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, May 13, 2008

Chemistry Before IUPAC

Things are still pretty busy around here. Next week, we should be completely finished with the big customer presentation, so I should have more time to devote to this blog.

I’ve been reading one of the books I picked up at the used bookstore several weeks ago titled “Creative Chemistry.” So far, it’s covered the invention of nitrate based explosives, the development of synthetic fertilizers, and the use of coal-tars to create a wide range of dyes. Since this book was written in 1919, there is a definite focus on World War I, as most of the chapters are devoted to describing how chemists in Germany and Britain were forced to invent new methods of creating nitrates, rubber, explosives, etc. during the war since the normal supply of these materials were being cut off by various blockades.

Due to the book’s age, the author often uses older names for some of the chemicals, like benzol for benzene and toluol for toluene. How quaint! Perhaps organikers already know what carbolic acid is, but I didn’t until I started reading this book. But thanks to the chapter on coal-tars, when an engineer asked me what carbolic acid was yesterday, I was able to answer “phenol” as if I’ve always known it. (Not sure where the engineer came up with “carbolic acid.” Apparently he was looking through some arcane list of liquids trying to find one with a certain boiling point.)

Who says you can’t learn anything from old books?

1 comment:

Chemgeek said...

Ugh!!! We have a bottle in our stockroom labeled "carbolic acid." There is no mention of phenol on the label.

I'm sure the bottle is older than I am.