Category Archives: Organic Chemistry

Brain Chemistry

Being from the United States, a country that is facing the harsh issue of obesity, I decided that it would be very interesting to research about exercise. Caroline wrote a blog post about brain chemistry and she put much emphasis on dopamine.  I found it very interesting that altered levels of dopamine can have such a large affect on the body.  I wondered what kinds of chemicals and neurotransmitters were released when someone exercised.  When you think about it, many people get incredibly positive effects from exercise, meaning that it must force a release of something in the brain to induce this.  But which neurotransmitters and hormones are responsible for this? Since we just recently did the medicines and drugs unit, I thought it would be beneficial and quite helpful to be able to research about exercise and be able to truly understand what it all means.  When I was doing my primary research, all kinds of things came up about how exercise makes you smarter, fixes health problems, reduces stress, helps you become more fit, and much more.  Wouldn’t everyone be exercising a very large amount if they knew this?


To begin, regular exercise can alleviate anxiety and boost energy. When you exercise, you work your heart, thus making it stronger, but also increased heart pumping increases the release of certain types of neurotransmitters, such as serotonin, norepinephrine and GABA. Even small amounts of activity can help the body be more resistant to stressful situations even hours later. To expand on the effects of these neurotransmitters, serotonin (C10H12N2O) leaves you happier and more relaxed after working out. (Branch, S.) This is because the physical activity stimulates the release of these chemicals. When reading about this, I automatically thought of all of the drugs we learned about.  I went back to the mouse party simulation and reviewed how these drugs work. I noticed something in common with all of these drugs; they all have relate in the way they work with chemicals in the brain. All of the drugs either work with serotonin, dopamine or GABA receptors. For example, LSD deals with the serotonin receptors.  It binds to serotonin receptors and it binds to various ones, sometimes inhibiting them and sometimes exciting them. LSD excites a particular part of the brain, the locus coeruleus. This area of the brain forms feelings of wakefulness, etc.  LSD also has effects such as changed body temperature and heart rate which also occurs when you exercise.(Mouse Party)  To connect this to exercising, when you exercise, serotonin is released, making the person who was working out feel more relaxed and happy. Even though exercise is not a drug that chemically alters the brain, it certainly acts in similar ways as many drugs are meant to act.


Although exercise is certainly not a drug and usually it can be closely connected because it has many of the same effects and usually creates better moods, more relaxation, and a more stimulated brain. With this being said, it is not to get mixed up because drugs also have many negative effects which are not associated with exercising.  Additionally, norepinephrine is a very important neuromodulator in the brain.  Many scientists believe that the norepinephrine concentrations are much higher in the brain during physical activity, thus leading to the body being able to deal with stress more effectively. 50% of norepinephrine is created in the LC (locus coeruleus) and this area of the brain is “involved in emotional and stress responses.”(Dishman, R.)

Serotonin

Serotonin Structure

Serotonin Neuron

Serotonin Neuron

Endorphins also play a key role in helping to decrease stress levels.  Endorphins are created in the “pituitary gland in response to stress or pain. They bind to opioid receptors in neurons, blocking the release of neurotransmitters and thus interfering with the transmission of pain impulses to the brain”.(McGovern, M.) When you exercise, the activity stimulates the release of endorphins and these help you to deal with the stress and pain dealt with during exercise. For example, “runners high” is considered to be because the increased release of endorphins is responsible for the euphoria feeling after running and thus the runner feels a very happy, relaxed feeling. (McGovern, M.) Endorphins are much like drugs in the way that their effects have a very addictive effect and the person exercising builds a tolerance to these, and must exercise more to get the same euphoria feeling over time. “In fact, endorphins attach to the same neuron receptors as opiates such as morphine and heroin.” (McGovern, M.) Many scientists believe that only a small amount of people exercise regularly because the endorphins take about 30 minutes to kick in.  This means that the person doesn’t feel these positive effects until a while after their exercise and only associates exercising with stress and pain.


To continue, exercise and physical activity can also make your brain stronger, thus leading to a more efficient brain. “Exercise slows the loss of gray matter in the brain.” This is because the chemicals that are produced and released while exercising help to fight brain-killing chemicals that are produced during stressful periods. According to Forbes, “ In the long term, it [exercise] can even help starve off brain aging and Alzheimer’s. This works on the cellular level through neuroplasticity, the ability of the brain to improve itself with blood flow and levels of brain-derived protein. He calls it “miracle-gro” for the brain, and it all comes from regular exercise!” Neuroplasticity changes the neural pathways when changes in behavior, environment, or even injuries.  Neuroplasticity is very recognized “in healthy development, learning, memory, and recovery from brain damage.”(Branch, S.) I think that this is very important because when you exercise and work your body and strengthen your brain, very complicated processes take place to alter and help the brain to possibly recover, and or build cells, etc.


To continue, when exercise takes place, the stress you put on your own body forces the brain to create new neurons (called neurogenesis) “especially in the hippocampus- the area in charge of learning and memory”.  This happens because when exercise occurs, you are stressing your body and it’s systems and in order for it to recover, it needs to repair this damage.  This is significant because it leads to an “increase in brainpower” and thus makes the brain more efficient and stronger. (Andersen, C.) This gets mixed up very frequently with the thought that if you exercise enough, you will be a genius. This is not true.  If you overexercise, it is possible that your brain will actually become weaker and it will be more difficult to learn.

hippocampus

Hippocampus in the Brain


While it may not be possible to exercise enough to become a genius, it is definitely possible “to exercise to happiness.”(McGovern, M.) To understand how this works, when a person becomes depressed, they show a lack of vital neurotransmitters such as norepinephrine and serotonin.  As said before, exercise increases the concentration of these neurotransmitters in the brain, thus leading to an increased mental health and stimulating the brain.  As seen below, the depressed brain has much less activity in it, while the “not-depressed” brain has much more activity.  When exercise occurs and the concentration of positive neurotransmitters increases, depression can be alleviated.


c7_pet_depression

Effects of Depression on the Brain


When I did my research, I couldn’t help but connect this to economics.  Even though this is a health aspect, it has many economic effects. Every year, the United States spends millions, even billions on health care and running can have so many positive effects on the body that could potentially lower these costs. If physical education and exercise was incorporated into schools more, depression rates could drop, obesity could start to plateau and stop growing, and the government in turn could save large amounts of money on healthcare and put it to other causes, such as research and development to help healthcare in the future.  But first, the mentality needs to change.  People have become lazy and thus don’t have any motivation to exercise.  More education needs to take place to educate children and adults on the dangers of obesity, and also the positive effects of exercise on your body.

References

Websites:

Andersen, C. (n.d.). Exercise and the Brain: 4 Ways Working Out Changes the Human Brain – Shape Magazine. Shape Magazine – Diet, Fitness, Recipes, Healthy Eating Expertise. Retrieved May 30, 2013, from http://www.shape.com/lifestyle/mind-and-body/your-brain-exercise


Branch, S. (2011, February 24). How Exercise Alters Brain Chemistry | LIVESTRONG.COM. LIVESTRONG.COM – Lose Weight & Get Fit with Diet, Nutrition & Fitness Tools | LIVESTRONG.COM. Retrieved May 30, 2013, from http://www.livestrong.com/article/390773-how-exercise-alters-brain-chemistry/


Cohen, J. (2012, May 8). 6 Ways Exercise Makes You Smarter – Forbes. Information for the World’s Business Leaders – Forbes.com. Retrieved May 30, 2013, from http://www.forbes.com/sites/jennifercohen/2012/05/08/6-ways-exercise-makes-you-smarter/


Dishman, R. (n.d.). Exercise Fuels the Brain’s Stress Buffers. American Psychological Association (APA). Retrieved May 30, 2013, from http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/exercise-stress.aspx


Exercise: 7 benefits of regular physical activity – MayoClinic.com. (n.d.). Mayo Clinic. Retrieved May 30, 2013, from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/exercise/HQ01676


Girdwain, J. (2013, May 28). How to fix health problems with exercise – CNN.com. CNN.com – Breaking News, U.S., World, Weather, Entertainment & Video News. Retrieved May 30, 2013, from http://www.cnn.com/2013/05/28/health/fix-problems-exercise/index.html?hpt=he_t2


McGovern, M. (n.d.). The Effects of Exercise on the Brain. Serendip Studio. Retrieved May 30, 2013, from http://serendip.brynmawr.edu/bb/neuro/neuro05/web2/mmcgovern.html


Mouse Party. (n.d.). Learn. Genetics. Retrieved May 30, 2013, from learn.genetics.utah.edu/content/addiction/drugs/mouse.html

Images:

N/A. PET scan of the brain for depression. N.d. Mayo Clinic, N/A. Mayo Clinic. Web. 30 May 2013.

N/A. Hippocampus. N.d. Memory Loss & The Brain, Rutgers University. Memory Loss Online. Web. 30 May 2013.

N/A. Serotonin. N.d. Serotonin, N/A. Chemistry-Reference. Web. 30 May 2013.

N/A. What is Serotonin?. N.d. N/A, N/A. News-Medical. Web. 30 May 2013.

Indoor Air Pollution?

I have always had an obsession with scented candles: however, after moving into a wooden and carpeted house in Shanghai, my parents forbid me to use these candles because of the risks involved. I was upset, and I decided to do a little research on the benefits of using scented candles in order to convince them otherwise. When I found more negative than positive effects, I was shocked.

Candles contain Parrafin wax, which is derived from petroleum (alternatively, and more expensive, are candles made from plant oils such as palm, soybean, and beeswax).   According to Ruhullah Massoudi, PhD professor of chemistry at South Carolina State University, Parrafin when burned has been proven to release small amounts of cancer causing agents benzene and styrene, as well as toluene and hydrocarbon chemicals such as alkanes and alkenes. (Main)

Figure 1- Benzene is an organic chemical compound. Its molecule is composed of 6 carbon atoms joined in a ring, each attached to a single hydrogen atom. It is a resonance structure.
Figure 1- Benzene is an organic chemical compound. Its molecule is composed of 6 carbon atoms joined in a ring, each attached to a single hydrogen atom. It is a resonance structure.

Benzene (C6H6) is a colorless liquid with a pleasant odor, and a trace amount of this chemical is usually released whenever carbon-rich materials undergo an incomplete combustion. It is produced in forests fires and volcanoes, and is also a component of cigarette smoke. Benzene can irritate the nose and the throat, and may cause upset stomach/ vomiting. Benzene is also used as an inhalant: when inhaled, it can make you feel dizzy/ lightheaded, and can in extreme cases lead to convulsion and then death. These harmful effects can also be experienced without inhaling the chemical, as it has the ability to pass through the skin. . (Wikipedia) Prolonged exposure to benzene can cause interference with the production of bone marrow in the human body, thus resulting in aplastic anemia or certain types of leukemia. This is because pure benzene oxidizes in the body to produce benzene oxide, which is not readily excreted. Benzene oxide can interact with DNA to produce harmful mutations. The US Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) classifies benzene as a hazardous substance and a human carcinogen. (Benzene Toxicology)

Figure 2- Styrene is an organic chemical compound. The structure consists of an ethane molecule, with the last hydrogen atom attached to the carbon replaced with a phenyl group. The molecule is also known as "vinyl benzene" and "phenyl ethane".
Figure 2- Styrene is an organic chemical compound. The structure consists of an ethane molecule, with the last hydrogen atom attached to the carbon replaced with a phenyl group. The molecule is also known as "vinyl benzene" and "phenyl ethane".

Styrene (C6H5CH=CH2) is a colorless oily liquid with a sweet smell. It is also known as vinyl benzene and phenyl ethane. Like benzene, styrene is usually oxidized in humans by cytochrome P450 (a group of enzymes) to form styrene oxide, which is considered to be mutagenic, and possibly carcinogenic. According to the U.S Environmental Protection Agency, styrene is “a suspected toxin to the gastrointestinal tract, kidney, and respiratory system, among others.” Chronic exposure to styrene leads to tiredness and lethargy, headaches, memory deficits, and vertigo. (Wikipedia)

Synthetic fragrances are also present in scented candles: these, like Parrafin wax, are derived from petroleum and contain phthalate esters.  These are added to the candle to help the smell linger: however, they are not much healthier than the contaminants released by car exhausts. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, can interfere with a body’s hormone system, making the person more susceptible to diabetes, certain cancers, obesity, and thyroid disease. Phthalates can also build up as household dust and linger for long periods of time. They can be ingested by inhaling or through the skin. (Tierny 2011)

A candle enclosed in glass, after 7 days.

Lastly, the most harmful and abundant emission from scented candles is soot. Soot is the product of an incomplete combustion of organic fuels, usually petrochemical based. This is also what makes the flame of a candle glow. As Parrafin wax burns, the surrounding air is constantly filled with particulate matter (soot) with the potential to cause sever damage to the lungs:  “Their size, less than 1  µm, allows deep penetration of the respiratory system and alveolar deposition. The insoluble, carbonaceous core structure with high surface area allows adsorption of extractable volatile, and semi-volatile organic compounds.” (Krause 1999) “Soot can also accumulate on furniture, carpeting and walls, and linger for long periods of time. (Main)

When studies suggest that the negative effects of candle soot may be equivalent to those of factory emissions, are we right to complain about the air pollution outside our homes when the quality of air inside our homes is within our control, and yet we still manage to contaminate it? (Main)

While the negative information I found on the topic overwhelmed me, I also researched possible solutions to overcoming indoor pollution. The most common suggestion I found was to stop using scented candles altogether, and instead set out some baking soda or a bowl of white vinegar in a room to get rid of an odd smell. Good quality essential oils can also be used (as long as they are not burned).

If one wishes to occasionally use a scented candle, beeswax candles are recommended. In a Paraffin candle, the flame does not get hot enough to completely burn oil and thus results in an incomplete combustion and release of toxic chemicals. Beeswax candles however, burn at a lower temperature and therefore do not have that problem. They smell sweet without chemical fragrances, and beeswax is believed to contain negative ions that improve indoor air quality. (Main)

Side note: Candles made from palm oil (vegetable wax) should be avoided as the palm oil comes from pal tree plantations, for which rainforests are sacrificed. Wicks should be checked as many candlewicks contain lead: when burned, inhaling the fumes has been proven to be harmful to human health. According to Jerome O. Nriagu, Ph.D., a professor of environmental chemistry at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, candle-makers use metal-core wicks because “cotton wicks are often limp and fall over into the wax, extinguishing the flame.” (Downey)

From what I gathered by reading between the lines of various articles on the issue, it is not likely that occasional exposure to fumes from scented candles will severely harm us, but prolonged/ daily exposure should be avoided.

Reference List:

–> (Main)

Main, E. (n.d.). Study: Candle chemicals pollute indoor air. Retrieved from http://www.rodale.com/candles-and-indoor-air-quality?page=0,0

–> (Wikipedia)

Wikipedia. In Benzene. Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Benzene

–> (Wikipedia)

Styrene. In Styrene. Wikipedia. Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Styrene

–> (Krause 1999)

Krause, D. (1999). Us scented candles study. Retrieved from http://www.lead.org.au/lanv7n4/L74-9.html

–> (Downey)

Downey, C. (n.d.). Toxins in burning candles, candle wicks, and incense. Retrieved from http://www.anapsid.org/cnd/mcs/candles.html

–> (Benzene Toxicology)

Benzene: Toxicology. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.crios.be/benzene/toxicology.htm

–> (Tierney 2011)

Tierney, J. (2011, March 15). Scented candles can cause ‘indoor air pollution’. Retrieved from http://www.katu.com/news/medicalalert/118018784.html

Lather, Rinse, Repeat?

Like most people, I shower everyday. Only a short time ago, these showers were relaxing daily rituals, time to reflect on the meaning of life, human existence, and other ordinary ponderings. But as high school progressed and became more and more hectic, these long spiritual cleansings became short “get in and get out” tasks to save time. How did I manage to accelerate my shower time so easily? Well, I couldn’t have done it without the small but significant switch to 2-in-1 shampoo and conditioner.

2-in-1 shampoo and conditioner

I often hear people say that the 2-in-1 combination doesn’t clean hair as well as separate bottles. Until now, I’ve always taken the technology in those bottles for granted; they’ve saved me tons of time but I’ve never really thought about how (or if!) they actually work. So, how does 2-in-1 shampoo and conditioner work? To answer how they work in tandem, we first have to look at how they work separately.

Shampoos are essentially liquid soap for the hair and cleanse the hair using compounds called surfectants. As Kevin’s post about soap explains, these have polar hydrophilic halves that are soluble in water and non-polar lipophilic halves that attract oil molecules. As a result, surfectants lower the surface tension between the water and greasy oils in the hair, making them easier to remove. Unlike most soaps however, shampoos also produce a foamy lather, which holds the dirt particles and prevents them from being redeposited in the hair.

While shampoos remove dirty oils from the hair, they also remove natural oils that protect the hair. Conditioners replace these healthy oils by coating the hair with silicone polymers, or molecules made up of very large chain-like structural units, moisturizing and giving it a shiny appearance. Some also contain positively charged ammonium salts called quats, which negate the negative charge that accumulates in hair, preventing “frizz”. (BBC)

A quaternary ammonium cation

With these basic descriptions of how shampoos and conditioners work, it’s probably easier to appreciate how scientists have combined the two. After all, it seems unworkable how these two chemicals can coexist in one bottle when one’s job is to remove oils and the other’s is to replace them. Also, since shampoos are generally anionic and conditioners are cationic, they should theoretically react when mixed together, producing a curdling precipitate similar to cottage cheese. In fact, most manufacturers prior to the 1980s “thought it was impossible to mix cleansing and conditioning materials in a single bottle.” (RSC)

Fortunately, the advent of 2-in-1 technology changed that. There are two main techniques of achieving this functionality. The less common method is to use a cationic conditioning polymer that doesn’t react with the anionic shampoo. This is less effective and doesn’t condition as well as the more widely used method, in which the conditioning silicone binds to the surfectants in the shampoo and are suspended while the shampoo does its job. When the hair is rinsed, the bonds are broken and the silicone can condition and coat all the hairs. (BBC)

However, like any product, there are limitations to the usefulness of 2-in-1 shampoo and conditioner. The biggest challenge is developing the right conditioning polymer to be suspended. Factors such as the molecular weight, charge density, and molecular structure all affect how the polymer will be suspended and if it will wash away with the shampoo during rinsing. (RSC) Interestingly, dimethicone, which we already know to be an anti-foaming agent used in analgesics, is also a popular choice for the polymer job.

Structure of dimethicone molecule
Structure of dimethicone molecule

So why does this matter? Well, we shouldn’t blindly accept manufacturers’ claims of a better product without first considering their credibility. In the case of 2-in-1 shampoo and conditioner, understanding the science behind the innovation allows us to test these claims and decide whether combining the two really does save time in the shower. Scientists are constantly finding new ways to improve existing products, so it’s important to always view these new technologies with an objective eye.

Sources

Burke, Maria. “Take Two Bottles into the Shower?”. Royal Society of Chemistry. Jan. 2005. Web. 8 Oct. 2011 <http://www.rsc.org/chemistryworld/issues/2005/january/taketwobottles.asp>.

“How Hair Conditioner Works.”. h2g2. BBC, 10 Dec. 2002. Web. 10 Oct. 2011. <http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/place-nireland/A851627>.

Images

2 in 1 Shampoo & Conditioner. Digital image. Metrin. Web. 12 Oct. 2011.

Quaternary Ammonium Cation. Digital image. Wikipedia. 24 Jan. 2007. Web. 12 Oct. 2011.

Dimethicone. Digital image. Drug Future. Web. 12 Oct. 2011.

Failed Experiment Leads to Serendipity

How Algae is Converted into Energy
How Algae is Converted into Energy

As many of you know, The IB Group 4 project was not too long ago for us. Our goal was to investigate how to help better the fight against poverty; so, my group decided to investigate a renewable source of energy, more specifically, algae. Now algae had already been known as a bio-fuel, but there are some difficulties in cultivating and growing enough algae for this to be a sufficient substitute for more commonly used fuels. We were to determine what pH value of water would the algae growth rate be the greatest. After much investigation, we determined that it would be best to test pH levels of 8-12. We took 5 different samples of the same species of algae and placed them into 5 different containers of different pH levels (from 8 to 12). Each container had the same variables affecting the algae growth; the humidity was constant, the amount of sunlight was constant, the amount of nutrients was constant. Naturally, it is our duty as scientists to ensure that the variables are controlled to ensure the data we collect retain its integrity.

But when deciding how to determine which algae had grown the fastest, we were stumped. We could not take the mass of the algae because algae absorb water and we do not want water masses and we could not measure the volume of the algae because it does not take a rigid shape. We had met our first roadblock.

Finally, Mr. Smith suggested that we use a bomb calorimeter to measure the energy given off when the algae are burned. Theoretically, the more massive the algae, the more energy will be given off. So we were back into action mode. We extracted the algae from their containers and placed each sample into an incubator to evaporate any remaining water.

The next day, all the water had evaporated from the algae. We promptly set up the calorimeter, stuck a needle into a cork, prepped a stopwatch, prepared the distilled water and lit the algae. It did not burn. We poked and prodded for minutes at a time but the algae refused to catch fire. We had failed. Lost in a world of our own misery my team looked down, ashamed of our brief role as scientists as I continued to light the algae without reward. And then something clicked. I could see the heads of my group mates slowly rise up as they realized what we have created. Algae that does not burn! More excited than ever, we decided to test our flame resistant plant by placing it on a stack of very flammable paper towels and lighting it. What we found was astounding. Not only, were the algae flame resistant, but it also helps preserve what was underneath. The paper towel surrounding the algae were all burnt, but the paper towel directly underneath was untouched.

asbestos

But why is this important? How does it help fight poverty? Usually, a substance known as Asbestos is integrated into building material to give that object a fire resistive property, but what my group 4 had done was create an organic substitute for asbestos. Though we do not know any side effects from using the algae to retard flames, we do understand that long term exposure to asbestos causes cancerous diseases as well as non-cancerous diseases to the throat, lungs and in some cases, the heart (shown above). We also must reinforce the fact that Algae is an organic substance, meaning it is both easily accessed and environmentally friendly. Hopefully, our findings are significant enough to call for further investigation such as determining how to reproduce such algae, and determining possible health risks from exposure. Perhaps in the future, houses will be lined with algae instead of asbestos.

———————————————–

“Algae Growing Conditions.” Growing Algae. Web. 25 Sept. 2011. <http://www.growing-algae.com/algae-growing-conditions.html>.

Kriscenski, Ali. “POWER YOUR CAR WITH ALGAE: Algae Biocrude by LiveFuels.”Inhabitat – Green Design Will Save the World. 22 Oct. 2007. Web. 25 Sept. 2011. <http://inhabitat.com/power-your-car-with-algae-algae-biocrude-by-livefuels/>.

“What Are Asbestos-Related Lung Diseases?.” National Heart Lung and Blood Institute. U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, May 01, 2011. Web. 25 Sept 2011. <http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/asb/>.

Into Thin Air

This March Break everybody was climbing. Friends of mine went off to climb Mount. Kinabalu in Malaysia, Shanghai teachers and I went climbing in the rocky Huangshan Mountains… It seemed as if the whole school had thought to travel into thin air over this break.

So I think I’ll make thin air the topic of this post, more specifically the conversion of that thin air into fuel.

Since the beginning of the industrial revolution fossil fuels have powered man’s developing technologies. With today’s concern over clean energy and conserving our environment, and the ever-increasing global demand for energy, this rather ingenious process seems perfect. There are 2 major methods of producing energy from carbon dioxide. The first prototype was engineered by the Sandia laboratory in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The solar powered device called the Counter Rotating Ring Receiver Reactor Recuperator, or CR5, was originally intended to break down water into hydrogen and oxygen. The hydrogen could then be used as fuel. Researchers have since discovered that the device can be used to reenergize carbon dioxide forming carbon monoxide, hydrogen, and oxygen, and ultimately synthesize liquid fuels.

Researchers at Newcastle University in the UK, and Carbon Sciences have succeeded developing an exceptionally active catalyst, from aluminum, which can drive the reaction necessary to turn waste carbon dioxide into cyclic carbonates at room temperature and atmospheric pressure. The use of energy efficient catalysts to produce the carbonates needed for conversion into fuel turns this previously energy intensive strategy into a feasible alternative.This idea seems perfect doesn’t it? The scientists seem to have thought of everything, from recycling our planet’s major waste product, to producing the fuel we need, using either renewable solar energy, or as little energy as possible. And though the technology is far from being on the market, this may very well be the answer to the global fuel problem.

However this project begs the question: Why do we need liquid fuels so badly?

One common misconception is that we use liquid fuel only for driving around town in our purring Ferraris. In fact there is little today that doesn’t involve petrol in at least one stage of production. For example this computer is plastic and so is the mouse, probably the desk, your shoes, the buttons on your shirt and plastic uses contains petrol. The makeup you’re wearing, the toothpaste you used, all contain petrol products. And we haven’t even started on the cars.

In reality there is hardly an aspect of life not touched by liquid fuels. Therefore the demand for the product simply increases. The dwindling supply poses a problem, as demands do not dwindle, which drives up the prices to often outrageous levels. It is unlikely that the world will drastically change and cease to use liquid fuels. Thus we will need to find an alternate source for this crucial commodity, which is hopefully where this research comes in.

Kekule’s Dream

Sometimes to make a scientific breakthrough no matter how well tested the idea you need to be able to think creatively.  For German Chemist Friedrich August Kekulé (1829- 1896), the inspiration for his out of the box thinking came from a dreamlike vision.  Up until 1858 chemists did not really have a clear understanding of the structure of organic molecules but it was generally accepted that they formed ordered straight chains.

Kekule, a theoretical chemist was particularly curious as to why benzene had chemical properties that could not be explained using current theories. What was lacking was a clear understanding of benzene’s structure and finding the explanations he was looking for seemed impossible. However, one day while traveling home on the bus from his laboratory he dozed off and in his dream saw the straight chained benzene molecules twisting and turning in a snake like motion. One of the snakes caught hold of its tail and made a ring like formation.  When Kekulé woke he had a flash of inspiration and as soon as he got home made sketches of this dream form of benzene.

In 1865 Kekule presented a paper to the Royal Academy of Belgium proposing that the structure of benzene was a single hexagonal ring of six carbon atoms with alternating single and double carbon-carbon bonds. His theory met widespread approval from fellow chemists.

However his structure did not stand the test of time.  It wasn’t long before  a modern experimental procedure called x-ray diffraction revealed that the carbon-carbon bonds  in benzene were actually equal in length. Further experiments  supported the idea that Kekule’s alternating single and double bonds were not possible.  As a result his structure was replaced by a truer ‘resonance hybrid’ structure with the same arrangement of atoms but the length of each C-C bond being somewhere in between a single and double bond due to delocalised pi electrons.

Kekule’s story shows that being able to make creative connections between seemingly unrelated phenomena (a benzene molecule and a snake) can lead to significant advances in what scientists know.  They can’t rely solely on formal inductive and deductive reasoning as a way of knowing – they need to be able to think creatively as well.

Edward de Bono, regarded by many as a leading authority in the field of creative thinking said.

Logic is the tool that is used to dig a hole deeper and bigger, but if the hole is in the wrong place, then no amount of digging will get you to your intended destination.

So, the next time you are struggling to come up with your own creative lab idea allow yourself to dream a little.

Chemistry in Love

During one of my breaks between one homework assignment and another, I was watching a show called Gossip Girl (a very shallow, yetGossip Girl addictive show). Just like many shows, this show contains fashion, drama, friends, revenge, and most importantly love. Sometimes it is love between social classes, while other times, it is the forbidden love. I thought to myself, “How can these people actually fall in love so quickly? Does this show actually represent love in real life?” Then I began my search for what the true meaning of love is.

There are 3 stages of love: Lust, Attraction, and Attachment. Psychologists have found that it only takes 90 seconds to 4 minutes before you decide if you like someone. And it only takes 34 minutes to become deeply attracted to someone, click HERE to learn 3 steps to falling love. This answers my question; it is possible to fall that quickly in love, but I decided to pursue this topic further.

Have you ever been in love? Do you know why your heart races, and your palms sweat when your seeDopamine is released into our brain. or talk to your new love? Do you know why your new love constantly pops into your mind? I always thought it was all purely a mental thing, nothing actually related physically to my body. I was wrong. Attraction, the second stage of love answers all of these questions with just a few chemicals that are released into our brain. As we fall in love, Adrenaline enters our brain as a stress response. It accounts for our speedy heart, our sweaty palms, and that tingly feeling that we get from talking to that special someone. Dopamine Dopamine, the organic name is 4-(2-aminoethyl)benzene-1,2-diolis another chemical that is released into our brain. This chemical has the same effect as a rush of cocaine does; it generates pleasure. Finally there is Serotonin, a chemical that causes us to constantly think about our sweetheart. Now you know why you can’t focus in class when all you can think about is that special someone. You can blame Serotonin!

So now we’re down to why do we fall in love? It’s all part of evolution. Nature wants us to fall in love so we can reproduce. Attachment is the last stage of love. Oxytocin,Oxytocin a chemical responsible for our nature of cuddling with our sweethearts, is released into our brain and creates a deeper connection between lovers. It is also accountable for the bond between mother and child. This attachment is nature’s way of allowing couples to stay together, at least long enough to raise their child.

Through time, love has said to be one of the most powerful things on earth because of these chemicals. People are willing to die for love. But love is not an emotion; love is a drive.
Helen Fisher of Rutgers University said

I’ve come to think that [drive] is the most powerful [brain] system in the world.

Fisher is an expert on romantic love; her video has more information on different kinds of love.

Love is just like chemistry, a mixture of emotions that synthesizes something completely new. Have you ever felt this chemistry?