What Am I? The Random Summer One

Below I’ve listed the key chemicals or elements found in a commonly available  product, which may (or may not) be slightly UK-centric.  All chemicals drawn below are part of the same product.  I’ve drawn the chemical structures of principal components where simple and appropriate; given the E number or CAS number (however tempting Sigma-Aldrich catalogue numbers would be) if no simple chemical structure exists for an additive; and given the chemical formulae or name if neither of the above make sense.  See if you can guess what this is!  If no one gets it within 24 hours, I will post a clue.  If you guess on Twitter (@kjhaxton), please DM your guess so others can play.

 

The Summer Edition

What Am I? The Model Edition 1

I have recently acquired some rather beautiful chemical models. They are a bit dusty and I’m still a little lost as to where in my office they will go, but for now, why don’t you try and figure out what they are?

The photos were all taken against my gorgeous office carpet and I have taken care to make sure the labels are the wrong way around.  I’ve given 2 views of each model. If no one gets it within 24 hours, I will post some clues.  If you guess on Twitter (@kjhaxton), please DM your guess so others can play.

Model 1:

what2a

what2b

 

Model 2:

what1a

what1b

 

Model 3:

what3a

what3b

 

There are at least 9 other models sitting on my desk so there may be other editions.

 

What Am I? Season 2 Episode 5

Below I’ve listed the key chemicals or elements found in a commonly available  product, which may (or may not) be slightly UK-centric.  All chemicals drawn below are part of the same product.  I’ve drawn the chemical structures of principal components where simple and appropriate; given the E number or CAS number (however tempting Sigma-Aldrich catalogue numbers would be) if no simple chemical structure exists for an additive; and given the chemical formulae or name if neither of the above make sense.  See if you can guess what this is!  If no one gets it within 24 hours, I will post a clue.  If you guess on Twitter (@kjhaxton), please DM your guess so others can play.

 

A Chemical Treasure Hunt

If you’ve been reading here for a while, you’ll know that one of my projects is to work with the Blists Hill museum to identify the contents of jars in its Victorian Pharmacy.  This is a fairly slow process, mainly due to the constraints of other pressing tasks such as teaching, but it is a fascinating process.  The pharmacy exhibit has a number (in excess of 300) of  jars of pharmaceutical ingredients of some description, mostly labelled but some are not.  Over the years some of the contents have been replaced with innocuous chemicals such as sugar, table salt and coloured water or oils.  This process has not been documented and so no one really knows what is the real thing (as labelled) and what is a substitute.

Where do you start in this process?  Well we started with a list of the labels on jars, then worked out which were full and which were empty.  We set out to sample the jars over a period of time so that we could bring small quantities back to the lab to analyse.  Some passed visual inspection, for example the copper sulfate looked like copper sulfate, others passed smell inspection such as oregano oil, but others give no clue to their identity by sight, smell or label.  Where possible we start by comparing the substance to a modern day known sample.  For example, we compared Pulv Rhei (rhubarb powder) to ground rhubarb (with sodium chloride to help break it down) and to oxalic acid by infra red spectroscopy. Yes, we put rhubarb on our ATR-IRs! (a specific type of infra red spectrometer)  Or we compared the smell of rose water to a bottle of rose water swiped from my kitchen cupboard.  If that doesn’t work, we try to figure out what it could be.  In the case of Pulv. Rhei., the sample was a crystalline white solid, reminiscent of sugar or table salt.   It was simple from there to perform a test to confirm the presence of sugar such as Benedict’s test or with Fehling’s solution.  This can be verified by looking at the infrared spectrum, or grabbing a proton NMR (Nuclear Magnetic Resonance) for the high tech approach.

The potential inorganic substances provide a slightly greater challenge.  Obvious things such as pH for suspected solutions of acid work quite nicely but don’t tell the whole story.  Precipitation reactions provide an elegantly old fashioned way to tackle the identification.  The sample  of interest at the moment is Hydrarg Ammonat., which has been identified by colleagues as ammoniated mercury, and not something we would desire as a remedy these days.  It was (and from a quick internet search, may still be), used as a remedy for skin complaints when formulated with petroleum jelly or similar.  Now clearly the high tech identification technique would be some kind of trace metal analysis, and I could dissolve up the sample and put it through the ICP-OES (inductively coupled plasma-optical emission spectroscopy, determines type and concentration of metals). Instead, I’ve taken the more Victorian approach to the problem and gone for lo-tech precipitation reactions.  The USP Monograph states a few tests that might be used to confirm the identity of ammoniated mercury (mercury (II) amidochoride:

– formation of yellow colour on  heating with 1N sodium hydroxyde, ammonia gas evolved

– formation of red precipitate in warm acetic acid with potassium iodide added, residual solution forming white precipitate with silver nitrate.

Well it turns out that the sample turns red with potassium iodide which I presume to be the formation of  HgI2 which is a similar reaction to the one in this video  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pFovlKpPCbI.

As this sample is presumptive positive for mercury, I’ll be handling it with even more care and using the ICP-OES to confirm my ‘diagnosis’!

What Am I? Season 2 Episode 4

Below I’ve listed the key chemicals or elements found in a commonly available  product, which may (or may not) be slightly UK-centric.  All chemicals drawn below are part of the same product.  I’ve drawn the chemical structures of principal components where simple and appropriate; given the E number or CAS number (however tempting Sigma-Aldrich catalogue numbers would be) if no simple chemical structure exists for an additive; and given the chemical formulae or name if neither of the above make sense.  See if you can guess what this is!  If no one gets it within 24 hours, I will post a clue.  If you guess on Twitter (@kjhaxton), please DM your guess so others can play.

What Was I?

Photo by jo-h CC BY 2.0

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Remember these? Or if you’re unfamiliar with the ‘flying saucers’ (hence a clue on Twitter: Fox Mulder’s favourite sweeties), they are essentially sherbet wrapped up in coloured rice paper (starch really). Sweeties is really a misnomer – in many cases the joy of sweets is the sourness, often caused by tartaric, citric or malic acid, and a fizz caused by a reaction between the acid, water (such as saliva or water if sherbet drink crystals), and some source of carbon dioxide such as a sodium bicarbonate.  The carbon dioxide is produced in the reaction, giving that glorious bubbly sensation on your tongue.   In the case of the ‘What Am I?’ below, tartaric acid and sodium bicarbonate and a bit of sucrose were wrapped up in a starchy wrapper of various colours.

Sherbet comes in a variety of forms – soda crystals such as Creamola Foam (sadly no longer made under that name), the sherbet dib dab (a lolly for sticking into sherbet powder, Dumbledore’s favourite sherbet lemons (although I prefer the strawberry ones) and the sherbet fountain which I always found wonderful but for the vile licorice that came with it.

I have to go now and teach some acid-base chemistry to some first year students, but perhaps I’ll see if any of them know of  a common acid base reaction that goes on in their mouths when they eat sherbet sweeties…

 

What Am I? Season 2 Episode 3

Below I’ve listed the key chemicals or elements found in a commonly available  product, which may (or may not) be slightly UK-centric.  All chemicals drawn below are part of the same product.  I’ve drawn the chemical structures of principal components where simple and appropriate; given the E number or CAS number (however tempting Sigma-Aldrich catalogue numbers would be) if no simple chemical structure exists for an additive; and given the chemical formulae or name if neither of the above make sense.  See if you can guess what this is!  If no one gets it within 24 hours, I will post a clue.  If you guess on Twitter (@kjhaxton), please DM your guess so others can play.

What Am I? Season 2 Epsiode 3

Below I’ve listed the key  elements found in a common item as mass percentages.  See if you can guess what this is!  If no one gets it within 24 hours, I will post a clue.  If you guess on Twitter (@kjhaxton), please DM your guess so others can play.

Oxygen 65 Carbon 18  Hydrogen 10  Nitrogen 3  Calcium 1.4 Phosphorus 1.1 Potassium 0.25 Sulfur 0.25 Sodium 0.15  Chlorine 0.15  Magnesium 0.05 Iron 0.006 Fluorine 0.0037 Silicon 0.002  Rubidium 0.00046 Strontium 0.00046 bromine 0.00029  Lead 0.00017 Copper 0.0001  Aluminium 0.000087 Cadmium 0.000072 Cerium 0.000057 Barium 0.000031  Tin 0.000024  Iodine 0.000016 Titanium 0.000013  Boron 0.000069  Selenium 0.000019 Nickel 0.000014 10 Chromium 0.0000024 Manganese 0.000017 Arsenic 0.000026 Lithium 0.0000031Caesium 0.0000021 6e-6 1.0e-7 7e18 No Molybdenum 0.000013 Germanium 0.000005 Antimony 0.000011 Silver 0.000001 Niobium 0.00016 Zirconium 0.0006 Lanthanum 8e-7 Tellurium 0.000012  Gallium 7e-7 Yttrium 6e-7 Bismuth 5e-7 Thallium 5e-7 Indium 4e-7 Gold 0.000014 Scandium 2e-7 Tantalum 2e-7 Vanadium 0.000026 Thorium 1e-7 Uranium 1.3e-7 Samarium 5.0e-8 Tungsten 2.0e-8  Beryllium 5e-9  Radium 1e-17

What Am I? Season 2 Episode 2


Below I’ve listed the key chemicals or elements found in a commonly available  product, which may (or may not) be slightly UK-centric.  All chemicals drawn below are part of the same product.  I’ve drawn the chemical structures of principal components where simple and appropriate; given the E number or CAS number (however tempting Sigma-Aldrich catalogue numbers would be) if no simple chemical structure exists for an additive; and given the chemical formulae or name if neither of the above make sense.  See if you can guess what this is!  If no one gets it within 24 hours, I will post a clue.  If you guess on Twitter (@kjhaxton), please DM your guess so others can play.

 

Mmmm Spicy!

A few years ago while living in Vancouver we returned to our basement apartment from a day’s shopping.  After about 5 minutes we felt our throats were very scratchy and our eyes were burning and we couldn’t really work out why.  There was no obvious odour in the apartment although it was perhaps colder than usual.  We opened the outside door and all the windows and ventilated the place for an hour or so.  A few hours later, our neighbour came back.  Both apartments shared the same outside door and hallway.  He looked a bit sheepish as he explained that he’d been camping and while unpacking his backpack had let off a can of bear spray.

Bear spray is an aerosol form of Oleoresin Capsicum  which is an oily residue from chili peppers, preferably hot ones.  It contains compounds like capsaicin, the substance in chili peppers that burns.  Bear spray affects the bears in much the same way we were affected but hopefully to greater effect if sprayed into the face. Pepper sprays are similar in nature using oleoresin capsicum and may be called OC sprays.  They are supposedly non-lethal weapons and may be used in crowd control in some countries but are illegal in others.  They are related to tear gasses which make use of lachrymators (chemicals that cause tearing).   OC spray may cause tearing amongst other effects.  All are technically chemical weapons so consider that the next time you need bear spray for a camping trip.

What Am I this week was indeed a form of pepper spray – bear or OC spray, take your pick.  The large organic molecules are capsaicin and derivatives, propylene glycol as an emulsifier and water as a base.

Capsaicin has other uses and may be used medically as a topical ointment.  For example some of the LaKota products use capsaicin.  These products may be used for relief of pain from arthritis and other conditions.  Not bad going for a substance that is usually a major irritation to people preparing chilli peppers for dinner.