Thursday, March 11, 2010

dangerous chemicals + good writing = awesome

Google Reader recently reminded me of a blog I hadn't read in a while: Derek Lowe's blog about doing research chemistry for biotech and pharmaceutical companies. I enjoy his writing enough that I want to share it with others, particularly his Things I Won't Work With series. Here's part of his piece on chalcogen polyazides:

Spirited stuff, that tetra-azide. The experimental section of the paper enjoins the reader to wear a face shield, leather suit, and ear plugs, to work behind all sorts of blast shields, and to use Teflon and stainless steel apparatus so as to minimize shrapnel. Hmm. Ranking my equipment in terms of its shrapneliferousness is not something that's ever occurred to me, I have to say. It's safe to assume that any procedure which involves considering which parts of the apparatus I'd prefer to have flying past me will not get much business in my lab, no matter how dashing I might look in a leather suit.

That procedure deserves a closer look, though. You can't just crack open a can of selenium tetrafluoride whenever you feel the urge, you know. That stuff has to be made fresh, as far as I can see, and the way these hearty sons of toil make it is by reacting selenium dioxide with chlorine trifluoride. Yep, that stuff, the delightful compound that sets sand on fire and eats through asbestos firebrick.

I don't understand about half of the chemistry terms, but the joy of his writing is that you don't have to.

No comments:

Post a Comment