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).

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Elemental Paradigm

No doubt everyone has already heard that a new element has possibly been discovered with an atomic number of around 122. Typically new elements are produced by smashing large nuclei into each other at high velocities. The resulting new elements are so unstable that we often only know of their existence by their decomposition products. Today’s new element appears to be a little bit different. It was found just lying around amongst thorium atoms and supposedly has a half life of over 100 million years. This surprising stability is due to the element’s proximity to the so-called “island of stability” for nuclei. It’s been years since I took a nuclear chemistry class, but the one thing I do remember is that protons and neutrons in a nucleus have to occupy quantum shells in much the same way as electrons do within an atom. And just like with electrons, a nucleus is most stable when its “shells” are completely filled. For a much better explanation go here.

Now you know that everyone is going to start searching through piles of thorium, uranium, and anything else they can get their hands on in order to find more elements. And it wouldn’t surprise me at all if it turns out that several superheavy elements have been all around us all this time. We’ve just never gone looking in the right way before. I love these kinds of paradigm shifts. (I’ll probably never use the term “paradigm shift” again in this blog) For example, back in the 60s, it was thought that molybdenum could not exist in water in the +4 oxidation state. All sorts of attempts were made to synthesize it. Reducing aqueous Mo(V) either chemically or electrochemically only produced Mo(III). Oxidizing aqueous Mo(III) either chemically or electrochemically produced Mo(V). Adding MoCl4 to water resulted in its immediate disproportionation into Mo(III) and Mo(V). After a decade of assuming that aqueous Mo(IV) didn’t exist, someone discovered that if you mixed Mo(III) and Mo(VI) together in the right proportions and you waited long enough, you would end up with a dark liquid which could be separated on an ion exchange column. The reddish fraction turned out to be Mo3O44+, a stable form of Mo(IV). Then it was discovered that you could mix Mo(III) and Mo(V) and get the same thing, if you gave it a day or two and used ion exchange resin to clean it up. Then Mo(II) and Mo(VI) worked, and then….. Well, soon it became obvious that pretty much everything gave Mo(IV) if you knew what you were looking for. It’s amazing how science works.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Talk Tailoring

I spent this morning preparing a talk for my boss’s boss. It was basically the same presentation I gave to a customer two weeks ago, but I had to change a few slides to match the particular expertise of this manager. Tailoring a talk to match an audience certainly isn’t anything new. It begins back in grad school, when you quickly learn that presentations given to members of your research group have to be significantly enhanced before being given to the general faculty. Professors who promote their research projects by giving talks around the country will often target their audience (at least the good ones do). If a speaker were to show up at one of our local catalyst society meetings and spend an inordinate amount of time explaining the basics of reaction mechanisms and kinetics, not only would the audience quickly grow restless but they would also begin to wonder if the speaker was stalling for time due to a lack of data.

In industry, you are always targeting your talks. Chemists, non-chemists, engineers who understand chemistry, engineers who don’t, bosses (each level in the chain of command requires their own version), marketing people, finance people, legal staff, and of course, the customers. Knowing what topics need to be mentioned and which topics to avoid mentioning at all costs is a skill that can only be developed over time. Every time a new manager suddenly appears on the scene -- and he or she is somewhere above your group on the organizational chart -- everyone in your group will begin searching the company grapevine for clues as to what that manager likes to hear in presentations. For example, a previous head of our research facility was notorious for becoming restless if too much basic science was included in our departmental presentations, especially if that basic science involved chemistry. Even after eight years, many of the researchers here still had trouble putting together talks which met his criteria of a good presentation. Ironically, the talk which most impressed this guy turned out to be a talk with absolutely no data -- given by a researcher who had to BS his way through the talk because he hadn’t collected any data yet. Amazing. This researcher spent the week before the talk sweating bullets and, after his presentation was publicly lauded by the department head, spent the next week grinning sheepishly as everyone else kidded him mercilessly about it, including myself.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Pistons even series with 76ers

Nothing chemistry related today. I took my daughter to see the Pistons demolish the 76ers tonight and we got back late. She managed to eat a cherry sno-cone, a bucket of popcorn, and a bag of cotton candy during the first 3 quarters. She crashed midway through the fourth quarter. I had her take a children's Tums before she went to bed. God knows what sort of "chemistry" is occurring in her stomach right now. I'll be happy if she stays in her bed all night.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Weird Sulfur Video

I found this video over at Practical Transmutations. The humor is definitely British. Yes, that is a gun being aimed at the trash receptacle.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Elementeo, A Chemical Game

Chemists, get your geek on. A 14 year old has created a chemistry based trading card game. From the website:

The game is based on a 121-card deck of chemical elements, compounds and catalysts. Every card has an explanation of the element or compound's uses and chemical properties. For example, the Oxygen card can rust neighboring metal cards and the Copper Conductor card can shock any metals. The oxidation state of an element is used as its attack power, and its physical state determines its movement on the board. The goal of the game is to reduce the opponents electrons to zero through strategic use of each card's chemical properties.

Not sure I'll ever play this, but it sure sounds interesting. Looking through the Elementeo website, I'm having a little trouble working out the relationships between the materials and their listed oxidation states, but it still sounds cool.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Adventures in Time

Yesterday, I visited the John King bookstore, a well known (at least around here) used bookstore in downtown Detroit. It consists of a four story building absolutely filled with old books. The first time I visited this store years ago, the organization of books was fairly nonexistent. You would ask for the science section and the employees would tell you to “search the 3rd floor.” It has since become much better organized and the employees can tell you exactly where to find chemistry books, which was my target. I enjoy reading old chemistry books. Why? Because they discuss aspects of chemistry which are often neglected in today’s chemistry books. If a modern book spent 10 pages describing the chemistry of an element, only 2 pages would be spent describing the fundamental properties while eight pages would be spent on its organometallic chemistry or its cluster chemistry. Books from 50 years ago will spend 5 pages describing its basic chemistry (including obscure reactions I didn’t know about) and another 5 pages on the industrial processes and usage. Of course, it’s also funny to read some of the “facts” which have since been corrected in the past 30 to 50 years. Here are a few thoughts which occurred to me as I searched through the stacks of books.

1) It’s amusing to see a book with a title like “Modern Aspects of Chemistry” and then find out the book is 60 years old.

2) There are a whole lot of quantitative analysis books available out there. I guess gravimetric analysis and colorimetric analysis just isn’t the “in” thing anymore.

3) There were not many books devoted to just one element. Fluorine had 2, indium (indium!?) had one, and boron had like 5 or 6. What’s the deal with boron?

4) There were several bound volumes of Ph.D. theses. One was from the University of Wisconsin. Have no idea how it came to be at a bookstore and even less of an idea who would ever buy it.

5) Plenty of CRCs for sale.

I also like to pick up books on alchemy, they can be quite interesting to read, but unfortunately none were available. I did buy a couple of books on chemistry, with the best of the lot being a pharmaceutical formulary book from the 1930s. Latin names were used for the various powders and potions described therein, giving this book a definite Harry Potter feel. For example, a prep for Acidum Nitrohydrochloricum (aqua regia) was described. Not sure why a pharmacist would be making aqua regia or why it has a dosage listed (0.2 ml), but it's still fun to page through this book. If anyone else has any books to suggest, please let me know.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Personal Chemistry

A week or two ago, Kyle over at the Chem Blog described how chemistry helped him solve the problem of cooking collard greens in a suitable time frame. Apparently he was successful; although I’m not sure cooking (or eating) collard greens could ever really be called a success. Anyway, this reminded me of my undergraduate days, when I marveled at all the chemistry I was learning, sure that I would be using chemistry in non-laboratory settings all the time. I would be MacGyver with chemicals — astonishing friends and enemies alike with my ability to solve problems using my vast stores of chemical knowledge. I began recounting all those problems I had solved chemically and... uh…. well, uh… hmmmm. In all my years of chemistry, I can only recall one time in which I actually used chemistry outside the lab, and that was while I was still a freshman.

During my freshman year, while I was living in the dorm, my roommate brought in a dart board and managed to convince me to hang it on my side of the room. Despite the relatively small size of the room, which meant I was throwing the dart less than 10 feet, I had a distressing tendency to miss the board. It probably had a lot to do with the way I was throwing – overhand. I didn’t learn the proper way of throwing darts until later, when I was under the tutelage of another undergrad, Tom O’Halloran (now a professor at Northwestern), at various pubs around town. Needless to say, I left quite a few puncture marks in wooden areas for which I was quite sure I would have to pay a damage fee. In order to make the holes look less fresh, I brought potassium permanganate from the lab to “age” the wood. Unfortunately, I ended up making the blackening the hole with manganese dioxide. So I got some hydrogen peroxide and removed the MnO2, but bleached the wood white while doing so. To make a long story short, I alternated between the KMnO4 and H2O2 for awhile until the original damage began to look like it had occurred back during the civil war. Not the most auspicious start for my life as a chemist (although I didn’t get charged any damage fees!). Possibly that’s why I haven’t tried using chemistry outside the lab again for all these years. If any or you have a similar story to tell, let me know. It might jog my memory.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

The Perils of Technology

Technology can be great, but when it fails it can really screw you up. Today was a classic example. After working late last night on a presentation for a customer, I show up in our lab this morning about 45 minutes before a group meeting where we are all to present our individual talks for critical review by the group. Since this meeting was being held in a facility about 45 minutes from where I work, I decided I would just link into the meeting via phone and Microsoft Netmeeting. Nothing I haven’t done before. So I arrive at work only to discover that our phones have been removed from our cubicles. As I mentioned in a previous post, my cubicle was officially moved to another building about 2 weeks ago, although my lab will stay where it is until the end of summer. Apparently maintenance decided that we didn’t need phones in the old cubicles anymore.

So I go back into the lab area, since I still have access to a phone and can tap into the corporate intranet from there. After much rearranging of wires, phones, and computers, I’m ready to log in. What? No internet or email? Hmmm, I tweak some network settings and reboot. Still nothing. I’m starting to get nervous. Then someone else walks up and asks if I’m having trouble getting onto the internet since he cannot get on either. We check with the guy in charge of this facility and he says the server for this building is down. Damn. I pack up everything and drive 20 minutes to our new building, the one with my new cubicle (empty except for all the moving boxes). After booting the computer I find out that the entire corporate system is down. No Netmeeting, no emailing my presentation to the meeting location. Nothing. Nada. Trying to describe my Powerpoint presentation over the phone failed fairly miserably. I would have gotten just as much accomplished if I had stayed at home today.

The corporate system came back online about a minute after the meeting ended. Classic.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Friday Miscellaneous

Just a few miscellaneous items tonight. First, according to this article, blogging can be hazardous to your health. In the race to post news items before anyone else, some bloggers are literally killing themselves with stress. Quoting from the article:

“I haven’t died yet,” said Michael Arrington, the founder and co-editor of TechCrunch, a popular technology blog. The site has brought in millions in advertising revenue, but there has been a hefty cost. Mr. Arrington says he has gained 30 pounds in the last three years, developed a severe sleeping disorder and turned his home into an office for him and four employees. “At some point, I’ll have a nervous breakdown and be admitted to the hospital, or something else will happen.”

Hmmm…. I guess writing this blog is more stressful than I realized. Actually, if I can’t think of anything to say, I just don’t post that night and hope something comes up the next day. I guess that’s the difference between doing something for fun and doing it for profit. Considering my generally poor writing skills, I do not think I will ever have to worry about doing this for profit.

Well I certainly hope none of this blog’s readers use the dietary supplements “Total Body Formula” or “Total Body Mega Formula.” Apparently the FDA has found these products to contain more than 200 times as much selenium as listed. Whoa! Seems like a pretty big error to me. After 5-10 days of use, people were experiencing hair loss, muscle cramps, diarrhea, joint pain, deformed fingernails, and fatigue. At least 43 incidents have been filed with the FDA. What with all these symptoms, I'm sure these people probably did lose weight, but they probably also ended up with dog’s breath.

And for those of you who were too busy in the lab to notice, the earth has tilted an additional 26 degrees toward the ecliptic plane over the last 20 years, with most of the shift occurring in December of 2006. Obviously this explains all my failed reactions for the last year. What other explanation could there be? How did we not notice the stars, sun, and moon being in significantly different positions? The website explains this problem as well as others .... very badly. Seriously, someone spent a lot of time on this website, time that would have been better spent learning some of the basic science that was absolutely massacred in the various “explanations” here. Bu it is funny to read. If you've ever read Velikovsky's "Worlds in Collision", you'll enjoy checking out this website.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Disappearing Elements?

I assume that very few organic chemists lie awake at nights worrying about running out of chemicals with which to play. Even when the oil fields in the Middle East run out, huge untapped fields in Russia along with the 400 billion barrels of oil now thought to be under the arctic should keep the organikers happy for a long time. And this doesn’t even include the vast oil sand reserves in Canada. Inorganic chemists don’t have quite the same security blanket. Sure, if your project involves highly abundant elements like Fe or Si, then you’re golden. But what about the rarer elements? In one of my first posts to this blog, I mentioned a report which discussed the depletion of the world’s supply of helium. Since helium is not a renewable resource, when it’s gone, it’s gone. As the world’s demand for inorganic chemicals continues to grow, we are eventually going to run out of them, or least they’ll become rare enough to no longer be a commodity.

Back in January I ran across an article discussing the stock price of First Solar, a maker of solar panels. Their panels are based on cadmium telluride thin film technology. In 2006, First Solar consumed about 4% of the world’s annual supply of tellurium, an element even rarer than platinum. First Solar’s stated intent is to quadruple their output of solar cells, which would require 16% of the world’s supply. Since other solar cell companies are also beginning to gear up using similar technologies you can imagine what this is going to do to the supply of tellurium. Think what’s going to happen to the price of CD-RWs, DVD-RWs, and rewriteable Blu-Ray discs, all of which depend upon Te.

And even if we don’t completely run out of an element, the cost may rise to the point at which we can no longer afford to do any chemistry with it. Back in the last millennium, automakers were all hot to convert their Pt/Rh based catalytic convertors into (mostly) Pd based catalysts. There were both advantages and disadvantages to this move, but one of the main driving forces was price. Due to a smaller market, Pd was about 4 times cheaper than Pt and, at one point, about 10 times cheaper than Rh. Even though Pd catalysts require much higher metal loadings, the overall price was still cheaper. This love affair with Pd died down some when some accountants actually calculated the total amount of Pd needed for this switchover and discovered that there might not be enough Pd available in the world to do this, especially if all the car companies started using Pd. And, of course, as soon as the interest in Pd started to rise, so did the price, negating much of the original advantage of Pd. (I realize that noble metal prices have more to do with the stranglehold the mines in South Africa have over the market as opposed to true market forces, but that would just ruin this part of the story, so I’m ignoring it.) So before you plan your next research project, make sure you pick an element which has a long future.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Coffee (again) and Anonymity Issues

Well, damn. No sooner do I write a post explaining how my distaste for coffee has put me at risk for Alzheimer’s, but yet another article shows up describing how coffee can help prevent MS. I’m beginning to feel as though I’ve been putting my health in jeopardy all these years by not drinking the stuff. Fortunately, it seems that it’s the caffeine which is responsible for the benefits… again. Since I still cannot stomach coffee, I guess I’m just going to have to increase my uptake of soda and tea.

A few weeks ago, I mentioned a new technique which allowed synthetic enzymes to undergo 'evolution in a test tube' that mimics natural evolution. The resulting enzymes were apparently 1,000,000 times faster than the original enzyme. Here is a much more detailed explanation of the technique by Ed Yong over at “Not Exactly Rocket Science.”

Several weeks ago, I mentioned that Kyle over at the Chem Blog was considering shutting down his blog. His reason for doing so was due to the grief he was taking from colleagues as his anonymity had slowly evaporated. (His comments tended to be a little scathing.) You may have noticed I never mention my name, the company for which I work, or the names of the schools which I attended. Since the majority of my posts are meant to be lighthearted and since I do not expect to be criticizing other people’s research very often, I may be being overly cautious, but for right now, that’s the way I’m going to roll.

Over time, astute readers will probably begin to figure out where I went to school. That’s fine. Although there were a few professors with whom I was at odds during my Ph.D. project, I doubt that any of them will ever read this blog. Work, however, is a different story. I’ve been very careful not to reference my workplace, the projects I’m involved in (even if publicly known), or my co-workers (well except for the guy who destroyed my CRC). I’m not saying that my company would be upset if they knew I was blogging, but I’m not saying they wouldn’t be upset either. I just don’t know. I’ve heard enough stories about co-workers who were released because they were looking at the wrong internet sites during work, or who accidentally emailed a risqué joke to the wrong person. I know they track the websites we visit. I know the IT department receives a message every time our firewall blocks me from visiting a restricted site. The company is very concerned with its reputation and I would not be at all surprised to find that our company hires other firms to search the internet for employee based content. Paranoid? Perhaps, but that doesn’t mean I’m wrong either.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Monday Musings

Just a few tidbits today. About 2 weeks ago, I posted that I didn’t like coffee and that I was quite happy about it. Well now it appears that drinking coffee lowers your chances of getting Alzheimer’s disease. According to Dr. Jonathan Geiger, “Caffeine appears to block several of the disruptive effects of cholesterol that make the blood-brain barrier leaky.” Damn, I guess my distaste for coffee wasn’t all that healthy after all. I can still get my minimum daily requirement of caffeine from soda, but it has been awhile since I’ve averaged a soda a day. Maybe I’ll have to start drinking green tea, too.

In Douglas Adams’ “The Restaurant at the End of the Universe,” one of the characters discovers that in the future, cows will not only be bred to taste good, but will be genetically engineered into “an animal that actually wanted to be eaten and was capable of saying so clearly and distinctly.” The resulting conversation between Arthur and the cow is quite funny. That’s the first thing I thought of when I read this article describing how researchers at Newcastle University have successfully created part-human, part-cow hybrid embryos. Fortunately, these embryos will not grow into anything.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Cleaning House

Today, I spent most of my time packing up my office (cubicle) for transfer to our new facility. Fortunately, I don’t have to pack up the lab just yet, since my lab at the new site won’t be finished until the end of summer. Unfortunately this means that my lab and my desk will be about 15 miles apart -- not a particularly efficient arrangement. Since I can jack into the company network from my lab, I suspect that my laptop and I will be spending about 95% of our time at the old place.

The hardest part of a move is going through your stuff and deciding what to keep and what to toss. For some people, this is relatively easy, but for packrats such as myself, it’s an exhausting job. I was known for having the messiest desk throughout grade school and my wife would testify that I’m even worse now. I just don’t feel comfortable throwing things away. Every time I throw away a sheet of paper/journal/data disk/incriminating picture/chewing gum wrapper/etc., I’ll invariably need it back within a week, even though I may not have even been aware of its existence for the last year. Occasionally, I’ll start to backslide and throw things out, but I’ll get burned almost immediately and my packrat mentality will just be reinforced further. I’m proud to say I did throw out a lot of stuff this time -- stuff which belonged in the category of “I haven’t used this in a year and it means so little to me that even if I were to need it tomorrow, I wouldn’t care.” Ahhh…, risk taking at its finest.

While removing the debris from my desk, it occurred to me that DNA could also use the occasional cleanup. Our DNA is full of genes which are no longer expressed, or which have mutated into something useless, or which fall under the category of junk DNA (although its “junk” status is being seriously questioned). What process does nature use to clean out DNA? It’s called mass extinction. Now there is no shortage of mechanisms for mass extinctions. A short list would include asteroid impacts, major volcanic flows, disruptions in the oceanic currents, supervolcanos, and runaway greenhouse effects. It should be noted that mass extinction isn’t the perfect DNA cleanser, since practically all of the original DNA remains in the new species generated after the extinction. It merely gives DNA new space into which it can expand -- kind of like moving into an office with twice as much room as before. You don't have to throw anything away. Ahhhh…., the perfect scenario for a packrat. What is the point of this post? Nothing. My mind just tends to wander when I'm packing.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Change Isn't Always Good!

This is a rant about chemistry. Actually it’s a rant about chemistry and progress. OK, it’s really a rant about progress which is ruining the natural order of things.

I’ve always loved fireworks. Every June I buy a nice assortment of these lovely incendiary devices and every July I launch them for the whole neighborhood to see. We’re talking about a tradition here. Being a chemist meant I understood many of the reactions taking place. Red explosions indicate the presence of strontium or lithium, green indicates barium, blue means copper, and yellow means sodium. (OK, so I’ve simplified it a bit). Of course this means that a fair amount of toxic compounds are being injected into the atmosphere, but really, is that too much of a price to pay for such wonderfully colorful explosions? Now researchers are trying to develop green (as in environmentally sound) fireworks . Instead of depending upon the energy released during the oxidation of carbon, these new fireworks depend upon the decomposition of metastable, nitrogen-rich compounds such as the tetrazoles and their derivatives (five-membered rings with four nitrogens and one carbon) and tetrazines (six-membered rings with four nitrogens and 2 carbons). They’ve succeeded in duplicating all the colors except for green.

These new-fangled fireworks leave me a little uneasy. Fireworks have always been in the domain of inorganic chemistry and, dammit, they should remain that way. Setting off fireworks which lack heavy metals is to invite anarchy. Keep your hands off my fireworks, organic chemists!

I also love Suzy-Qs. Always have and always will. But over the years, Hostess has slowly been changing the Susy-Q recipe. Although I’m sure the drive to use less expensive ingredients has played its part in this travesty, the desire to make this combination of carbohydrates and fats appear less harmful has led to use of heart-healthy oils. (This misguided attempt to make Suzy-Qs more healthy is like trying to make a nuclear bomb more environmentally friendly.) I haven’t thought about this for years, but I was reminded of it while reading a rant over at the Bad Astronomy blog concerning the quality of Ho-Hos now that their trans-fats have been lowered to zero.

And while I’m on my soapbox, what the hell happened to good movie theatre popcorn? Ever since they replaced the coconut oil they were using, it hasn’t been worth eating. This is progress? Here’s an idea for you organic chemists. Develop a compound (nontoxic, please!) which smells just like popcorn popped in coconut oil and sell it to theatres or to makers of microwave popcorn. You will make a fortune.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

H2S ------ Sorry, Couldn't Think of Anything Snazzier

H2S is a colorless gas with a rather distinctive smell. Its odor is often described as being similar to rotten eggs, but I cannot verify that personally because I've never come across a rotten egg. On the other hand, I have worked with H2S off and on over the years, so I do know what it smells like. H2S is quite poisonous, significantly more toxic than hydrogen cyanide, but due to our nose's ability to detect it at ppb levels, it's rarely deadly. Safety note: since your nose is quickly desensitized to H2S, it can still be deadly if you aren't paying attention.

H2S has been in the news lately, in a Jekyll and Hyde sort of way. Peter Ward, an expert on mass extinctions, has been discussing the role of H2S in many of the known mass extinction events which appear periodically in the fossil record. The theory is that during times of global warming brought about by raising CO2 levels (usually as the result of massive volcanic activity), ocean circulation stops, which results in a huge drop in its oxygen content. This allows H2S producing bacteria to take over the oceans, eventually choking off the oxygen and wiping out most of the planet's species.

Despite this rather negative press, other researchers are beginning to find that in small doses, H2S can be beneficial when used to slow down the metabolism of mice. In one study, this technique is shown to be useful in minimizing the damage caused by heart attacks. In another study, H2S is being used as a means of possibly inducing suspended animation.

Using H2S to slow down a person's heart freaks me out a little, mostly because it almost killed my roommate in grad school. My roommate was performing a synthesis in a hood using an H2S tank when, somehow, the regulator malfunctioned (or broke) during the reaction, venting gas directly into the hood. In order to shut it off, he had to hold his breath, raise the hood, and close the H2S tank with a wrench. In hindsight, he should probably have just let the tank vent, but in the process of closing the tank he ended up taking a breath or two. He mentioned feeling a little woozy and I walked him out into the hall whereupon he collapsed onto the floor, unconscious. While someone else called the university emergency number, I stayed with him, although I wasn't exactly sure what I could do. His breathing started getting ragged, which scared me, but it was even scarier when his breathing appeared to stop. I tried giving him mouth to mouth resuscitation, but I had difficulty forcing air into his lungs because his teeth were tightly clenched. Fortunately, he regained consciousness about a minute or two later, just in time for the fire department to show up. We tried explaining to the firemen what had happened but they didn't really know what H2S was and were more interested in finding a chemical spill onto which they pour sodium bicarbonate, which apparently was the sum total of their training. Eventually they noticed a red spot on my roommate's forehead, no doubt due to its hitting the floor earlier, and satisfied themselves with pouring baking soda on him, despite our assurances that it wasn't necessary.