Media Release

Attached is the media release approved by Dr. Martin Schmieder titled ‘ Impact Craters – The Incubators of Life’

Dr. Schmieder was the very first researcher to accurately measure the cooling rates of impact craters and therefore was the first researcher to find that impact craters could be our planet’s analogue to Darwin’s warm, little pond – necessary for evolution. It’s truly groundbreaking research – for more information I urge you to read the following media release:

Media Release MM approved

Sh*t I wont touch – The Legendary Picric Acid

Picric acid sounds like something out of Harry Potter – and it’s original concoction is the stuff of legend. Picric acid was more explosive than TNT.

Boom! Credit to Wikimedia commons
Boom! Credit to Wikimedia commons

Johann Rudolf Glauber first proposed pycric acid in 1742. It was first made from animal horn, silk, indigo and a resin using a recipe that looked almost identical to the ingredients necessary to bring Voldemort his body again.

The military caught wind of this chemical and found that it was highly effective in artillery as it was shock proof. Previous explosives like nitroglycerine would sometimes detonate in the artillery barrel which wasn’t a happy ending for anyone. The British, French and Japanese started toying around with it and it formed the basis for the following boomers:

– Explosive D (US)

– Lyddite (GBR)

-Shimose powder (JAP)

– Ecrasite (AUSTRIA)

– Melinite (FRA)

Why was it so dangerous?

Over time water evaporates from the substance leaving crystalline salts behind. These acid crystals are highly volatile and explode readily under friction or a change in temperature. The crystals react with metals and alkaline materials very easily, such as contrete, to form an explosive picrate salt – this particular salt caused booms that were bigger than TNT.


Picric Acid; Image credit to National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)

The sensitivity of picrate acids comes from the NO2 groups on the main body (similar to TNT) – under a reaction they combust releasing a significant amount of heat and energy. Here’s a video to see what can happen:

Can a hydrogen atom make a galaxy glow red?

Why are galaxies red? This is due to one element and only one – Hydrogen.

Hydrogen is nature’s smallest element and is, perhaps, the purest representation of what an atom actually is. The name Hydrogen actually comes from Greek words ‘hydro’ and ‘gen’ – which when put together mean “water-generator”.

 Diagram of Hydrogen – one electron and one proton

Hydrogen was extensively studied by scientists such as Niels Bohr. Bohr’s simple atomic model had an electron orbiting a proton, just like in the diagram shown above. This is analogous to the Earth orbiting around the Sun. However the Bohr model is highly simplistic as quantum mechanics tells us that we never quite know exactly where the electron is.

Hydrogen also has very specific energy “shelves” where electrons are allowed to be. Despite the short comings of Bohr’s model the energy levels of these shelves can be calculated very accurately from the model.

So, in order to move an electron from one shelf to the next we need a very specific amount of energy. This is due to the discretization of angular momentum which meant an electron in the Bohr model could only exist at certain distances from the proton. If you give the atom more energy the electron will jump up to a higher shelf – at this point it’s in an excited state.

Electron jumping down to a lower energy shelf

Electron jumping down to a lower energy shelf [Image courtesy of]

If you let it sit there it will re-emit energy in the form of light and the electron will jump back down to a lower shelf. Now, if an electron jumps from the 3rd shelf to the 2nd shelf the electron emits visible light. This emission is so powerful that it can be seen throughout many galaxies:

Elliptical galaxy NGC-2937 (As seen in an earlier post on The False Vacuum!)
Elliptical galaxy NGC-2937 (Image credit: NASA)

It’s THAT emission that causes the glowing red lines in the galaxy shown above. In the case of the galaxy shown above (where in a previous blog post we looked at where its unusual shape came from) the clear red lines are where the galaxy is forming stars. This red glow from Hydrogen shows us very clearly where stars are being formed in the night sky.

So there you have it. These red lines splashed across the night sky are a visible sign that new stars are born and shows how hydrogen can make a galaxy glow  a deep red.

NASA’s Orbiting Carbon Observatory

Dr. Mike Gunson is a NASA specialist in atmospheric chemistry, composition and how they relate to climate change. He is the project scientist for NASA’s Orbiting Carbon Observatory

Image Credit:

His response to a very, very important question is italicised.

A common question, asked by many people, I know is:

When atmospheric carbon dioxide samples are collected surely natural occurrences affect the collection? How do we know how much is human-caused?

Very good point! Single measurements of CO2 concentrations can’t tell you where it comes from (It could be natural or anthropogenic). In 1957 scientists interested in the composition of the atmosphere took air samples in “clean” sites to eliminate any rapid variation in concentration that could occur near a carbon source. This record shows the long-term increase and accumulation of CO2 due to fossil fuel consumption but not much more than that.

A New Way of Tracking CO2 Emissions – Orbiting Carbon Observatory (OCO 2)

CO2 measurements close to cities are affected by a number of patterns such as traffic, factory shut-down/start-up and even the time of day (peak hour traffic and air conditioner use contributes significantly to CO2 emission).

Scientist’s interested in quantifying the actual impact fossil-fuel consumption need to be able to accurately measure the composition of atmosphere free from disturbance. The objective of OCO 2 is to provide space-based observations for atmospheric CO2.

Through OCO 2 NASA scientists can quantify both human activities and natural processes that influence the distribution of greenhouse gas in our atmosphere.  NASA originally tried to launch the project in 2009 however a covering that protects the satellitle failed to separate from the spacecraft.

Image credit:

The satellite would have been able to take the most precise measurements of atmospheric CO2 ever from space. From these measurements NASA could quantify the amount and distribution of CO2 in the atmosphere. From that information global models, similar to those used for weather prediction, could be used to pin-point the sources of those emissions and the locations of any sinks (where CO2 collects) on the Earth’s surface.

Sh*t I Won’t Touch – Chlorine Azide

Today we’re looking at a bag of fun known as chlorine azide. Chlorine azide was highly reactive, toxic and unstable – it was only really useful for figuring out what would blow up first if you opened a jar of it.


What happened to every chemist that tried to play with it …
[Image courtesy of]

No, seriously, that’s why they’re used. Their essential character is to make stuff around them change. Never put something next to a jar of Chlorine azide that you’re not comfortable seeing re-arranged in a suddenly violent fashion. The real challenge with this compound is finding something it WONT react with violently.

An excerpt from the 1943 JACS article on chlorine azide:

Owing to the extreme instability of the compound accurate determinations of the boiling and melting points have not been made as yet. Numerous explosions, often without cause, have occurred during experiments.

Wikipedia describes it in a similarly fun way:

‘It usually detonates violently, whatever the temperature, without apparent provocation’

What’s interesting to note is its brother, Sodium Azide, saves lives every single year – particularly throuhg its use in older air bags in cars.

Why is it so dangerous?


A lovely molecule of chlorine azide – it’s the green bond you want to worry about ….
[Image courtesy of ChemNet]

Chlorine Azide – it’s that green single bond that is the reason why this little man will blow up without provocation

A strongly, electronegative, chlorine is bonded with a very, very fragile single bond to a triple bond in the nitrogen compound. End of days occurs when the chlorine wants to find a new partner. Because this single bond is very, very fragile, all it takes is a partial electropositive charge on a neighbouring atom or molecule to break the Cl-N bond. The chlorine lovingly elects to take the rest of the compound with it. It’s like a trip-wired explosive. Because of this charmingly violent feature, it has little use in the lab other than to investigate substances and find out how on Earth you can stop this from happening.

Sh*t I won’t touch! – Dimethylcadmium (Lucifer’s party starter)

This blog post is a first of many, I hope, in the field of dangerous chemicals. Here are a collection of my favourite little nasties I won’t work with in the lab. Today we’ll start of with a “simple” Cadmium compound and tomorrow we’ll look at something that explodes for absolutely no reason at all.

Ready? Let’s kick off with DIMETHYLCADMIUM!

Everyone knows about Lead and Arsenic etc. Did you also know that Cadmium is just as bloomin’ nasty?

Cadmium – our dangerous friend

I know, as an element, it looks so harmless – but don’t be fooled!. It has acute toxic effects (chemistry’s version of stabbing you – quick acting), and it has chronic toxic effects (ruins you long term).

A Wall of Flame

Lucifer running for a jar of Dimethyl Cadmium
 Image courtesy of 123RF -(Licensed to Creative Commons)

Dimethyl Cadmium would be the stuff that Lucifer uses to start a bonfire. It’s basically the demon compound of the organometallic world. An organometallic compound is a compound where carbon and metal are bonded together, largely through covalent bonds.

Dimethyl Cadmium
Dimethyl Cadmium

From the drawing above (Image courtesy of SAFC Global), the yellow atom is a Cadmium atom single-bonded to two other molecules. Each molecule is a methyl compound. A methyl compound is highly reactive and is formed of a central carbon atom (grey) and three hydrogen (white) atoms. This particular nasty is referred to as a methyl organometallic compound.

Methyl organmetallics are where you start looking for the most choking vapors, brighest flames, and fondest collection of curse words to ever come out of a chemistry lab. Methyl organometallics are small, highly reactive, and ready to start a party! Dimethyl cadmium is the little demon wedged in this fun collection of man-made nasties.

Spill the stuff and it’ll spread into a nice, wide, pool over your lab – and, of course, it will ignite on it’s own. I cant think of much that would ignite at room temperature but there you go.

What happens once you’ve got a warm fire going in your lab? We all then get to sniff some poisonous cadmium oxide smoke. It’s toxic to your lungs, liver and kidneys. Only a few micrograms per cubic meter are needed and that vapour gets absorbed really well into your blood stream. Cadmium compounds are carcinogenic – so assuming you survive all that chances are you’ll pick up a tumour somewhere down the road.

If that doesn’t happen – I’ll wager you’ll still regret you opened the bottle.

Lucifer’s partycracker

It can react with oxygen to form a thick crust of dimethyl cadmium peroxide – a friction sensitive explosive. This means that if you try and move it it blows up. I still don’t know exactly how you clean that up without blowing yourself up.

Some kids playing with dimethyl cadmium
Image credit :

Any attempt to clean up the explosive will either a) blow you up or b) distribute the rest of your delicious dimethyl cadmium into a fine mist. Inhaling it will give you some nasty surprises. Don’t use water either – just remember that science lesson you had about throwing sodium into water. Something similarly fun may happen.

So in summary this chemical is no longer popular (gee  whiz – I wonder why?) with chemists. It is still used in exotic areas of chemistry in developing “exciting” photosensitive and semiconducting materials (Again, not the kind of job you want).

So no, no one loves this chemical – which is why you’ve never heard of it. Play with it in your own time but keep it out of my ‘hood*.

*Pun of the word ‘neighbourhood’ and ‘fume hood’ 😉

It’s love actually!

Ever wonder whether love is something you control – or is it just your hormones and biases behind it?

What about chemistry – are you in control or is dopamine?

Well there’s actually 2 reasons why we all fall in love – a lot comes down to our need to reproduce.

Image Credit:

1. Sex drive – for blokes that’s coming from two structures in your brain. Your amygdala and your hypothalamus. Those brain structures evolved to get you to even look at partners.

2. Romantic love – this developed later and gave us a reason to focus our energy on just one person. The attachment and feeling of security evolved to help people stay together long enough to raise kids.

Uploaded Image

Yucky, graphical Sumerian love.
Image credit: Terracotta plaque from Babylon. (Vorderasiatische Museum Berlin 3576 13.5×7.5 cm) Image credit: Assante 2002: Fig.1

The most important thing to note is that romantic love was not invented by Shakespeare, poets or even Hollywood. Love poetry was found in ancient Sumer (modern day Iraq) as long as 4,000 years ago. There’s also evidence of romantic love in over 150 different tribes and societies over the course of human history.

We’re all alike in the same basic and beautiful way – our amygdala and hypothalamus gives us a reason to look for love and our need to reproduce gives us the reason to keep on loving.

So, how much control do you think you have?