Molecule of the Day

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The camping series continues. Previously: octenol, the related octenone, and DEET. Today we move away from insects for the time being, turning our attention to water purification. Sodium hypochlorite, or NaOCl, is sold as an aqueous solution – laundry bleach. It is also a great disinfectant, and dilute bleach solutions are used by hospitals and…


I’ve been following this hurricane season unusually closely, because I know more people in affected regions than ever. My favorite place to stay caught up is Jeff Masters’ blog. You can find lists of survivors and donate to hurricane relief at the Red Cross.

The ubiquitous active ingredient in insect repellent, DEET, is a great solvent. Anyone who’s spent much time outdoors has discovered this empirically, as he’s inevitably seen it fog polycarbonate glasses, dissolve a gear sack, or destroy $500 raingear.

Octenone (Why metal smells)

Yesterday, I discussed octenol, a lipid degradation product that’s all over your skin. Ever wonder why a cut on your hand smells “like metal,” or your hands smell “like metal” after handling some?

The other day, I was trying to hunt down a tool for the lab. The closest store with any decent complement of tools is one of those big-box stores, so off I went. Unfortunately, I tend to get distracted in the presence of more than a few choices. Somehow, I found myself in the camping…

Oxymetazoline is yet another arylethylamine:

Potassium chlorate, KClO3, is quite oxygen-dense and a potent oxidant. It is used in what we called “whippersnappers” and the suppliers called “Pop-Pops” as kids, along with silver fulminate. There is a singular irony in that the wimpiest firework, the one we could buy even in my solidly blue no-fireworks mommy state, contains two components…

Sarin (Nasty.)

Sarin is an organophosphate that irreversibly inhibits cholinesterase. it’s a neurotoxin, and a potent one. It’d be absolutely terrifying as a weapon, if it weren’t so unstable. Even if a rogue state had gobs of Sarin last year, it’s all pretty much a dud by now. The instability of acid halides (carbonyls there, but all…

Short alkanoic acids stink. Apparently hexanoic acid smells of goats:

Sodium borohydride is intermediate to the jackhammer that is LAH and the pussycat that is cyanoborohydride.