration must have used up all the hardtofindium and long ago depleted their stocks of wishwehadmoreofthisium. They had to get their hands on a new super element. James Cameron in his wisdom came up with a totally implausible name that no sane scientist would give to such a sought after material. It's this stupid name that in my opinion lets down an otherwise flawless film...

(What? There are body swapping giant blue aliens and floating mountains? That's totally fine.)

Other appearances

Unobtanium has actually made it to the movies before. In The Core, it was used to build their ship. A scientist in the film gives us a small insight into its composition, he "combined the chemicals in a tungsten titanium matrix", hmm.

The name has also been in use by engineers since the 1950s, according to trusty Wikipedia. So these films really could have put in a bit more effort to come up with something that sounded more sciencey. The tradition now is to name it after the discoverer or institute or a famous scientist, so what was wrong with Pandorium or (an egotistical and possibly worse) Cameronium. Despite being completely silly, unobtanium can still take its rightful place on the periodic table of imaginary elements (I have this poster on my wall), with other beauties such as dalekanium and crapcrapium.

For more Chem Movie Carnival fun follow the hashtag or have a look at this summary. I'd highly recommend the synthesis of kryptonite and how to poison a nitrogen based life form.


Tuesday, 2 April 2013

The Octacoss!

The Octacoss is upon us! Run for your lives... A recent cover from OBC introduces the latest terror to be unearthed from the depths of the seven scientific seas.

Watch out the Octacoss is about

The Octacoss
This new monster is staring with unblinking eyes, piercing the soul of any unsuspecting readers. But you'd soon forgive him any harm done, as he is rather cute.

The little pink guy is wrapping his far-reaching tentacles around a number of useful objects found lying on the bed of any well stocked laboratory sea. Coral dendrimers; often showing fascinating fractal patterns which may increase the tentacle's reach. Starfish labels; not the usual prey of our 8-legged friends and so instead used undoubtedly as a tool (perhaps a ninja throwing star). Anchor linkers; holding the beast in place and catching any passersby hook, line and sinker.

Boldly displayed on his chest, the creature is showing off a rather geeky tattoo. A chemical schematic of a silsesquioxane with the 8 branches shooting off down his 8 tentacles. The artists have given a wonderfully fun, if not overly dramatic representation of their cubic structure. However, we should now be considering whether a journal cover is the right place to show such ridiculous images. As other academics are likely to be the only people viewing it, will it interest them? There are not many chances for this kind of expression in a field that is often overly serious about itself and so in my opinion, yes, why not have a bit of fun. It's big, it's bold, it's a little bit silly, but it definitely draws you in and it sent me looking up what these silsesquithingys are all about.

Putting the Octa in Octacoss

The Paper: Bioconjugation on cube-octameric silsesquioxanes
Found at: Org. Biomol. Chem., 2013, 11, 2224-2236

The article is a review of recent advances in the modification of these highly symmetric structures. COSS are cube-octameric silsesquioxanes, therefore OCTACOSS are octa cube-octameric silsesquioxanes. The authors seem to have developed an all too common case of RAS syndrome.

It is the biochemical elements in this review that make it stand out (as well as the delightful octopus). COSS are not particularly new structures having first been synthesised in 1955. But the functionalisation and recent biological applications are importantly highlighted.

The high stability and low toxicity of the core structures is discussed in the article. Particular attention is then paid by the authors to the bioconjugation and self-assembly of glycoclusters for studying lectin binding and the use of dendrimer constructs for drug delivery. The review finishes with an analysis of the "most advanced application" of COSS scaffolds as molecular probes. A decent review overall, covering a wide range of uses for a not so monstrous creation.