Posts Tagged ‘chemist’

Are close H…H contacts bonds?

Friday, October 7th, 2011

The properties of electrons are studied by both chemists and physicists. At the boundaries of these two disciplines, sometimes interesting differences in interpretation emerge. One of the most controversial is that due to Bader (for a recent review, see DOI: 10.1021/jp102748b) a physicist who brought the mathematical rigor of electronic topology to bear upon molecules. The title of his review is revealing: “Definition of Molecular Structure: By Choice or by Appeal to Observation?”. He argues that electron density is observable, and that what chemists call a bond should be defined by that observable (with the implication that chemists instead often resort to arbitrary choice). Here I explore one molecule which could be said to be the focus of the differences between physics and chemistry; cis-but-2-ene.


Breakdowns in communication: the two cultures

Tuesday, August 2nd, 2011

In his famous lecture in 1959, C. P. Snow wrote about the breakdown in communications between the “two cultures” of modern society — the sciences and the humanities (arts). That was then. This is now, and the occasion of my visit to a spectacular “city of arts and sciences complex” in Europe. An un-missable exhibit representing science and life was the 15m high model of DNA. Now to be fair this is styled an artist’s impression, and one presumes that an artist is allowed license. But how much license? And at how much expense to the science? And is there a counterbalance to the art where the science is fastidiously (but artistically) preserved?


Molecular illusions and deceptions. Ascending and Descending Penrose stairs.

Wednesday, June 15th, 2011

It is not often that an article on the topic of illusion and deception makes it into a chemical journal. Such is addressed (DOI: 10.1002/anie.201102210) in no less an eminent journal than Angew Chemie. The illusion (or deception if you will) actually goes to the heart of how we represent three-dimensional molecules in two dimensions, and the meanings that may be subverted by doing so. A it happens, it is also a recurring theme of this particular blog, which is the need to present chemistry with data for all three dimensions fully intact (hence the Click for 3D captions which often appear profusely here).


The handedness of DNA: an unheralded connection.

Wednesday, December 29th, 2010

Science is about making connections. Plenty are on show in Watson and Crick’s famous 1953 article on the structure of DNA[1] but often with the tersest of explanations. Take for example their statement “Both chains follow right-handed helices“. Where did that come from? This post will explore the subtle implications of that remark (and how in one aspect they did not quite get it right!).



  1. J.D. WATSON, and F.H.C. CRICK, "Molecular Structure of Nucleic Acids: A Structure for Deoxyribose Nucleic Acid", Nature, vol. 171, pp. 737-738, 1953.

(re)Use of data from chemical journals.

Wednesday, December 22nd, 2010

If you visit this blog you will see a scientific discourse in action. One of the commentators there notes how they would like to access some data made available in a journal article via the (still quite rare) format of an interactive table, but they are not familiar with how to handle that kind of data (file). The topic in question deals with various kinds of (chemical) data, including crystallographic information, computational modelling, and spectroscopic parameters. It could potentially deal with much more. It is indeed difficult for any one chemist to be familiar with how data is handled in such diverse areas. So I thought I would put up a short tutorial/illustration in this post of how one might go about extracting and re-using data from this one particular source.


Gravitational fields and asymmetric synthesis

Saturday, November 20th, 2010

Our understanding of science mostly advances in small incremental and nuanced steps (which can nevertheless be controversial) but sometimes the steps can be much larger jumps into the unknown, and hence potentially more controversial as well. More accurately, it might be e.g. relatively unexplored territory for say a chemist, but more familiar stomping ground for say a physicist. Take the area of asymmetric synthesis, which synthetic chemists would like to feel they understand. But combine this with gravity, which is outside of their normal comfort zone, albeit one we presume is understood by physicists. Around 1980, one chemist took such a large jump by combining the two, in an article spectacularly entitled Asymmetric synthesis in a confined vortex; Gravitational fields and asymmetric synthesis[1]. The experiment was actually quite simple. Isophorone (a molecule with a plane of symmetry and hence achiral) was treated with hydrogen peroxide and the optical rotation measured.



  1. R.C. Dougherty, "Chemical geometrodynamics: gravitational fields can influence the course of prochiral chemical reactions", Journal of the American Chemical Society, vol. 102, pp. 380-381, 1980.

Semantically rich molecules

Sunday, May 2nd, 2010

Peter Murray-Rust in his blog asks for examples of the Scientific Semantic Web, a topic we have both been banging on about for ten years or more (DOI: 10.1021/ci000406v). What we are seeking of course is an example of how scientific connections have been made using inference logic from semantically rich statements to be found on the Web (ideally connections that might not have previously been spotted by humans, and lie overlooked and unloved in the scientific literature). Its a tough cookie, and I look forward to the examples that Peter identifies. Meanwhile, I thought I might share here a semantically rich molecule. OK, I identified this as such not by using the Web, but as someone who is in the process of delivering an undergraduate lecture course on the topic of conformational analysis. This course takes the form of presenting a set of rules or principles which relate to the conformations of molecules, and which themselves derive from quantum mechanics, and then illustrating them with selected annotated examples. To do this, a great many semantic connections have to be made, and in the current state of play, only a human can really hope to make most of these. We really look to the semantic web as it currently is to perhaps spot a few connections that might have been overlooked in this process. So, below is a molecule, and I have made a few semantic connections for it (but have not actually fully formalised them in this blog; that is a different topic I might return to at some time). I feel in my bones that more connections could be made, and offer the molecule here as the fuse!