Organic Chemistry, Molecular C60, and Safety in Research

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Seagull Nebula in the Milky Way contain C60 Molecules, Image courtesy of NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA

Seagull Nebula in the Milky Way contains C60 Molecules, Image courtesy of NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA

This week in chemistry brings a new perspective of what it means to understand organic chemistry, and safe practices in the R&D lab, as well.

Computational Organic Chemistry

Although impossible to spot with the naked-eye, scientists believe molecules like C60 may reside in the darker clouds of matter within the brightly lit areas of the galaxy.

When one looks up at the Milky Way, the areas known as planetary nebulae are the areas most likely to hold molecular C60.

Research presented by workers in Switzerland propose that scientists can generate C60 from graphite sheets; their computations indicate that C60 can be built in a stepwise manner-a quantum leap for understanding the origins of C60.

Among the chemical processes that interest the scientific community is how carbon compounds eventually became the building blocks of life. Understanding the processes of C60 synthesis is one way that scientists are piecing together the origin of life.

C60--Buckminster Fullerene, Molecule behind nanotechnology revolution. Built by John Jaksich using Avogadro Open Source Software

C60-Buckminster Fullerene, Molecule behind nanotechnology revolution. Built by John Jaksich using Avogadro Open Source Software

Computations indicate that spherical C60 can be built stepwise from the simple carbon or graphite. The research appears in the journals, Astronomy & Astrophysics, Journal of Chemical Theory and Computation, and Proceeding of the National Academy of Sciences.

Science: Safety in the R&D Lab

Oftentimes researchers uncover processes that revolutionize science. A long standing case in point is the controlled oxidation of organic molecules with ‘mild reagents.’ Oxidations, by their nature, are dangerous. As the name implies, an oxidizing process, adds ‘oxygen’ but more to the point; oxidations can be explosive under the worst circumstances.

Oxidation processes are rarely performed in manufacturing; and when manufacturers do oxidize materials, they monitor the process with care. In a process developed by the Amgen company, steps are  taken to address the safety during an oxidation process.

Reported in the American Chemical Society’s, Organic Process Research & Development, workers developed an instrumental method to monitor the accumulation of an explosive reactant, hydrogen peroxide.

Hydrogen peroxide, although considered harmless by many in the lay community, has been a problem in chemical manufacturing. The work developed by Amgen utilizes a spectral probe. By incorporating the probe, manufacturers can safely use hydrogen peroxide.

Organic Chemistry for College Freshman

The longstanding policy of most chemistry departments is to teach General Chemistry to incoming freshman and to then let the student fend for him/herself. Many college students come away from the experience stronger, and are better equipped to handle upper division chemistry coursework.

Further reflection upon the discipline gives one the perspective that chemistry major has been considered a ‘gold standard’ by many Medical schools when accepting new enrollees. However, there is movement in some colleges to change the longstanding policy to better reflect realities in biotechnology and medicine.

As the discipline of biochemistry grows and encompasses biology and biotechnology, colleges are foregoing the ‘General Chemistry’ experience in favor of teaching Organic chemistry in its place. The discipline of Organic chemistry has a bad reputation among college students; however, it is the ‘iron clad glove with the velvet touch’ to some.

Organic chemistry forces the student to think in a ‘chemically logical’ manner. In General Chemistry, the student must learn to incorporate disparate phenomena in a logical manner, but organic chemists are expected to come into lecture and laboratory possessing a logical and organized mind.

As reported in the Journal of Chemical Education, instructors at William & Jefferson College in Pennsylvania replaced General chemistry with Organic chemistry for their incoming freshman students. The measured outcomes for chemistry majors and those subsequently taking biology course work showed a measured improvement in analytical skills (both in coursework and lab-work).

Chemistry: Logical Education and Scientific Advances

Every week brings new advances in science, and chemistry is no exception. This week’s revelations concerning molecular C60, safe oxidation, and a better way to teach chemistry students illustrate the diversity we find in the world of chemistry.

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