As much as I hate the smell of toluene and xylenes, I find the odor of thiophene-free benzene very agreable. It’s the sweet smell of leukaemia. I also like the minty reek of MTBE and I adore ethyl ether very much – if I were a huffer I’d huff it in the morning. (Acetone is nice, too but it does not give much of a buzz). I love the smell of pure ethanol – this being a rather common condition – but I also find the smell of methanol pleasantly mild and refreshing while isopropanol has the robust kick. Heptane is very nice: it’s just like pears to me. And I do love the smell of furfural – kids, if you ever get into the rye snapps thing then furfural is the pure essence of it. And also linalyl acetate – total Earl Gray.
Crystals. Pearl-shiny flakes, long needles and strongly refractive rhombs turn me on. Inoculation of supersaturated solutions and oils – that makes the crystals grow like in some kind of accelerated movie. One can melt pure sodium thiosulphate pentahydrate on a hot water bath (it dissolves in its own crystal water) and let it supercool by leaving it covered at room temp, then add a tiny crystal and watch the action with proper side-illumination. This never fails to impress kids and adults alike. (Phenyl salicylate is supposedly even prettier but it is a less common chemical, in organic labs.)
Mysterious-looking liquids: Especially pale yellow ones, strongly refractive or with a bluish hint of fluoresence. Silvery blobs of molten Na or K floating up and down, in boiling solvents – just like a lava lamp but shiny. Any chemical that is blue-colored. Blue is the color of solvated electrons in Birch reduction. As you keep adding chunks of Na or Li into the inky blue, the mix becomes suddenly copper-bronze shiny liquid.
Dry ice and liquid nitrogen. Whenever I carry an open bucket of dry ice pellets, I love to blow and breathe into it; the billowing fog is very soothing. Few bits of dry ice in the rotovap bath or lab sink fill it with a mysterious “smoke”. (If you have a soapy solution you can make bubbles float above the sink, ontop of the CO2 – laden fog. ) I love to dip my finger into N2(l) briefly and feel the bubbly tingle as it boils around it – but no cold if you don’t overdo it. The dance of nirogen dropplets and the fog. You can make your own icecream or freeze a rubber hose then crush it with a mallet – invaluable when feeling lonely. Or a kitten. (After you lyophilyzed your frozen pet, you should soak it carefully with a thick mineral oil or silicone, this will make your pet transluscent. You can then turn it into a tastefull bed-side lamp…)
Hydrogen balloons. Whenever we are about to have a close hurricane hit here in Florida, I like to do weather balloons – I inflate a huge black trash bag with hydrogen and then watch it disappearing into distance, over the menacing overcast windy skies. Luminously-burning metals. Magnesium, lithium, aluminum with oxidizer. (Quite harmful to look at with unprotected eyes, as there is a major UV component in this white light. ) Bromine – there is something very unsettling about the red-brownish heavy vapours creeping in the hood. Liquified chlorine and bright yellow chlorine solution in CCl4 is more pleasing. Violet vapours of iodine (best produced from nitrogen triiodide) can make some stunning effects but cleaning the resulting brownish mess is not fun afterwards. Piranha solution: When cleaning guey fritted buchner funnels with H2SO4+H2O2, I love to feed the mix with tiny bits of paper and watch them disappear instantly, in a puff of smoke.
Clean glassware: The Chemglass flasks are totally pleasing aesthetically. Coffee-Can Kugelrohr: It is hard to explain the charms but bulb-to-bulb with a good pump rocks; you would not believe what kind of hygroscopic high-boiling polyamino/hydroxy puddings one can purify on that thing. The d6-DMSO signal: The old friend in its symmetrical quintupletifulness at two-point-five re-assures me about the good health of other signals in the spectra. The color of a fresh tetrakis in the morning – the lemony yellow is the color of victory.