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The Ci Newsletter #4: Nobel explainers, the limonene myth, and Mole Day

Andy @ Compound Interest
Andy @ Compound Interest
Welcome to another issue of the Compound Interest Newsletter! This issue has a bit of a Nobel Prize focus, with the usual explainer graphics for each of the prizes awarded last week. There’s also some chat about the diversity (or lack of) of the prizes, and a grumble about the post-award presentation spreading chemistry misconceptions. Oh, and there’s some nice chemistry art, too, along with the usual selection of chemistry news stories I’ve enjoyed over the past fortnight.

The 2021 Nobel Prizes
Click to view all three graphics (and those for previous years)
Click to view all three graphics (and those for previous years)
This year’s Nobel Prizes were awarded last week, and as usual I’ve made graphic explainers for the Physiology or Medicine, Physics, and Chemistry prizes.
There’s plenty that’s problematic about the Nobel Prizes: the limit of three winners for each prize, which promotes the myth of the lone genius; the secretive nomination process, which has historically been plagued by bias; and, of course, the huge discrepancy in the number of prizes awarded to men compared to those awarded to women.
Only seven women have been awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry since its inception in 1901, and two of those came last year with Jennifer Doudna and Emmanuelle Charpentier’s win for CRISPR. The picture is similarly bleak for the other two science prizes, as this graphic in Nature shows:
Click to view full article on the Nature site
Click to view full article on the Nature site
The absence of women amongst this year’s winners has again spurred discussion about the lack of progress towards diversifying the awards.
The Nobel Prize for reinforcing chemistry myths
Meanwhile, the prize for reinforcing chemistry myths goes to the presentation which followed the award of this year’s Nobel Prize in Chemistry. It contained an image reinforcing the myth that one enantiomer of limonene is responsible for the smell of lemon, while the other is responsible for the smell of orange.
The Nobel Prize
The discovery – asymmetric organocatalysis – being awarded the 2021 #NobelPrize in Chemistry has taken molecular construction to an entirely new level. It has not only made chemistry greener, but also made it much easier to produce asymmetric molecules.
Andy Brunning
Is... is this the @NobelPrize perpetuating the S-limonene = lemon, R-limonene = orange myth? 🤦🏻‍♂️
While the two enantiomers’ smells do differ, the R enantiomer is the main isomer present in both oranges and lemons, and it’s other compounds which cause their distinct smells. ACS Reactions have a great video highlighting the surprisingly pervasive myth here:
Citrus Scent DEBUNKED!
Citrus Scent DEBUNKED!
Chemistry Nobel winners card game
On a lighter note, prior to Nobel Prize week, the Chemistry World team put together this Nobel Laureate card game (not unlike a certain popular alliteratively titled card game) where you can face off different Nobel Prize in Chemistry winners against each other. I particularly enjoyed the ‘Biology rating’ for each winner, inspired by the yearly Twitter bickering over whether the winning research is really chemistry or biology!
Gin & Mole Day (sadly, two separate days)
Two days on the upcoming National/International Day radar for you in the coming fortnight. First up, International Gin and Tonic Day is on 19 October, so if you’re a gin lover you’ll be wanting to check out this graphic on gin’s chemical components. Then on 23 October it’s Mole Day – on a Saturday this year, so if you’re a chemistry teacher you probably won’t be doing much teaching about it on the day, but here’s a useful graphic on the concept anyway.
Bee chemistry art
Phil Knutson, Ph.D. ⌬
My latest addition to the bee chemistry art vibe on the left! The molecule is Melittin, the main component in honey bee venom! Interestingly it’s one of the smallest known proteins to fold spontaneously! The flowers are apple blossoms, a favorite of honey bees. 🌸🐝 #chemtwitter
I love a bit of chemistry art, so it was great to see this beautiful depiction of melittin from Phil Knutson pop up on my Twitter feed last week! Check out his Etsy store, Typographyl, for more bee/flower chemistry art. I’ve also got an old graphic on insect venoms if it’s more bee chemistry you’re after.
...and finally
Bees’ static buzz triggers release of floral fragrance
Spectroscopy deciphers Marie Antoinette's redacted letters
Where are the Covid-19 drugs?
Next issue, we’ll be looking towards spooky season with Halloween chemistry graphics old and new. Feel free to hit the reply button if there’s anything you want to see in future issues, or if you just want to pass on your feedback.
Thanks for reading,
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Andy @ Compound Interest
Andy @ Compound Interest @compoundchem

Topical chemistry graphics and other interesting chemistry-related nuggets from across the web. Sent fortnightly.

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