This blog is my attempt to reconnect with the world of chemistry. I have a PhD in Inorganic Chemistry and make a living doing research for a large company in Michigan. As times have changed, that company has changed its focus and I no longer have as much chance to do the basic, fundamental research which I most enjoy. Through this blog, I am hoping to recapture the magic which I felt during my graduate (and undergraduate) days in college. Expect topics on chemistry and alchemy along with some non-chemistry related items which I think might be interesting.

"The chymists are a strange class of mortals, impelled by an almost insane impulse to seek their pleasure among smoke and vapour, soot and flame, poisons and poverty; yet among all these evils I seem to live so sweetly that may I die if I would change places with the Persian King."

Johann Joachim Becher (phlogistonist)
Acta Laboratorii Chymica Monacensis, seu Physica Subterranea, (1669).

Monday, March 24, 2008

On Vacation

I would like to apologize for the lack of updates. I’ve been on vacation, and although I stayed at home, I was surprised to find I have less time to work on this blog than when I'm at work. Go figure! Tomorrow I will be leaving to visit my parents in Springfield, MO and I will not be back until the 2nd of April. My web access is limited there, so don’t expect any more updates until then. Feel free to read over the archives if you wish.

Apparently, the process by which our olfactory receptors operate is still pretty much unknown, although it is generally suspected that metal based proteins are partially responsible. I know a professor who has his own pet theory about these receptors, assuming that smell can be a good indicator of how well certain chemical compounds might react with metals. In fact he encourages his graduate students to use the smelliest chemicals available when attempting to synthesize new organometallic molecules. Since his group tends to work with chalcogenides, finding smelly compounds isn’t all that difficult.

French researchers have developed a chip which mimics part of the process of smelling to help determine the chemical mechanism. There may be a variety of applications for this technology, but I fully expect that by the time robots are perfected, they will be equipped with a sense of smell.

Using computational techniques, scientists have been able to design an enzyme to catalyse a specific reaction. According to the report "The scientists’ aim was to create an enzyme for a specific chemical reaction whereby a proton (a positively charged hydrogen atom) is removed from carbon – a highly demanding reaction and rate-determining step in numerous processes for which no enzymes currently exist, but which would be beneficial in helping to speed up the reaction." After an extensive screening process, they were successful, but the reaction rate was slower than desired. Not bad, but things became interesting when another research group from Israel stepped in, developing a method which "allowed the synthetic enzymes to undergo 'evolution in a test tube' that mimics natural evolution." After only 7 "generations," the resulting mutated enzyme was 1,000,000 times faster than the original enzyme. In my opinion, this is the cool part. Basically you are letting chemicals perform chemical experiments on themselves. This, of course, means that graduate students are no longer the fastest or cheapest way to develop new chemistry.

This is probably why I find evolution so cool, especially on the molecular level. It’s been basically one looooooong chemistry experiment.

Not chemistry related, but here one fan's top ten list of Jackie Chan stunts. This guy is insane. I know that he performs his own stunts, but I hadn’t realized he had gotten himself hurt so badly so many times.

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