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).

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Back in the Saddle Again

Well, it's been harder to get back into the saddle than I originally expected. Once I stopped my regular routine of web surfing to find snippets of chemistry to post on this blog, it's been too easy to keep putting it off “until tomorrow.” It also doesn’t help that every time I sit down in front of the computer, I feel obliged to visit or tweak my resume or search for more companies to whom I can send resumes.

While searching the web for hints on job hunting, I ran into an old post from the “Lamentations on Chemistry” blog. The author describes a rather frightening trip to a recruiter’s office. I read it just a few days before my first interview with a head hunter and I was not sure what to expect. It’s an interesting read.

Obligatory chemistry snippet (It’s about damn time!)
I’m sure you’ve all heard the warnings about cell phones and their possible (but unlikely) harmful side effects due to the small amount of electromagnetic radiation they emit. You’ve probably even seen the amusingly bogus “cell phones pop popcorn” videos on Youtube. (My 8 year old daughter has, and she’s at that age where she’s just coming to grips with the idea that not everything you see on TV or the computer is true). But a new concern over cell phones is showing up as nickel in the phones can result in contact dermatitis for those people with nickel allergies.

I hadn’t heard of nickel allergies before this, although apparently it’s been well known that the presence of nickel in jewelry often causes skin problems for a certain percentage of the population. Since my company (used to) manufacture platinum catalysts, I was aware that Pt could have the same effect. (Hmmm, Ni and Pt are both d8 metals. Coincidence?) If a worker in the plant began to show signs of a Pt allergy, they were moved to another location. Besides the dermatological problems, Pt allergies can affect the lungs too, producing symptoms rather similar to asthma. So similar, in fact, that one of the PhDs in charge of that catalyst plant theorized that the use of Pt in automotive exhaust catalysts (starting in the 70’s) may explain the rise in asthma cases in the US at the same time. I haven’t seen any of this verified, so take it with a grain of salt.

I’ve enjoyed working with precious metal (Pt, Pd, Rh) salts over the years and I’m fortunate that I have exhibited no such allergies. I would expect it to be rather disappointing to find that you could no longer work in a certain area of chemistry because you were allergic to chemicals.


Lea Dow said...

Thank you for this interesting article. I learned something. I am very familiar with nickel allergy; it is my business. But, I had not heard of platinum allergy before with frequency. The derm books state that contact dermatitis to platinum is rare. If your plant did not report the allergies, it might be why the allergy is still considered rare! Platinum is usually recommended when people are allergic to nickel but like the "silver" look.

I am unaware of a correlation between nickel and platinum, but if a person is allergic to nickel, they have a high probability of also being allergic to cobalt.

Thanks for insight.

Katie Collette said...

I'm allergic to nickel. When I was a kid and first got my ears pierced, it was a big deal because it was hard to find nickel-free jewelry but now it seems like it's everywhere. I never thought about the implications it could have in the lab though. Interesting.

Chemist Ken said...

I'm not very knowledgeable on the relative occurrence of allergic reactions to Pt jewelry. It may be very rare as far as I know. In fact, from what I've read, it's often nickel which is mixed with the Pt that causes the dermatitis. Most of the Pt allergies we would see in the plant would be from Pt salts, and has apparently been well documented.

Here is a link: