The Scientific Activist

Last week’s Fantastical Fridays was a big hit, so we’ll keep the momentum going with more chemistry this week. Instead of anthropomorphic molecules, though, this one is all about chemicals with downright ridiculous names.

If you still have any doubts after last week that chemists can have a great sense of humor, hopefully Paul May, a chemistry lecturer at the University of Bristol, and convince you once and for all. May runs a popular website that describes various Molecules with Silly or Unusual Names. In a collection that can only be described as extremely thorough, he covers the entire spectrum, from molecules with household names, like “megaphone” and “apatite”, to the more outlandish, including “curious acid” and “furfuryl furfurate”.

Not surprisingly, though, the aspect of the site that immediately grabbed my attention was the plethora of molecules with more… well… suggestive names.

Even here, there is a range of entries, from the lighthearted to the more vulgar. Some are fairly subdued, such as the entry for carnallite:

Carnallite is KMgCl3·6H2O, an evaporite mineral. Surprisingly for a mineral called carnallite, it doesn’t exhibit any cleavage… It’s used as an ore for potassium fertilizers, and is named after Rudolf von Carnall, a Prussian mining engineer, whose knowledge of the subject was famous…

Others, like the entry for clitorin, leave little to the imagination:

I don’t know much about clitorin, except that it’s a flavenol glycoside (make of that what you will), but I’ve heard it’s touch sensitive ;-).

Another favorite is phthalic acid:

This molecule is often pronounced with a silent ‘th’ for comic effect. I wonder if phthalyl side-groups have a shorthand symbol in chemical structures, in the same way that phenyl groups are shortened to -Ph? If so, would it be a ‘phthalic symbol’…? Again, adding an extra carbon makes homo-phthalic acid – say no more…

There are plenty more where these came from, so if you don’t have anything too urgent to accomplish, head on over to May’s site for hours of chemical entertainment.


  1. #2 Nick Anthis
    June 23, 2006

    Good call. As I plan to spend all weekend staring at a NOESY spectrum, I can definitely relate.

  2. #3 jim
    July 5, 2006

    Here you can leave your mark

  3. Hey! Thanks for the link. Paul May’s a good friend of mine, so it’s nice to see his site getting some international recognition too, even if it is a bit risque in places 😉

  4. #5 Nick Anthis
    July 10, 2006

    It was my pleasure. The site is absolutely hilarious.

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