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A Synthetic Environment

About organic chemistry, chemical history and more nonsense.

Updated: 2014-10-03T07:14:06.137+02:00


Angewandte's songbook


Out here I spoke about attempted humor in graphical abstracts of Angewandte. The abstract often begins with a few words aiming to create some hilarity.
I have no idea whether Jerry Lee Lewis could laugh about it (or Otis Blackwell and Jack Hammer).

It seems to be a hype to use song titles (or derivatives) for this. Many other songs can be identified.

Chubby Checker:
Let's twist again

The Beatles of course:
You say you want a resolution

All together now

Who wants to live forever?

Culture Club:
Chemical chameleon

Pete Seeger (and of course The Byrds):
Turn, turn, turn
Yeah I know it's from Ecclesiastes 3, verses 1–8.

Wilbert Harrison (or Brian Ferry or Bob Dylan)
Let's stick together

Maybe in the future musicians will be rated according to the amount of songs that have been used by Angewandte. The Beatles are number 1 right now.

Champagne chemistry


The previous post about was about Wine Chemistry. One discipline in this area is Champagne Chemistry

A while ago Industrial and Engineering Chemistry published a wine special (Vol. 27, No. 11: November 1935).

One article fits very well in those days around Christmas and new year.
Manufacture of Champagne and Sparkling Burgundy
F. M. Champlin, H. E. Goresline, D. K. Tressler
Ind. Eng. Chem.; 1935; 27(11); 1240-1243.

It is a nice article to read and it has some bad quality but nice pictures.


Here is another nice article for Christmas time:

Enjoy... Happy X-mas and a happy etc. etc. etc.

Bottle of wine, fruit of the vine


Do you like wine?
An alarming title of a paper by Harry Drake Gibbs (1872 – 1934). This is the guy from gibbs reagent (2,6-dichloroquinonechloroimide for a phenol test, Chem. Rev. 1927, 3, 291)
The arsenic in the wine came from arsenic-containing pesticides, clarifying agents, aniline-dyes and agents to clean the wine casks.

You may think: ‘I don’t care I prefer beer.’ Well don’t feel safe.
The Manchester 1900 arsenic brewage resulted in 6000 poisonings and 70 deaths. The arsenic came from glucose, so the beer did not comply with the Reinheitsgebot.

Invert sugar (hydrolyzed sucrose) can be added while brewing beer to speed up the fermentation. Invert sugar can be made by cooking normal sugar in the presence of an acid (resulting in fructose and glucose). The 1900 brewer used invert suger prepared by by this method using sulfuric acid. The sulfuric acid was made from sulfur obtained by combution of sulfur containing ore (pyrite). Unfortunately this ore contained quite some arsenic. The sulfuric acid was polluted with this arsenic and in the end there was the arsenicated beer.

This type of beer is still not very popular, most homebrewers prefer decent stuff.

Arsenicated wine is not rare. It has been said that Napoleon died from arsenic poisoning on Saint Helena in 1821.
If this is true it does not mean that someone poisoned him deliberately. Maybe he just drank the wrong stuff.

Mother's milk chemistry


There is this very nice paper by Prof. Albert Ripley Leeds (prof of chemistry at the Stevens Institute of Technology, Hoboken, N.J. who died of gastric cancer in 1902)He analyzed the ingredients of mother’s milk and relates that to age, nationality, hair color etc.The style of writing is awesome.Prof. Albert screwed things up, writes it down and publishes it. That’s something you don’t see a lot nowadays.Apart from analyses Prof. Albert describes physical properties.When you study mother’s milk you have to describe this property.Can you imagine a German brunette giving a chemistry professor (probably with beard) a breast?Maybe Prof. Albert preferred being nursed by someone else:Here are some other details of the Polish lady.Too bad, no exact measurements of her breasts.Maybe Prof. Albert preferred a younger lady.This amazing 19th century paper clearly shows how careful they were back then with collecting their data.[...]

Top 5 inappropriate behaviour chemists


1) Samuel Edwin Ashby
Pharmaceutical chemist Ashby was found guilty by the Statutory Committee of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain for misconduct on 25 October 2006. His name was removed from the register of pharmaceutical chemists. Ashby made a lovely record of inappropriate behaviour at 5 pharmacies. Supplying the wrong medicine to patients, taking oxazepam and other drugs for his own use, calling female colleagues and customers arrogant cows or stupid bitches, telling the manager to shut up and piss off, physically assault staff members with iron bars, using offensive language and ignore the code of ethics.

2) Paracelsus(image)
The alchemist and physician wandered from town to town through Europe in the 16th century. Quarreling with everybody everywhere he came, and carefully preserve his reputation as an arrogant person. He could often be found on the streets showing off with his knowledge while being drunk and wearing the same clothes for several months. His disciple Oporinus wrote that Paracelsus was an irreverent, a glutton, and a drunk.

3) Joyce Gilchrist
Forensic chemist Gilchrist falsified evidence for 15 years in many cases. On the basis of her testimonies several people were sentenced to death and 12 have already been executed. Not very kind of her.

4) Colleen Brubaker
Police chemist Brubaker stole drugs from the Philadelphia Police Department in order to satisfy her addiction. Several drug dealers walked back out on the street because the evidence was gone. It's hard to deny an addiction when such a photograph exists.

5) James Watson
Nobel prize winner and world champion in the art of saying stupid things.

The rise and fall of rimonabant


The rise and fall of SR141716A/rimonabant/Acomplia/Zimulti



Angewandte's graphical abstracts


It’s always nice to go through the graphical abstracts of Angewandte. A lot of colorful things that try to catch your eye.

A little bit of humor is often present


The latest issue contains a graphical abstract with pictures of a lovely way to recover a catalyst.





1 year old, 139 posts, 50K+ visitors, top 5 lists, beards and dead chemists....Hooray!

Beard chemistry


Shulgin is a bearded chemist. It might be wise for him to shave it off. His beard contains evidence for the narcotic brigade. See here:

Occult chemistry is nice but beard chemistry is awesome. It is a privilege to perform such analyses.
Very nice that they explicitly pay attention to hygiene.
Unfortunately they failed to mention the brand of the shaver in the 'Apparatus' section.

Crick to Watson



Albert has his own 'What they said' about this here.

Nobel beards


It has been said several times on this blog how important a beard can be for a chemist. Ψ*Ψ even suggested to include the tag beard on this blog. (Great idea!)Anyway... The Nobel laureates in the 5 traditional disciplines of 2007 are known. I am quite dissapointed. Let's compare this year to the first Nobel Prize year. 1901Wilhelm C. Röntgen (Physics), Emil A. von Behring (Physiology or Medicine), Rene F. A. Sully Prudhomme (Literature)Jean H. Dunant and Frédéric Passy (Peace), Jacobus H. van't Hoff (Chemistry)5 bearded laureates, 1 not bearded A bummer that the beardless guy is a chemist, but 5 out of 6 is a good score. 2007Albert Fert and Peter Grünberg (Physics), Mario R. Capecchi, Sir Martin J. Evans and Oliver Smithies (Physiology or Medicine)Doris Lessing (Literature), IPCC and Al Gore (Peace), Gerhard Ertl (Chemistry)No beard at all!How about the chemistry laureates? How bearded were they in history. (I mean that they must have a beard on the portrait on the official website.)1901 was not very good but in 1902 there was Emil Fisher to show the world how it should be done. A beard and a pince-nez!A great shock when you count the amount of bearded chemistry Nobel laureates over the years. 149 laureates and only 13 were bearded (a lousy 8.7%).1901-1925 : 9 bearded laureates. In 1995 Mario J. Molina was the first bearded laureate in 70 years. There were 3 beards after Molina. The last hero was (sure) 'The Man' in 2005. Okay, not an imressive beard, but any visible facial hair on the chin is sufficient.Let's hope that next year there is a prize for someone like Stoddart or Seeman.[...]

Thomson and Anderson


Couldn't resist posting this...

I posted that picture of the old lab and a picture of the guy who set up that lab; Prof. Thomas Thomson. The picture was taken around 1864. Thomson died in 1852 and was succeeded by Thomas Anderson.

How about this beard? Quite impressive I'd say.


Old labs


Old photos of chemistry labs are awesome.

A lot of bottles and men working in suit without safety glasses.
University of California 1888

Crowded labs with wooden benches and no ventilation at all.
Kansas State Agricultural College (1899)

Even labs crowded with women.
1915 Oregon Agricultural College

Or just an old shed with the smell of dung still in it, but a perfect place to discover Radium.

This made me wonder; What is the oldest photo of a chemistry lab? This is the oldest I could find.
Glasgow University ca. 1864

The laboratory was set up by the legendary Thomas Thomson.

In 1811 Thomson set up one of the first chemistry labs in Brittain in Edinburgh. This lab in Glasgow was set up in 1831. This lab seems to be the safest. If you are just sitting there doing nothing, what can go wrong?

Honored by google


It is very nice that people find us in this way; we feel very honored.


The piano chemist


So, who is this forgotten musician chemist?As far as I know he was not able to play an instrument very well and was not singing opera in the evening. It is the man who is the probably only chemist who has a named musical instument. Behold the Bechstein-Siemens-Nernst grand piano!This piano was named after these guys Carl Bechstein (with a moustache growing out of his nose), Werner von Siemens (nice 'only on the cheeks moustache') and the chemist Walther Nernst (with his perpetual pince-nez)The Bechstein-Siemens-Nernst grand piano (or neo-Bechstein piano) was one of the first electric pianos. Invented by Nernst with the help of the Bechstein company for the piano and the Siemens company for elecrical parts. The strings vibrate in a magnetic field which produces an electric current in the coil around the magnet. A radio amplifier is used to produce an electronically modified sound which comes out of the speaker of a connected phonograph. The piano sounded like an electric guitar.Nernst started to build single string models in the lab.In 1930 Bechstein introduced the piano on the market and Nernst could fidget with the real thing.It was not a big succes, but a named musical instrument is more unique than a named fractioning column or a named condensor.[...]

Musician and painter chemist


A lot of comments on Top 5 lists say :"Hey you forgot ...". Most of the time we did not forget that chemist but a disadvantage of a Top 5 list is that there can only be 5 chemists on a Top 5 list. (Sometimes we did forget someone who really should be on it ofcourse).

The next post will be about someone who should have been on the Top 5 musician chemists.

I hope to post it soon but the other author unavailable right now and I'm quite busy.

I can tell you this. It is not about an amature musician chemist.


Johannes Nicolaus Brønsted singing with his barytone voice (and could play the piano) and his wife playing the piano, performing at home.

Brønsted was a painter as well.

Lovely Vodka


While drinking a bottle of Russian Standard Original I was closely inspecting the bottle. (image) I thought I was just drunk but the next day I looked again and indeed there was the signature of the nuber 1 of the Top 5 alcoholic beverage chemists.

A Synthetic Environment Beast


I looked at the profile of A SynthEnv and noticed the 'Profile Views'

The number of the beast on A SynthEnv! I wonder what The Beast himself would think of it.


Colorful but lousy glassware for sale!


A lot of companies try to sell their lab equipment by sending those glossy catalogs with colorful pictures.

Glassware is always filled with some colored solution.
Okay, a few colors for a nice picture, I can understand that. But why all those silly pictures that makes you wonder if they know what they are selling?

(image) The blue solution was refluxed in an erlenmeyer equipped with an Allihn condensor.

And there are things that are really weird.

Okay.. They are doing an extraction and one layer of the yellow solution is collected in a red erlenmeyer. The collected layer is stirred with a magnetic stirrer, while the distillate from a red solution in a retort on a burner is allowed do drip into the collected layer. This is done while enjoying a blue cocktail on dry ice. (Who uses a retort nowadays?)

I really think these guys want to tell you how bad their equipment is.
(image) Distill a blue solution and the distillate is just as blue. This must be the most lousy distillation equipment there is.

Nature Chemistry! Looking for a job?


Do you want to be an editor for Nature? See here.

Top 5 banknote chemists


1) Louis Pasteur - 5 Francs, France A colorful banknote with his portrait, lab-glassware and the Pasteur institue in Paris.This building is now Pasteur's Museum where his tomb is.2) Marie Curie and Pierre Curie - 500 fancs, FranceAnother colorful banknote, Pierre in the background and lab-glassware on the backside of the banknote. 100 times more value than Pasteur is quite an honor.There is anothe banknote with Marie Curie, but this one is not that colorful.20000 złoty, Poland1 złoty is about 0.36 USD, so you may think that this is a lot of money. But in 1995 after hyperinflation 10,000 old złotych became 1 new złoty. This old banknote represents about 0.7 USD.3) Janet Mullen - 20 pounds, ScotlandThe picture of a woman in the lab was used to refer to illustrate research and education. The banknote was issued in 1995 to mark the 300th anniversary of the Bank of Scotland. It took three months untill she realized that it was her picture on that banknote. When she spoke with the bank they gave her two of the £20 notes in a framed presentation case. In 2005 journalists of the RSC searched for the unknown chemist on the banknote. 4) Paul Ehrlich - 200 DMark, GermanyNo very colorful but it has a portrait and a molcule of Arsphenamine on it.5) Justus von Liebig - 100 Reichsmark, Germany An old and dusty banknote for an old chemist.Janet Mullen is the only chemist who's still alive, and the least famous as well.Nobody knows what kind of banknotes will be issued in the future.Hmmmm, I hope not...[...]

Top 5 depressed and nervous breakdown chemists


There already was a Top 5 suicide chemists and we decided to exclude them for this list. It will not be a surprise that 3 of the 5 committed suicide and that one possibly did.Top 5 depressed and nervous breakdown chemists1) Wallace Hume Carothers (1896–1937)Du Pont's brilliant polymer researcher was obsessed with the idea that is work was useless. He wasn't laughing much on photographs. With his friend and colleague Julian Hill they produced Nylon that went in production in 1939. According to Hill, Carothers could list all the famous chemists who had committed suicide. He added himself to that list in 1937 by ingesting cyanide. He used to carry a capsule of the poison on his watch chain.2) Archibald Scott Couper (1831-1892)Scott is credited with inventing the use of straight lines to indicate bonds and he developed the theory of chemical structure, namely that tetravalent carbon atoms can link together to form large molecules. He did this work simultaneously with Kekulé's work. In 1859 Couper had a nervous breakdown and entered a private mental institution. When he was released 3 month later he immediately suffered another breakdown. In 1862 he was released again from the institution. The 30 years thereafter his mother cared for him, he never published again.3) Max Joseph von Pettenkofer (1818-1901) The chemist and hygienist never seems happy on photos. He is a founder of epidemiology and is known for his research on the spread of cholera. When he wanted to prove his incorrect belief that cholera spread via the atmosphere rather than directly from person to person he made a soup made from the excrement of a dying cholera patient and took it for dinner. He became very ill but survived. At the end of his life suffered from depressions and he finally shot himself.4) Viktor Meyer (1848–1897) The discoverer of thiophene and inventor of the Victor Meyer apparatus studied under August Wilhelm von Hofmann, and later worked for Robert Bunsen. He was a hard working man. He became an overworked man suffering from nervous breakdowns. He continued to work and took sleeping pills that further damaged his nervous system. Like Carothers he committed suicide by taking cyanide.5) Primo Michele Levi (1919–1987) The chemist and writer said in later life that he suffered from depressions and at took anti-depressants. Concerns for his own health and the fear that he would not be able to write anymore, the care for his old and senile mother and mother in law and his memories as a holocaust survivor were probably some of the causes of his depressions. In 1987 he fell from the interior landing of his third-story apartment in Turin to the ground floor. Possibly suicide.[...]

Wöhler's posing skills


I have added another picture to the Friedrich Wöhler gallery.Wöhler was famous for his posing technique. His poses were copied by many people. This 'sitting with a stick-pose' was copied by Hans Christian Andersen. Another writer saw the 'bent over with piercing look-pose' performed by Mendeleev.He decided to combine this with the 'sitting with a stick-pose', that is the origin of this famous picture of Oscar Wilde.Hans Christian Andersen admired Wöhler posing skills and copied more of his poses.The 'desk leaning-pose'Wöhler was an expert on 'desk leaning-poses' and Andersen tried to copy them all.Wöhler's poses were not copied by writers alone. His poses were so famous that even emperors copied them before Wöhler was born.[...]

Alexander and Adolf


I recently bought the opera Prince Igor.Composed by the #2 of the Top 5 musician chemists : Alexander Borodin (1833-1887). As Jordan commented on the top 5-post, Borodin was both famous as a composer and as a chemist. Borodin was a member of The Five (or 'The Mighty Handful') a musical partnership of Russian composers who met in St Petersburg between 1856-1870. The aim was to create a new style of Russian music. Here is Borodin on a photograph with 'The Mighty Five', not the most insignificant composers.The Mighty Five" (l to r) Modest Moessorgski, Nikolaj Rimski-Korsakov, Vladimir Stasov, Mili Balakirev, César Cui, Alexander BorodinSix people on the mighty five picture? Well, Stasov was not a real member of the group. Stasov acted as a kind of advisor.Here is Borodin on a photograph with another chemist, not the most insignificant chemist. Borodin, Dmitri Mendeev (1860 during a holiday in Italy.)So there I was, listening to Prince Igor, discovering that Borodin had quite some friends who were (or became) quite famous. A few days after I bought Prince Igor I saw Borodin's name in a newspaper report.Lew Besymenski, a Soviet intelligence officer who helped to interrogate captured Nazi generals, found a record collection in Hitler's chancellery in May 1945 when he was ordered to make a search shortly after Berlin fell to the Red army. Mr Besymenski did not mention the collection in his lifetime, because he was worried he might be accused of looting. After Besymenski's death this summer the collection came in broad daylight. Besides the obvious contents, works of Wagner Beethoven and Bruckner, the collection contained record of Jewish and Russian composers/musicians, including records of Alexander Borodin.Hitler may have had a taste for good music (Hmm, can't imagine that Hitler had a good taste for anything.), but I don't think he knew something about chemistry. [...]

What they said: Chemists going to WWI


Otto Hahn going to Ypres to give Haber a hand
Fritz Haber explaining how to use his poison gas
Walther Nernst inspecting the use of an irritant powder in shrapnel shells
Marie Curie driving her mobile X-ray unit the 'petit Curie'