Criminal Minds is one of my favorite television shows. It follows a team of FBI agents in the Behavioral Analysis Unit. They examine the psychology of crime scenes and the choices of the criminal before, during, and after a crime to build a behavioral profile which ultimately leads to the arrest of the criminal.
The show doesn’t lend itself to chemistry in every episode, but sometimes the show features some interesting opportunities for chemistry. I’ll highlight two here: one light and one sinister.
The resident nerdy genius, Dr. Spencer Reid, (someone to whom I have been compared an uncomfortable number of times…) displays some chemistry magic in a throwaway scene in a season two episode: “Profiler, Profiled.” He wows his coworkers with a ‘magic’ film canister (kids ask your parents what a film canister is) which explodes and shoots like a rocket across the office. Sadly, he calls this merely physics magic, but we’ll let it slide. While the magician doesn’t reveal his secret, it is almost certainly an Alka-Seltzer tablet in water. The bicarbonate and citric acid generate carbon dioxide, which builds up the pressure and causes the canister to fail. Very easy to try at home, where you could also use baking soda and vinegar.
The second example is much more nefarious. In a season six episode, “Sense Memory,” a criminal has an obsession with scents – bad news for a cab driver inundated with aromas every day. We see him flash back to his childhood...
Here’s something you don’t see every day: new drugs advertised on ESPN. Especially one you apply to your armpits.
Actual Axiron logo: Crash-test dummy with rainbow B.O.?Source: Eli Lilly
Enter Axiron, Lilly’s new therapy for hypogonadism (decreased hormone production from the testes), a whopping dose of male sex hormone testosterone – 60 mg, compared to the normal 5-10 mg produced in the body – delivered in a convenient deodorant applicator. Lilly’s product capitalizes on its unique delivery system, but it’s actually a “me-too”: AndroGel (Unimed, Abbott) has been on the market since 2000.
Now, I don’t usually glean my drug info from sports networks, but I understand the angle – recall that Bears coaching legend Mike Ditka used to shill for Levitra. I also adore the way modern-day marketing really lasers the lingo at the target audience. Look at that brand name: AXIRON (short for ‘axillary application?’) Split down the middle, the words “Ax” and “Iron” appear, both of which imply manliness, hard work, and toughness. Allow me to suggest a few more, for when the next underarm drug rolls out:
Hammersmash | T-Power | Fueltron | Steamroller | Blasterol
Although hypogonadism appears in the official prescribing information, there’s a huge market for off-label use. Sex hormones are big business; a brief YouTube search suggests that Axiron finds applications...
I’m all for making chemistry accessible to all, heck I even write another blog on the subject. So I’m generally pretty pleased to see chemistry in the main stream media and large blogs. But this time a large science/tech blog, Gizmodo, has gone too far.
Yesterday Gizmodo published a guest post called “How to Use Basic Chemistry to Scare the Hell Out of Your Neighbours” from William Gurstelle. Well that already sounds pretty sinister to me, but hey it’s almost Halloween, so maybe the post describes a few harmless pranks for a party, glow in the dark jelly perhaps?
But oh no, William Gurstelle has got grander ideas. Amongst other things he’s suggesting that you spike drinks with methylene blue! The result is that your party guests will starting peeing blue. Oh how we laughed on the way to the emergency room when the methylene blue cross reacted with some other medication causing serious damage to the central nervous system! Granted Gurstelle does state “For the vast majority of people a tiny dose of methylene blue is harmless”. But I wonder how he knows which of his guests are going to just pee blue and which ones might end up in hospital after his little prank?
Gurstelle’s other suggestions aren’t any better. Spraying a mixture of ammonia and match heads around seems eminently stupid to me.
I can’t believe how astonishingly irresponsible Gizmodo has been in publishing this. They have a pretty big audience...
(This post was written for the ‘Toxic Chemicals’ carnival, over at ScienceGeist)
Let me tell you about the time I broke down crying in lab. No, it wasn’t an epic breakup, or even a death in the family. It was…a nitroolefin.
Many summers ago, I worked as a pharma intern, a small flywheel in a then-huge drugmaking machine. My supervisor, a kind, safety-conscious scientist, begged me to come straight to him if I had any questions about my reactions.
We were synthesizing a small nitroolefin – 2-nitropropene, to be exact – for some nitro-Michael additions. If you look at the Org. Syn. prep, it warns, right at the top in red letters, that the compound is a potent lachrymator. The term, from the Latin word for “teardrop,” describes compounds that irritate the eyes to such an extent that tears freely flow.
I carefully piloted the reaction, distilled the greenish-yellow product, and then watched it run up my TLC plate. Beautiful! Now, I just needed an NMR sample.
Gingerly, I dissolved a drop into some chloroform. Forgetting for an instant, I pulled the NMR tube out of the hood to cap it, and within seconds crumpled to the bench. It felt as if someone had stabbed smoldering iron toothpicks into my eyes. I stumbled around until my labmates dragged me over to the eyewash; later, I became well acquainted with our local safety officer. My eyes remained bloodshot for the rest of the day. Lesson learned: Lachrymators are not to be taken lightly! (I’ve experienced...
An interesting problem encountered by wafflesforlife on /r/chemistry.
I recently inherited responsibility for the solvent stills in my lab and, even more recently, had to quench, clean and reset our THF still. I used a standard sodium-benzophenone system and was happy to see a beautiful purple color when all was said and done. Now, after several uses of the still, the sodium has clumped into a giant ball (2″ in diameter) and floats around in the still, even at room temperature. The exposed sodium still appears fairly metallic and the still has maintained its nice purple color. However, my concern is that the exposed sodium no longer has a THF “buffer” surrounding it and could be more reactive towards any contaminants that could get introduced. Also, I figure with roughly half of its surface area out of the solution, the sodium will not be as effective at drying the still. Has anyone else encountered this problem? After such a short period of time, I would rather not go through the trouble of quenching and setting the still up again, but maybe I just need to sack up and do it for the good of the group. Any advice would be appreciated!
Taken from: Floating sodium ball in THF still. Is it safe?
A Guest Post today from chubscrubbins.
First, my background. I am not a Chemist. I was hired as a “chemical safety specialist” to basically administer lab inspections and run the stockroom. My previous military experience as a Nuke helped me greatly when it came to getting my job. My position evolved to Chemical Hygiene Officer for the College of Science and Engineering, then to Radiation Safety Officer for the University, and eventually to a Environmental Compliance Auditor for EPA Region 6 private schools.
My Scariest Moment
When a package came into the stockroom, I checked the DOT labels to determine how to open the container. It was too cumbersome to open everything in the hood, so if it had no labels I just opened it on the receiving table. On a particular day, like any other, a single package came in. No labels. I put on my nitrile gloves and opened the container. I removed a small bottle nestled in Styrofoam and immediately noticed that my glove was drenched. Annoying. It happens. I look at the bottle and I immediately lose my shit. The first word I see is Dimethylmercury. I had taken lab safety classes and was aware of the tragic death of Karen Wetterhahn. My mind was racing. My wife was pregnant and hadn’t finished grad school. What if I died and wasn’t there to raise my child? Awful thoughts ran through my head.
I took off my gloves and placed them into a secured waste container. I calmed down and walked to our most experienced Organic professor...
The Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals (GHS) is the new international standard for shipping and labeling chemicals so that their hazards are communicated in a logical fashion. Since we’re now in a globalized commerce system, where (for example) Aldrich sells chemicals all over the world , GHS creates a single standard for how different hazards (physical, health, environmental) will be communicated to shippers and receivers.
So if you look at the new symbols, they’re all pretty boring. I feel like the skull on the “toxic” label is just a little bit different and the dead fish for the “environmental hazard” is a little graphic, but gets the point across well.
But here’s my question — what’s this label on the right supposed to communicate? Any guesses?
That is the new GHS symbol for carcinogenicity. While I understand that you can’t write “HEY, DUMMY! THIS WILL GIVE YOU CANCER” in fifteen different languages, I feel that this thing that looks like the T-1000 after being hit with a shotgun will just lead to confusion in all parts of the world.
I shouldn’t criticize and not offer a better solution, but I’m not positive that there is one. It’s such a difficult concept to attempt to communicate. The broken double helix motif of the cancer hazard sign is aesthetically pleasing and logical, but it requires an understanding of basic molecular biology that Starman...
*Substitute for weird grey flaky stuff at no extra charge!
Hi, everyone. Apologies for my absurdly long absence from the blog–I’ve been extremely busy hammering out an enormous project and writing grant applications to the Canadian government for the past few months.
Today’s post is going to be a short one, but it’s a problem that’s been vexing me for the entire time I’ve been at grad school. As the person at my lab who is charge of ordering reagents, and partially responsible for the inventory and cataloging of them, I get to see first-hand how much packaging goes into a Sigma order. I think I can speak for everyone when I say that the policies they use for determining “adequate packaging” are absurd to the point of being humourless (figures 1 & 2).
Figures 1 & 2. This is a 25g bottle of 1-decyne that we received today from Sigma, shown for scale with the size of the box and the amount of styrofoam used to ship it. This is far from the worst case of overpackaging I have seen.
Now, I understand several things:
These are indeed hazardous chemicals (sometimes)
A breakage or leak in transit would be a “non-trivial” (cf. dangerous and embarrassing) problem
The company is responsible for making sure that I receive the items intact and in perfect condition
There are numerous regulations regarding the transport and handling of these materials, both domestically and across international borders
As linked over on the Chemistry Reddit, there’s sad news from a suburban Chicago High School to report. A 16 year old student at Richard High School in Oak Lawn was severely injured during a pressure demonstration when the apparatus his high school chemistry teacher was using to demonstrate increasing pressure failed.
Get this: the teacher allegedly put dry ice and some water in a plastic bottle, then tightly closed the lid. Then, allegedly he actually passed the bottle around the class so students could physically witness the buildup of pressure.
Dumb. Dumb. Dumb. Honestly, what was this chemistry teacher thinking? Apparently the students may not have even been given goggles to wear.
Who knows how many years the teacher has been doing this demo serendipitously without incident. Well, this time the bottle exploded while this student was holding the bottle. He can no longer see out of his left eye, and he suffered hearing damage and other injuries to his hands and face. It’s unclear from the reports if he physically lost the eye or lost his sight in that eye. The teacher is on administrative leave and the parents of the boy have filed suit. The parents are claiming “negligence, willful and wanton misconduct and vicarious liability” and are seeking more than $150,000 in damages.
Now, I’ve worked with pressurized dry ice before. For those of you who don’t know, dry ice is solid carbon dioxide. The solid carbon...
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Much of the country was all caught up in the Casey Anthony trial over the past few weeks as the testimony concluded and the verdict was announced (full disclosure: I was not at all caught up. I didn’t even read any articles about the trial until after the verdict was announced). If you want background on the trial, wikipedia‘s as good as any in this case.
One of the points raised during the trial was whether or not a Google search was performed on How to Make Chloroform. One way to make homemade chloroform is by reacting household bleach with acetone. Whether or not the search was performed or for what reason, and whether or not anyone involved in this case actually tried to prepare homemade chloroform is irrelevant. We’re going to talk here about how the process works from a chemical and intellectual perspective (full disclosure: This will NOT be a how-to post on how to prepare and purify chloroform. That information can be found elsewhere).
Safety First: Nearly all the chemicals involved in this process are dangerous and need to be handled with caution and respect. Bleach is a solution of sodium hypochlorite in water, usually containing a small amount of sodium hydroxide (lye) and/or sodium chloride. Sodium hypochlorite is a strong oxidant and will cause severe burns when concentrated (it is generally safe for low level exposure when dilute as in household bleach, but will still discolor skin and clothes). Sodium hydroxide is a strong base...