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Highlights from the International Year of Chemistry

As the International Year of Chemistry comes to an end, it’s worth looking back on some of the amazing contests and events that took place. Many of them have left behind lasting resources that will be useful for decades to come.

The Future We Create
A group of 30 of the brightest minds in chemistry delivered lectures on problems that future generations will face, such as finding sustainable fuels or feedstocks, and ways that chemistry may be able to solve those problems.

Honors and Activities for Women in Science
This year, the Royal Society of Chemistry elected its first female president, and the cover of the September 2011 issue of Nature Chemistry featured a portrait of Marie Curie made from a mosaic of photographs of female scientists. And Future We Create hosted a remarkable virtual conference on the future of women’s roles in science.
Nature Chemistry Cover

YouTube Mania
Dow Chemical and The Franklin Institute created a series of videos called “Celebrating Chemistry.” The series features lots of experiments that kids can do at home.

The “It’s, Chemistry, Eh?” video contest motivated lots of students to make charming short films, including a great parody of Material girl.

Nearly 700 students submitted videos to the Chemical Heritage Foundation’s “It’s Elemental” contest.

A New Blog is Born
Inspired by the International Year of Chemistry, @sulfur_blue created a new blog called Everyday Chemistry in an attempt to generate enthusiasm for chemistry in the general public. Be sure to check out the list of chemistry-adapted movie titles.

Caring for Water
Thousands of students around the world built solar stills, tested the pH and salinity of their water, and learned about providing safe drinking water as part of the Global Water Experiment. Meanwhile, the American Chemical Society raised money for and awareness of the Pennies for PUR program, which provides packets of water purification chemicals to areas where they are needed.

Special Issues
In honor of the International Year of Chemistry, C&EN’s June 27 issue featured a collection of essays on the contributions of chemistry to humanity. Nature created an IYC website with dozens of articles about everything from research to careers.

This is by no means a comprehensive list of the IYC activities that occurred over the last twelve months. Feel free to share in the comments any of your favorite activities that didn’t get a mention.

IYC Closing Ceremonies in Brussels

As IYC 2011 nears its end, the Belgian National Committee for Chemistry will host closing ceremonies in Brussels on Thursday, Dec. 1.

The ceremonies will include addresses by EU Commissioner for Research, Innovation & Science Máire Geoghegan-Quin and by IUPAC President Nicole Moreau; a presentation by Andrew Liveris, President, Chairman and CEO of Dow Chemical on “The world in 2050: our expectations from the life sciences, chemistry, industry and governments to build a better world by 2050″; responses from 2009 Chemistry Nobel Laureate Ada Yonath and 1997 Francqui Prize recipient Jean-Luc Bredas; a roundtable panel discussion; and concluding remarks by Kurt Bock, CEO of BASF.

You can register to attend at the ceremonies’ website.

Giving Back During NCW and IYC

It’s not only still the International Year of Chemistry, but it’s also National Chemistry Week! Yippee! Chemists are celebrating chemistry with students of all ages this week in lots of ways, but especially with hands-on demonstrations. The rest of the year, however, many public school teachers struggle to teach their students chemistry because they lack basic resources due to poor funding.

Can you imagine a chemistry class without chemicals or beakers or a periodic table poster?

GlobCasino is participating in the fantastic DonorsChoose Science Bloggers for Students campaign to help raise funds for public school classrooms in need of resources. GlobCasino is, naturally, focusing on the chemistry-related projects. And some of the requests are heartbreakingly basic, such as one from a teacher in Florida in need of thermometers, flasks, stopwatches, and beakers for her students. Another teacher of high-risk students wants to provide lab coats for his AP Chemistry class. Lots of other projects can be found at the GlobCasino giving page.

Terra Sigillata is also participating in the campaign. You can see the projects David is supporting on his “Chemistry With Kroll” page.

Any amount you can give, whether it be $5 or $100, will make a difference for and be appreciated by these students who are trying and eager to learn chemistry. Let’s give back to our communities and help teachers get what they need to teach chemistry.

What better way is there to celebrate National Chemistry Week and IYC 2011?

Chemistry Carnival: Your Favorite Chemical Reactions!

Welcome to Your Favorite Chemical Reaction chemistry blog carnival!

A total of 22 entries were received since C&EN Online Editor Rachel Pepling put out the call for posts earlier in the month. The writing was superb, the science spot-on, and the personalities of the bloggers on full display. Anyone who thinks that chemists are just a bunch of stodgy old folks mumbling to themselves at the fume hood will have the stereotype turned on its ear after reading this batch of fine writing.

For those of you who might be reading a carnival for the first time, we’ll introduce the blogger with a link to their blog frontpage first so that you can get a sense of the overall blog gestalt and, we hope, bookmark it for future reference. Some of these bloggers may be new to you and one goal of any carnival is to give greater exposure to some of the rising stars in the blogosphere. Then within our description of the chemical reaction post, there will be a hyperlink to the post of interest under the name of the reaction.

So let’s get the show on the road!


An Oversight (updated October 11)

I feel absolutely terrible that I missed an entry by organic chemist-turned-journalist Sarah Webb at her Webb of Science Blog. Dr. Webb gave us, Seeing the forest for the Birch reduction on, well, the Birch reduction. Hearty apologies to Sarah for missing this and not getting to it for so long!

Simple But Powerful

Sharon Neufeldt at I Can Has Science? took the high-altitude view to reactions by giving us the o-chem standard, the SN2 reaction. Her detailed teaching examples of the SN2 illustrate why it is “the treasure trove of organic chemistry principles.” The cancer pharmacologist in David also gives Sharon extra points for the historical treatment of nitrogen mustard chemotherapy.

Carmen Drahl provided the entry from The Haystack blog with a multitude of humble but useful reactions for amide bond formation. Anyone who reads her C&EN or blog with Lisa Jarvis, knows that Dr. Drahl has a personal attachment to the Mizoroki-Heck reaction. Always the community-minded writer, Carmen drahls draws from fellow blogger See Arr Oh’s med-chem toolkit. And Carmen leads the pack contributing to her gallery of hand-drawn structures, the chemist’s personality test pointed out by Chemjobber.


Chemical Oscillations

When it comes to favorite reactions, particularly for engaging public audiences or groggy undergrads, nothing can quite compete with oscillation reactions. First, our own Jyllian Kemsley at The Safety Zone safely holds forth on the Belousov-Zhabotinsky reaction, discussing the history and the ten (!) equations underlying this magnificent reaction. The video she provides of the BZ reaction occurring in a Petri dish is superb.

How many of you love chemistry *this* much?

Next, the grand dame of scientific ethics, Janet D. Stemwedel, harkens back to the work for her first PhD (see her tattoo) at her new Scientific American

blog, Doing Good Science. Yes, folks, before she did her PhD in the philosophy of science, the San Jose State University professor was entrenched with the chlorite-iodide reaction. But in reflecting on the reaction mechanisms, Janet distills seven major lessons for any student of science. The beauty of Janet’s writing is that she always nails the science but teaches us the greater messages we should take from our work.


Here, Smell This

Chemistry professor and science writer Rebecca Guenard was so excited about restarting her new blog, Atomic-o-licious, that she offered two posts. She first speaks in The Smell of It of befouling herself with short but stinky carboxylic acids as a University of Florida graduate student prepping for the esterification undergrad laboratory. But she doesn’t hold it against her students, as in her second where she describes her love of the Grignard reaction and “the pimp daddy of all reagents.” Both posts have quite a few nice metaphors that would be useful and humorous interludes for lectures – and two words of wisdom for the organometallics lab: dry glassware.

Hey, what’s that smell? Oh, it’s just Christine Herman making waves at Just Another Electron Pusher. What do you get when you mix ammonium thioglycolate, hydrogen peroxide, and keratin? All I can say is that her Mom has beautiful hair!

More satisfying chemistry, and definitely one with mouth-watering olfactory delights, comes from Matt Hartings at ScienceGeist who tells us about a low-percent yield process that’s conducted in the kitchen: the Maillard reaction. Like Stemwedel and Guenard, Matt shows why he’s such a great teacher, complete with a passage “for the electron-pushing crowd.” Dr. Hartings, I like mine medium-rare.

SeeArrOh at Just Like Cooking got us dreaming of steamed crustaceans until we realized that he was talking about an alkyne reaction, the Crabbé reaction. His description of the autumnal colors seems quite appropriate for the end of September (in the Northern Hemisphere, that is).


The Most Important Reaction?

Ash Jogalekar at The Curious Wavefunction comes in with his typically lush writing for his entry on, “a reaction so elementary that it will occupy barely a tenth of the space on a napkin or t-shirt and which could (and should) be productively explained to every human being on the planet.” Which he then does. Go read.



Stuart Cantrill at Chemical Connections (and the Chief Editor of Nature Chemistry

) reflects on his two years at the Mecca of Metathesis, Cal Tech, with 2005 Nobel laureate in Chemistry, Bob Grubbs. But he didn’t choose a metathesis reaction. Instead, he chose the making and breaking of imines. The word azeotrope is certainly beautiful one, Stu. And it seems you share some fans of the Dean-Stark trap.

And Chemjobber should be fortunate that Stu didn’t pick Grubbs’ work. Why? Because our dear CJ chose to hold forth on the Grubbs’ ring-closing metathesis reaction. CJ also shares his own story on a connection to Grubbs’ Nobel. Happy anniversary, Mr. and Mrs. CJ!

STEM_Wonk is “a chemistry PhD navigating the world of science policy.” In ROMPing around the Carnival, they take a different approach to metals, this time as catalysts for ring-opening metathesis polymerization. I don’t know why but we had the urge to go make some popcorn after reading the post.



Shannon Morey at chembites submitted a nice alkyne reaction: the azide alkyne Huisgen cycloaddition. Her post concisely covers ground from the history of the reaction to modern applications (semi-synthetic natural products!) and its relative ease: “It is almost too good to be true, though I know I don’t feel that way when I’m doing the dishes…”

Shannon also mentioned that the Diels-Alder reaction always tends to steal the show when discussing cycloadditions. So, it’s no surprise that Azmanam at ChemistryBlog comes in with his characterization of the legendary reaction:  ”No reaction is more elegant, more heartwarmingly satisfying.” As with several of our entries, Azmanam also satisfies the reader with a lovely collection of hand-drawn examples and beautifully detailed explanations – he must be great in the o-chem classroom.


Who Doesn’t Love A Good Polymer Story?

Just one word. . . Credit: The Graduate/WHYY

Polymerization reactions are also a great starting point for showing anyone the utility of chemistry in daily life.

John Spevacek, the lion-tamer at It’s the Rheo Thing, shares with us his love for the thiol-ene polymerization reaction. He’s used the reaction to rapidly create a floor coating, “using just a lamp plugged into a 120 VAC outlet, not a souped-up unit drawing enough electricity to power half of Tokyo.” John, I could use a little help with my garage floor.

Mana Sassanpour at Advancing Green Chemistry shares with us a nice epoxidation reaction to go from oranges to plastic. While we don’t yet have consumer products made from limonene polymerization, this is great example of the potential of green chemistry.

And while not necessarily a polymer story, the lecturer at Endless Possibilities v3.0 leads us through the end-of-summer reflective thought process leading to her carnival entry. And while not necessarily a polymer story, the Michael addition reaction of methyl acrylate and ethylene diamine in methanol leads to dendrimers.


Not Quite A Reaction

Of course, we received entries from excellent chemists who were not necessarily synthetic organic chemists. C&EN Associate Editor and “un-chemist” Lauren Wolf reminisced at the Newscripts blog about her days in the dark doing laser chemistry. In My Favorite Reaction’s Not A Reaction, Dr. Wolf sings the praises of the HeNe laser (not HeLa for you biology types) and it’s superiority to the Nd:YAC laser for physical chemists possessing long hair.

Jessica Morrison at I ♥ the Road comes in apologizing that she’s not a chemist but rather a crystallographer-in-training. Did you know about the natural nuclear reactor at Oklo in Gabon, Africa? Yes, a naturally-occuring nuclear reaction from history.

Paul at Chembark bemoaned blog carnivals but broke down and gave us a reaction without a name that caught his eye over a chicken curry. So, he gave it a name: the Mukiyama thioester synthesis. Dare we say that Paul found quite a bit of pleasure in participating in the carnival?


Breaking It Down

Finally, C&EN Senior Editor Bethany Halford also joined in at Newscripts to post on “the destructive beauty” of ozonolysis. Dr. Halford, I personally find the reaction a great conversation starter, although it does leave me a bit blue.


So there you have it. Twenty-two posts from 21 of the finest chemistry bloggers out there. A huge thank-you to everyone who participated and responded to the call. More details will follow on how posts will be selected for an upcoming issue of Chemical & Engineering News.

Happy reading and may all of your reactions be satisfying and high-yield!




The Chemistry Carnival Is Now Closed

A quick update to thank all of you who participated in GlobCasino’s first blog carnival. So far, I’ve tallied at least 20 entries! David and I will work to get a roundup post together in the next couple of days. And stay tuned to see which ones will be published in an upcoming issue of C&EN (that will take a little longer to figure out).

It’s Chemistry Carnival Time!

A few weekends ago, I was with my young boys at our local mall checking out the kids entertainer, Ryan Buckle & Friends: Science you can sing to. Ryan, the singer, intersperses his songs with science demonstrations. We were there fairly early for a Saturday morning, so his audience was small and consisted mostly of toddlers and preschoolers – not the easiest crowd to entertain. Even though Ryan’s songs were fun to listen and dance to, it was the experiments that captured every one’s attention (yep, parents, too).

Ferrous Wheel

What's a chemistry carnival without a ferrous wheel? Hand-drawn "structure" credit: Jeff Dougan

Smoke vortex rings puffed air as they floated past our heads. Water “disappeared” from a cup thanks to a gel powder. And then came my favorite reaction of all time: The Diet Coke-Mentos geyser. Simple, sure, but way fun to do with kids. As the mints hit the soda, disrupting polar attractions between water molecules, even my two-year old was mesmerized by the foam spewing forth from the bottle.

In this International Year of Chemistry, it seems only natural that we should pay tribute to our favorite chemical reactions, be they as simple as a soda geyser or as sophisticated as the Diels-Alder.

So, come one, come all, to the greatest chemistry blog carnival this fall!

A blog carnival?

You betcha.

Continue reading →

Jeopardy IYC Recap

I don’t think I’ve ever been as tuned into the TV game show Jeopardy as I was last night. It’s usually on in the background while I’m eating dinner. But last night was different. For weeks, I had known that this episode would be featuring questions related to the International Year of Chemistry.

I was eager to find out what questions would be asked … or in this case, what clues would be posed.

About halfway through the episode, and after a commercial break, host Alex Trebek introduces the categories for Double Jeopardy. The IYC logo pops up on the screen, and Trebek says, “This is the International Year of Chemistry, according to the U.N.” He then introduces the other categories: musical theater, papal bulls, writers’ relatives, what do you stand for, and nothing.

The contestants went straight for the musical theater clues. The minutes seemed to drag on, and most of the other categories had been completed, before one of the contestants, Jay Rhee, an oncologist from Annapolis, Md., finally tackles the first IYC clue for $1600, which turned out to be a Daily Double:

“Frederick Soddy came up with this term for atoms having the same nuclear charge but different masses.”

Rhee, who was up to $17,100 by this point, bet $100 and poses the question, “What are isotopes?”

“Isotopes is right,” said Trebek.

Rhee asked for a second IYC clue for $400:

“The celebratory year 2011 marks 100 years since this radiant scientist’s Nobel prize for chemistry,” said Trebek.

Rhee: Who is Curie?

Trebek: Be more specific.

Rhee: Who is Marie Curie?

Trebek: Yes!

After a break to tackle some of the other categories, Rhee came back to IYC and asked for the $2000 clue:

“A solid can be finely analyzed using the EELS technique, which studies energy loss in these particles.”

Buzzer (signaling no response). “Energy loss in the electrons,” Trebek offered.

Rhee asked for the $1200 IYC clue:

“A chemical known as an anhydride is one that removes this from substances.”

Contestant Julianne Moore, a mom and volunteer from Placentia, Calif., chimed in: “What is water?”


She asked for the next IYC clue for $800:

“You exhale this gas first identified by British scientist Joseph Black in the 1750s.”

Not one to be outdone, contestant Scott Goldstein, a director and writer of a sketch comedy theater from Chicago, Ill., asked, “What is carbon dioxide?”


And the IYC category was finished, with one clue left in the “Nothing” category.

Watch for yourself and let us know what you think about the chemistry clues posed and how the contestants did: http://www.chemistry2011.org/about-iyc/news/on-Jeopardy/

What is … the International Year of Chemistry?

Tune in to Jeopardy! next Monday, June 21, for some chemistry trivia. The episode will feature questions related to the International Year of Chemistry. We have no idea what topics will be featured, so you’ll just have to watch! For local air times, visit http://www.jeopardy.com and click on “when to watch.”

Let us know what you think of the contestants’ chemistry knowledge!

IYC Groom’s Cake

Analytical chemist George Ruger sent us these photos of an IYC-inspired groom’s cake that he had at his wedding earlier this year:

How are you celebrating IYC? Feel free to share your photos with us!

More IYC stamps

To celebrate the International Year of Chemistry, countries around the world are issuing commemorative stamps. Newscripts wrote about some of these stamps in the March 14th issue of C&EN. Since then, several more stamps have been issued:


Bosnia and Herzegovina



For more information on these stamps and to learn about new stamps being issued, visit the IYC Postage Stamp Central page on the IYC website.

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