Blogroll: What’s in a name?

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

Named reactions represent a fascinating subsection of chemistry, so we eagerly awaited the answers to Derek Lowe’s ‘Name Reactions You’ve Never Run’ blogpost. Lowe starts things off with the confession of a colleague who, despite years of experience, has never run a Diels–Alder reaction and continues with his own admission “I’ve never done a straight aldol condensation”, nor a Fischer indole synthesis. The comments thread was soon filled with people happily admitting which famous reactions have passed them by.

Who could fail to click on a blogpost with the title ‘Is earwax an organocatalyst?’. We certainly couldn’t and were rewarded with an informative post on the Chemistry Blog by Chemjobber, picking up on a Newscripts item by Steve Ritter in Chemical and Engineering News (89, 56; 2011). Way back in 1960 — in the days before blogs — budding chemist Charles Johnson discovered that his earwax accelerated the process of making colourful lake pigments. In his later life, as an undergraduate student, Johnson further found that earwax worked as a catalyst to make trans-stilbene, “although his professor didn’t seem impressed.” Chemjobber reminds us of Dylan Stiles’s blogpost on the now-defunct Tenderbutton in which he took a TLC of his earwax, which Chemjobber describes as “one of the initial triumphs of the chemblogosphere”. Who knew such an unpleasant substance was so interesting?

And finally… Mary Carmichael got so fed up with seeing marketing spiel that uses the phrase ‘chemical-free’ to describe products that she started a blog, ‘F No, “Chemical Free!”’. Among the products named and shamed so far are “chemical free sunblock and bug spray” and even a chemistry set that offers “60 fun activities with no chemicals”. That doesn’t sound like much fun to us.