Blogroll: Arnie and artemisinin

A chemist who wants to terminate malaria and a calculation to have at your fingertips.

“Malaria. I hate this parasite. I want to kill it.” Imagine these words spoken in a voice similar to Arnold Schwarzenegger’s and you’ll understand why they nearly made Karl Collins fall off his chair, as he explained in a post at A Retrosynthetic Life. Of course, it wasn’t Arnie speaking, but Peter Seeberger of the Max Planck Institute, who discussed his efficient and cheap route to making artemisinin. Seeberger’s development means that “artemisinin factories the size of large cardboard boxes can be made for £10,000”. Overall, the cost of producing this potent antimalarial could fall to “10% of what it is today” — this might go some way to explain why Seeberger’s next appointments were with the UN and the Gates Foundation. Collins explains more about Seeberger’s career in his blogpost and you can read the Angewandte Chemie paper that reports the continuous flow synthesis via

“By the time you finish this sentence, your fingernails will have grown one nanometre.” If you read that sentence with some scepticism, you’re not alone. Zen Faulkes, who blogs at Neurodojo, asked “Is that accurate?”. To start with, his students did some guesstimations, ‘Fermi problem’ style, that showed it might be true, but like any good scientist, Faulkes wanted data. So he measured the growth rate of his fingernails using callipers accurate to 0.01 mm. After five or six measurements on ten fingers he arrived at an average fingernail growth rate of 0.92 nm per second! But wait — Faulkes went a step further and discovered it took him about 3.77 seconds to read that sentence, so his fingernails would have grown a whopping 3.47 nm. Interested readers may like to tackle the problem posed in the comments: How many moles of ß-keratin are deposited onto the nail per second?

[As mentioned in this post, we’re posting the monthly blogroll column here on the Sceptical Chymist. This is May’s article]