Another Friday with Calvin and Hobbes

Seems like a legit way to conduct research. 

Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson

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Friday Fun: A New Element

Chemists everywhere should be cheerful. We may have a new element to study! A team of scientists in Sweden confirmed the existence of element number 115. Although another research group discovered the element in 2004, no one had recreated their experiment or ratified their data until now. Since just one team had been able to synthesize element 115, it has the temporary name “ununpentium.” The name is a combination of Latin (“un”) and Greek (“pent”) which literally means 1-1-5. An international committee will be reviewing the team’s findings and if they are satisfied, the element will be given an new name and officially recognized on the periodic table.

ah! the element of surprise

Professor Rundolph and his team from Lund University, Sweden, published their findings in The Physical Review Letters on August 27th.

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Two Chemicals with Strange, Supernatural Names

Although chemists have a technical system of naming compounds, sometimes they find it easier to use a shortened or common name for the chemicals. In other cases, the scientists who discovered the chemicals decided to be more creative. Here are two chemicals that have been give unusual and supernatural names.

1) Draculin

Yes, it is what you’re thinking. This chemical got its name from the infamous Count Dracula. Draculin is a protein found in the saliva of vampire bats. To feed, vampire bats, as the name suggests, drink blood. Although most people assume they suck blood from their “victims,” vampires bats actually allow their prey to bleed and then lap up the blood. When the bat bites, it injects draculin into its prey’s wound. The draculin prevents blood from clotting so that the prey continues to bleed and the bat may continue to feast.

Draculin Protein  (Molecula Farmaceutica)

Draculin works by binding to, and inhibiting, two enzymes crucial for blood clotting: coagulation factors IX and X. Without these enzymes, the wound does not heal. Draculin is a selective inhibitor meaning that it targets only factors IX and X. This ensures that the prey’s blood keeps flowing since the draculin won’t be “side-tracked” by binding to other compounds in the animal’s blood.

Since its isolation from vampire bat saliva, researchers have been developing draculin for medicinal purposes. Currently, scientists are developing it as a drug to treat strokes and heart attacks.

2) Magic Acid

Magic Acid (Wikicommons)

In keeping with the supernatural chemical name theme, the second chemical is magic acid. Magic acid is a combination of fluorosulfuric acid and antimony pentafluoride with a chemical formula of FSO3H-SbF5. Its name comes from the fact that it is an exceptionally strong acid, and one of the few superacids. The definition of a superacid is any acid that is stronger than 100% pure sulfuric acid. Acid strength is based on how easily an acid donates a proton. The strength is measured on a logarithmic scale called pKa. Magic acid has a pKa of -20. In comparison, sulfuric acid has a pKa of 2 and acetic acid (vinegar) has a pKa of 5.

Reaction of magic acid and the hydrocarbon methane (wikicommons)

Reaction of magic acid and the hydrocarbon methane (wikicommons)

One of magic acid’s most notable features is its ability to react with hydrocarbons (any molecule made up of carbon and hydrogen). As any chemist will attest, it is a strict rule in chemistry that carbon can form a maximum of four chemical bonds. In the reaction above, the carbon in methane (CH4) is initially attached to four hydrogens. Magic acid, however, donates a hydrogen so well that the methane acts as base and accepts it; creating a fifth bond. The CH5 then decomposes to form hydrogen gas (H2) and the carbocation CH3+.  All in all, a truly magical process.

Draculin and magic acid are just two of the many chemicals with unusual names. You can expect future posts featuring other strange chemical names.

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Friday Fun: What We Really Learn in Ochem :)

thing I learned in ochem

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Non-Newtonian Fluids

Watch the following video to see how a non-Newtonian fluid behaves. The fluid shown in the video is called “oobleck.” Its rather strange name comes from a Dr. Seuss story “Bartholomew and the Oobleck,” in which the hero, Bartholomew, must figure out how to deal with a sticky substance known as oobleck.  Today, oobleck is the common name for a  50/50 mixture of corn starch and water which exhibits properties of both a solid and liquid. In the following video, the mixture placed on a speaker.


Hearing “non-Newtonian” fluid implies that it is an atypical fluid. To understand what makes these liquids atypical, you’ll need to known what viscosity is. Viscosity is a measure of a liquid’s resistance to flow. Water, for example, flows easily whereas honey does not. So honey is more viscous than water. With this in mind, a Newtonian fluid’s viscosity remains constant regardless of the force applied on it. A non-Newtonian fluid’s viscosity varies with force applied. In addition to oobleck, some everyday non-Newtonian fluids include: silly putty, yogurt and ketchup.

In the above video, the sound waves exert a force on the oobleck. Unlike pure water, which would splatter if hit by sound waves, the slurry remains cohesive. When the sound waves hit the oobleck, the more viscous water molecules slip past the cornstarch and group together (see image below). The corn starch particles form the solid-like surface that keeps the oobleck cohesive.

Diagram of the sound waves (forces) hitting the oobleck (

If you want to see more, check out the following awesome video: Slow-Mo Non-Newtonian Fluid on a Speaker

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