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).

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Chemophilia

A couple of weeks ago, I posted about Chemophobia, the irrational fear of chemicals (and possibly chemists too, I suppose). Now I’d like to talk about the opposite extreme, Chemophilia, which I define as a non-chemist’s desire to be a chemist. Let’s face it -- who wouldn’t want to be a chemist? One of the simplest methods for fulfilling those types of dreams is by the practice of chemical collecting. I recently read an article about a doctor in Ohio (recently deceased) who had been collecting chemicals in his garage as a hobby. His daughter was totally unaware of this hobby until she found the chemicals and decided to call the fire department, resulting in significant media attention. Element collecting is not an uncommon hobby, and there are plenty of websites devoted to the practice. Here is one example. (I collect elements myself, but then I’m a chemist.) More surprisingly, there are web sites and organizations devoted to the practice of performing chemistry experiments at home. Not just simple experiments with pretty color changes, but major synthetic procedures. Some of these web sites let you order chemicals and chemical equipment, while some will tell you how to obtain the chemicals on your own. There are discussion groups which give step by step instruction for the synthesis of various compounds – some of them rather hazardous. Sciencemadness is one such site, but there are lots more. Since I’ve been toying with the idea of trying some simple experiments at home, I’m glad there are sources like this available. But it worries me when I think about non-chemists attempting some of the procedures I’ve seen online.

2 comments:

Mitch said...

Trust me, I know what you mean. We often get druggies trying to ask their questions at chemicalforums.com

Liberal Arts Chemist said...

A couple of years ago I had a former Masters student call me at supper time. He had been a good student and had found a job running the hazardous waste unit at a regional landfill. He was also a resource person for the emergency response unit at the local fire department. Anyway, he called from the basement of a house out in the farmlands. It turns out that a man had died and his family discovered an extreme form of chemophilia in the basement. It would appear that the man liked to buy kilo amounts of things lead and aspirin and melt then in pots. The firemen were pretty creeped out and didn't want to touch anything but it was all pretty benign.