Seeing A Hydrogen Bond
Using a mouthful of a technique called high-resolution atomic force microscopy, Chinese researchers have imaged a hydrogen bond at the highest resolution evar (except for maybe crystallography, but that’s a much more indirect way to look at things). These molecules (a tetrad of 8-hydroxyquinoline) are held in arrangement by the (white) hydrogen atoms’ atomic attraction to the partial negative charge in the nitrogen and oxygen atoms. Those N’s and O’s are little electron hogs, pulling that negative cloud away from their atomic neighbor and around their nucleus instead. They don’t become full ions, like sodium or chloride, but they do become just a tiny bit negative.
It’s similar to what happens in water, where the “electron hog” oxygen becomes slightly negative, making the hydrogen slightly positive:
This results in something called “dipole interaction” and it is one of the key ingredients of living chemistry. In fact, if those 8-hydroxyquinoline molecules were in a cell instead of on a copper microscope surface, there would be little water molecules bridging those gaps, tiny hydrogen bonding intermediaries holding the whole aqueous world together.
This kind of microscopy is the same technique that recently let Berkeley scientists see a covalent bond breaking and forming in real time, and is certainly up there on the “coolest thing I’ve seen this year” list. Next stop ionic bonds?
Getting the Chemistry Right on Breaking Bad
BytesizeScience, a project of the American Chemical Society, put together this great feature on how they get the chemistry right (or just right enough, more on that in a sec) on AMC’s Breaking Bad.
Vince Gilligan and crew really wanted to get the details in the show right. As someone born in Albuquerque, I can tell you that they do a pretty great job of capturing the essence of “The Q”. But none of the writers are scientists, how could they capture the knowledge of Walter White, the chemistry teacher, so that he could evolve into the evil genius Heisenberg?
Enter Donna Nelson, a chemist and scientific consultant for the series. Nelson and Gilligan (and the DEA) are careful to leave just enough detail out of the meth chemistry so that you can’t write your own recipe for El Azul. But from Gale’s notebooks to the chemical structures on the board in Walt’s classroom to the aluminum/mercury metal amalgam used as a reducing agent (that actually works!), the chemistry is on point. You’re probably wondering about the blue color? You’ll have to watch the video for that.
If you’re interested, r/AskScience has an interesting thread about the accuracy of Breaking Bad's chemistry.
Breaking Bad-ify any web page!
Every day is better with a little chemistry, even if that chemistry is treacherous and murderific.
I can’t believe we’ve come to the end. We had such violent chemistry together, Walt.
Build an atom, complete with protons, neutrons and all requisite orbitals and electron spins. A pretty little look at the idealized, not-to-scale world of the elements. Great for a chemistry or physics reference anyway. That’s helium, carbon, iron and livermorium for those of you keeping track at home.
Interested in a diagram of an atom that’s more to scale? Get yourself an 11-mile wide computer monitor and head over to this site.
EDIT: An earlier version of this post said hydrogen instead of helium, because I’m a dummy and I was in a hurry.
Better Twerking Through Chemistry
You know that viral “twerk fail” video where some haphazard booty-shakin’ leads to a girl crashing through the table and setting her pants on fire thanks to badly placed candles and tequila?
Well, Jimmy Kimmel admitted it was a fake and that they pulled a fast one on the internet. Of course, with a little chemistry knowledge you could have known that as soon as you saw it. Because ethanol, whether it’s tequila, hand sanitizer or lab-grade solvent, burns in a very special way.
I’ll let this Vine video (also on my Instagram) explain. Six second science!
The Periodic Table As Underground Map
The periodic table is really a wonderful thing. So simple, yet so dense with information. At the moment it was thought up by Dmitri Mendeleev in 1869, even though a majority of the elements that we know of today hadn’t been discovered, their place was already set at (or rather on) the table. The arrangement of periods and groups immediately relates like with like, and illustrates atomic differences in a simple table.
But it doesn’t illustrate all the relationships, which is why many alternative periodic tables have been proposed. Mark Lorch’s periodic table Underground map is the latest artistic entry into that category.
New relationships come to light: Life depends mostly on the downtown turquoise line, and there’s a new connector train between the metals mercury and gallium, thanks to their liquid properties at certain temperatures.
GE recently held a contest via the Vine app asking how much science can you fit into six seconds?
The results are pretty great. Any that you want me to explain? Just let me know. Might take longer than six seconds, though.