Org Prep Daily

May 31, 2007

My chemical kinks and fetishes

Filed under: Uncategorized — milkshake @ 1:01 am


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.


  1. Silver white winters that melt into springs,
    These are a few of my favorite things…

    That’s a good list. I would add:

    1) Super-flat baselines in NMR spectra and HPLC traces
    2) A flat reading of 0.0000 on a tared balance
    3) A colored band of product moving down a snow white column of silica
    4) The site of solvent streaming off a cold finger
    5) The glistening film that develops on NaOH pellets after a few minutes

    Comment by Paul — May 31, 2007 @ 1:32 am

  2. ooookkayyyy, somebodies been inhaling the ol’ ethyl ether a little bit too much… personally i go for nice clean tlc’s and the feeling of relief when the automated nmr jams b/c somebody didn’t know what they were doing and ur sample is the last to make it thru…

    Comment by malxb — May 31, 2007 @ 4:51 am

  3. When I was younger, inhaling ether always gave me a hard-on; now it gives me only a headache.

    Comment by milkshake — May 31, 2007 @ 5:08 am

  4. If you are lofting a balloon you absolutely must attach a message: 1) in duplicate! – souvenir; 2) folded in three with a crisp dollar bill inside – incentive; 3) wrapped in aluminum foil, edges turned over – lightproof, 4) sealed in a plastic bag with all the air squeezed out – waterproof.

    Uncle Al has dropped more than 600 messages in bottles into the Pacific, here and here and here
    (They free fall on their sides – as they float). 15% return rate. About 80% of that is Philippines. The really good ones hit Japan (14-year trip), Malasia, Thailand. Made the front page of the weekly Kwajalein Atoll newspaper!

    10 December 2006, one bottle into the Tasman Sea, 42S 160E by a friend on vacation. One day… a couple of hundred air dropped south of the Falkland Islands into the Antarctic Circumpolar Current!

    Comment by Uncle Al — May 31, 2007 @ 1:12 pm

  5. Waaaaay too much information there.

    Comment by Ψ*Ψ — May 31, 2007 @ 2:40 pm

  6. Uncle Al, that is a fantastic idea.

    Comment by Paul — May 31, 2007 @ 6:50 pm

  7. This is a wonderful post. Molten K in a THF still is the loveliest.

    Comment by Klug — May 31, 2007 @ 8:09 pm

  8. I have alway had a soft spot for sticky liquids that suddenly turn to foam on the rotavap.

    Comment by Milo — May 31, 2007 @ 9:59 pm

  9. @milkshake: “When I was younger, inhaling ether always gave me a hard-on; now it gives me only a headache.”

    that must have made for some pretty awkward moments with the sep. funnel…

    Comment by malxb — June 1, 2007 @ 3:22 am

  10. Like, you are looking around desperately trying to find out where you left the stopper – and suddenly you poke yourself in the eye. That’s why the protective glasses are mandatory nowadays.

    Comment by milkshake — June 1, 2007 @ 4:46 am

  11. My lab-partner and I loove the dry ice in the rotavap bath. Remind us of witches stirring wonderful concoction in the cloudron. Heh…hehh…

    Comment by Taitauwai — June 1, 2007 @ 5:15 am

  12. Great topic! Sadly, I am now longer welcome in the lab but your post reminded me of some of those things that stimulated the senses a long time ago. I’ve always found liquid metals almost hypnotic and watching the THF still was a source of instant comfort on those (frequent) occasions when things were not going to plan. As a teenager I used to enjoy melting lead and pouring it into water. Your comment on bulb-to-bulb really struck a chord; suffice it to say I have been there. I remember once purifying something by sublimation and watching crystals slowly materialise on the cold finger, almost disbelieving the evidence before my eyes. I was always fascinated by gases that you could actually see with nitrogen dioxide as my favorite. I believe there is precedent for using NO2 as a reagent although I have only ever deployed it recreationally and for pest control.

    Comment by Great Molecular Crapshoot — June 2, 2007 @ 7:17 pm

  13. I bet you will find this funny milkshake

    Comment by tom — June 3, 2007 @ 11:06 pm

  14. I really liked the progressively boiled hand and the igloo-building ants.

    Comment by milkshake — June 5, 2007 @ 2:54 pm

  15. […] through 10 (and beyond). The Simple Pleasures. See here. I’m sure I’m missing some good reasons chemistry rocks, but that’s not the […]

    Pingback by ChemBark » Blog Archive » The Top 10 Things I Love About Chemistry — June 26, 2007 @ 5:05 am

  16. A beautiful post! It reminded me of the following quote:

    ”The chemists are a strange class of mortals, impelled by an almost maniacal impulse to seek their pleasures amongst smoke and vapour, soot and flames, poisons and poverty, yet amongst all these evils I seem to live so sweetly that I would rather die than change places with the King of Persia.” Johann Becher (1635-1682), alchemist

    Comment by Martin Lersch — June 30, 2007 @ 6:12 pm

  17. Linalool epoxide. It smells like fruit loops and has a low threshold of smell. It will make your labmates happy that you jacked their rotovap for the 5 minutes.

    Comment by Watson — July 4, 2007 @ 2:53 pm

  18. Way to go milkshake!

    Comment by james — May 28, 2010 @ 7:37 am

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