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Ci Newsletter #14: Molotovs and plant stimulants

Andy @ Compound Interest
Andy @ Compound Interest
Welcome to another edition of the Ci newsletter. I know I promised something of a bumper edition this fortnight, but with everything going on right now, a chemistry newsletter feels a bit inconsequential. Nonetheless, this issue has some topical articles on daffodil chemistry as northern hemisphere winter turns into spring, as well as some chemistry content pertinent to the current war in Ukraine.

Deadly daffodils?
Click to view this graphic on the C&EN site
Click to view this graphic on the C&EN site
Daffodils – harbingers of spring for us, but harbingers of destruction to some other cut flowers if you put them in the same vase. The same alkaloids that make them deadly to some other flowers make them poisonous to humans, too. The consequences of eating them are vomiting and diarrhoea, and though you might wonder who in their right mind would try to eat a daffodil, UK supermarkets have previously been told not to display daffodil bulbs near food as there’ve apparently been cases of them being mistaken for vegetables before!
Click to view and download this graphic on the Ci site
Click to view and download this graphic on the Ci site
Ukranian molotovs
I’ll happily admit to not having given much thought to the chemistry behind a molotov cocktail, always assuming that it was simply a case of some kind of combustible fuel in a bottle. The recent news of the Ukrainian government encouraging its citizens to make home-made molotovs to repel Russia’s forces highlighted some unexpected additional ingredients.
The first of these: styrofoam (polystyrene). If anyone’s ever tried dissolving polystyrene in acetone you’ll know that it creates a sticky mess, which gives the molotov mixture napalm-like qualities.
The second additional ingredient is silver dust. Apparently, this helps to increase the combustion temperature, but that’s about as much as I’ve been able to determine about its purpose (through running a number of Google searches which have almost certainly landed me on a list somewhere).
It feels like it would be a bit irresponsible to turn this into a ‘How to make a molotov cocktail’ graphic, so this’ll probably be the extent of my looking into it.
Stimulants from plants
Click to view this graphic on the C&EN site
Click to view this graphic on the C&EN site
Drinking a tea or coffee while reading this? Well, then you’re using stimulant from plants, among the most widely used drugs in the world. In the latest edition of Periodic Graphics in Chemical & Engineering News, we’ve taken a look at some of the ways in which these molecules from plants produce stimulant effects.
International Women's Day – 8 March
Click to view the full series of cards on the Ci site
Click to view the full series of cards on the Ci site
With International Women’s Day approaching, I’ve been hard at work continuing to expand the Women In Chemistry cards I’ve been producing for the past year. I’m adding new cards to the website as I complete them, and there are no more than 150 mini-profiles of a fantastic range of talented women in chemistry.
The even better news is that I’ve finally completed almost all of the submissions I received from last year, so I’ve reopened submissions for a short time with the aim of trying to reach 200 profiles in the near future. If you’re a woman in chemistry and you’d like to be included, there’s a form you can fill in here. Please note I’ll be trying to keep the number of submissions more short-term manageable this time around, so will close submissions for a time once I’ve received a certain number.
If you’re not a woman in chemistry, but you know someone who you’d like to be included, please do pass on the link to them – it’d be great to have as diverse a range of profiles as possible.
The discovery of radioactivity
Click to view and download this graphic on the Ci site
Click to view and download this graphic on the Ci site
On 2 March 1896, Henri Becquerel discovered radioactivity. Or, at least, he did so through the series of experiments he carried out around this date – though the RSC cites 2 March as the specific date, I’m not sure of the evidence for this. Anyway, being reminded of this milestone reminded me in turn of this older graphic, made a few years ago, highlighting the differing properties of alpha, beta and gamma radiation, and looking at some of their uses.
Chemistry news and features
Chernobyl’s intensely radioactive ‘elephant’s foot’ lava recreated in the lab
What is trimetazidine and why is it banned in Olympic competition?
That’s all for this fortnight – and let’s hope for a slightly cheerier backdrop to next fortnight’s newsletter. In the meantime, any comments about the newsletter, positive or negative, are always welcome. Just hit the reply button if you’re reading this in your emails and let me know!
Thanks for reading,
Andy
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Andy @ Compound Interest
Andy @ Compound Interest @compoundchem

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