Data Safety Sheet for Water

water molecule


From Kausik Datta at In Sciento Veritas over on SciLogs we have a bit of nerdish humour: The Material Data Safety Sheet for hydrogen hydroxide, or was that dihydrogen monoxide?

Happy Holidays! Ho, ho, ho!

And a “Ho, ho, ho!” to you and yours. You can buy these sciency cards at Not on the High Street.


HIV virus mapped

This paper summarizes and codifies the research from more than a hundred scientific papers into one HIV model. Researchers hope that this model will help them to develop new treatments for the disease.

The model accurately depicts the 3D structures of 17 different viral and cellular proteins found in the virus. The viral membrane in the model has 160,000 lipid molecules of eight different types in the same proportions as in the virus.

Accurate model of Human Immunodeficiency Virus

On the Visual Science website, display labels for the model, look deep inside it, and even rotate the model on your screen.

This model of HIV was on the cover of the special issue of Nature Medicine (September 8, 2010) prepared by the Global HIV Vaccine Enterprise.

Simple organic compounds: alkanes

Methane (1 carbon), ethane (2 carbons)

In the previous post, I casually mentioned methane and ethane in the atmosphere of Saturn’s moon Titan. I’ve started with the terms in that post and worked back to the supporting concepts so you can read until you get to things you already know.

  • Methane and ethane are the simplest hydrocarbons.
  • Hydrocarbons are molecules that are comprised entirely of atoms of hydrogen and carbon. Specifically, they have no oxygen, which is the commonest other component of organic molecules.
    • Incidentally, a molecule that contains hydrogen, carbon, and oxygen is a carbohydrate, a completely different kind of molecule. In his book Chariots of the Gods, Emmanuel Velikovsky casually changed hydrocarbons (fuel) into carbohydrates (food) with a twist of the typewriter, demonstrating that he knew nothing about chemistry.
  • Organic molecules contain carbon and are more complex than carbon dioxide (CO2). They’re called organic because a hundred years ago, we thought that only biological processes could form them: that’s all that scientists had ever observed. Since then, we have learned to synthesize them step by step, observed them forming from inorganic compounds, and detected them in interstellar clouds. The chemistry of carbon is called organic chemistry.
  • The smallest alkane is methane, with one carbon. Ethane has two, propane has three, butane has four. After that they use Greek numeric prefixes pentane, hexane, heptane, octane, and so on.
  • Alkanes are saturated hydrocarbons: saturated means that every available bond is filled: the molecule is saturated with hydrogen and cannot take up any more. There are no double bonds on any of the carbon atoms in an alkane. They are sometimes said to have a carbon “backbone.” You can read more about alkanes. Hydrogen atoms tend to clutter up chemical structure diagrams, so they are often left out: just assume that a hydrogen atom fills every unspecified bond.
  • Carbon atoms can form four covalent (electron-sharing) bonds, so each carbon atom can connect to four other atoms. This is the secret to its success in building large, even gigantic molecules and why we think that other life might be “carbon-based.”
Tetrahedral structure of methane


  • The carbon bonds naturally radiate to the four tips of a triangular pyramid with the nucleus in the centre: carbon molecules are not flat. Methane is a tetrahedral molecule. molecules with carbon chains are, at the very least, crinkled. Thus, even the simple structure of a three-carbon molecule has two conformations, with the ends of the molecule bent towards or away from each other.

Carbon molecules showing "handedness"

  • If a carbon atom has different atoms attached to its bonds, it can form a molecule with mirror image versions like left-handed or right-handed mittens. No matter which way you turn them, you can’t superimpose them. This is called chirality (handedness) and the molecules are called enantiomers of each other.
  • Carbon has 6 protons in its nucleus; otherwise, it would be something else: the number of protons defines the element. If the nucleus has more or fewer neutrons, it’s an isotope of the element. A carbon atom usually has 6 neutrons but there’s an isotope with 8 neutrons, which is slightly less stable and decays over time. [Corrected as noted below.]
  • An atom has a nucleus surrounded by electrons. A nucleus is built of protons (positive charge) and neutrons (no charge) surrounded at some distance by electrons with negative charge.

The colors of iron

On recent travels, I’ve seen a lot of rocks and soils that are dark grey, purple, red, and ochre. All of these colors come from iron. This monograph explains how one element can cause so many colors, at least in sandstone: Rainbow of Rocks.

NASA finds buckminsterfullerenes in space

Nasa’s Spitzer telescope has detected the spectral signatures of “buckyballs” in a planetary nebula named Tc 1. A planetary nebula comprises dust and gas around an aging white dwarf star. They are giant molecules of pure carbon. The buckyball is a hollow sphere with chemical formula C60. Like a geodesic dome, it’s a very stable structure.

The researchers also found a larger, more elongated fullerene with formula C70.The researchers were not looking for them in particular but were lucky to find them in the course of other research. The star’s temperature, in the infrared, is ideal for spectroscopy of fullerenes.

Possible fullerenes have been detected in interstellar gases, but have not yet been confirmed. They are important because of their unusual chemistry.

In 1970, researcher Eiji Osawa calculated that C60 molecules could exist, but they were not detected until 1985 when researchers found them by simulating the atmosphere of an aging, carbon-rich star.  Sir Harry Kroto, Bob Curl, and Rick Smalley won the 1996 Nobel Prize in chemistry for the discovery of buckyballs. They have since been found in candle soot!

Both geeky and cute

I want one!

periodic table.jpg

The Periodic Table from today’s BuzzFeed.

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