A Chemist Beheaded

Next year will be the 400th anniversary of the death of Sir Walter Raleigh (1654 – 29 October 1618). He was an English chemist, poet, soldier, politician, courtier, spy and explorer.

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As well as popularising the use of tobacco in England Raleigh was interested in chemistry.

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Raleigh was betrayed by Sir Lewis Stukley with evidence that he cheated the Spanish in war. For this, Raleigh was eventually executed. During a long imprisonment in the Tower of London he was allowed to study inorganic chemistry. This interest was stimulated by his experience as a miner in Cornwall and Devon where he owned large estates. Raleigh was also a popular poet. His friend, Thomas Tyndale, had a draft of verse composed to mark Raleigh’s grave in the Palace of Westminster:

On Sir Walter Raleigh /Here lieth, hidden in this pitt, / The wonder of the world for witt. / To small purpose did it serve; / His witt could not his life preserve. / His living was belov’d of  none, / Yet in his death all did him moane. / Heaven hath his soul, the world his fame, /The grave his corpse, Stukley his shame.

 

Tenners

The Bank of England £10 note has a new design and security feature.

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Jane Austen replaces Charles Darwin. Charles Dickens was of an earlier generation.

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The notes are made of Biaxially Oriented Polypropylene (BOPP), a non-fibrous and non-porous polymer that is processed through the following steps:

  • Opacifying – two layers of ink (usually opaque white) are applied to each side of the note, except for any areas deliberately left clear;
  • Sheeting – polymer substrate roll is cut into sheets to suit a flatsheet printing press;
  • Printing – traditional offset, intaglio and letterpress processes are used; and
  • Overcoating – notes are coated with a protective varnish.

Compared with paper banknotes, those made using BOPP are harder to tear, more resistant to folding, more resistant to soil and are waterproof.

Transport de Ervas Aromaticas (TEA)

In 1662 Catherine of Braganza (daughter of Portugal’s King John IV) married King Charles II. Her dowry included money, spices, treasures and the lucrative ports of Tangiers and Bombay. From there, she began to drink the loose-leaf tea, known then as Transporte de Ervas Aromaticas, or T.E.A.

Upon marrying England’s King Charles II, Portugal’s Catherine of Braganza carried on sipping tea as part of her daily routine (Credit: Credit: DEA/G. DAGLI ORTI/Getty Images)

 (Credit: DEA/G. DAGLI ORTI/Getty Images)

 

When Catherine arrived in England, tea was being consumed there only as a medicine to invigorate the body and keep the spleen free of obstructions. But the young queen extended that habit and made it popular as a social beverage as well as a health tonic. The poet Edmund Waller wrote to her shortly after her arrival in London with a poem that linked the queen and Portugal with the fashionable status of tea in England.

“The best of Queens, and best of herbs, we owe
To that bold nation, which the way did show
To the fair region where the sun doth rise,
Whose rich productions we so justly prize.”

Ladies flocked to be part of Catherine’s circle, quickly copying her tea-drinking habit (Credit: Credit: Culture Club/Getty Images)

Tea was very expensive because it came from China and it was taxed very heavily,

Because England had no direct trade with China, tea was an expensive commodity (Credit: Credit: Blake Kent/Design Pics/Getty Images)

 

and only the most rich members of society could afford it. So tea became associated with elite women’s sociability around the royal court.

When the leaves of tea plants are dried, flavonoid-type polyphenols remain. It is these that produce the characteristic colour and taste.

 

Catechin

Theaflavin

The tea polyphenols have been reported in various research to exhibit antioxidant properties. Antioxidants have been touted as having a range of health benefits, but the scientific evidence for these is still a little vague in parts. Studies have shown that antioxidants can protect cells from damage as a result of free radicals – molecules with an unpaired electron – but the results of some longer term trials have been inconclusive as to their efficacy, particularly in cancer treatments.

Crying

 

In July 2017’s journal ACS Chemical Biology, M Golczak and J Silvaroli show what happens when you cut an onion.

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A so-called Lachrymatory Factor (LF) is formed by the release of two chemicals that are released by the cutting of cell walls. One is a sulfenic acid precursor. The other is an enzyme called alliinase which is normally contained within the cells’ vacuoles. Upon release the two react to form something like tear gas.

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garlic, an alliinase enzyme acts on the chemical alliin converting it into allicin. The process involves two stages: elimination of 2-propenesulfenic acid from the amino acid unit (with α-aminoacrylic acid as a byproduct), and then condensation of two of the sulfenic acid molecules.

Reaction scheme for the conversion: cysteine → alliin → allicin

There are a range of similar enzymes that can react with the cysteine-derived sulfoxides present in different species. In onions, an isomer of alliin, isoalliin, is converted to 1-propenesulfenic acid. A separate enzyme, the lachrymatory factor synthase or LFS, then converts this chemical to a potent LF.

But none of this mattered to Roy Orbison

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Nature Printing

Pulse, the Linnean Society’s newsletter 34, June 2017, has an article entitled Lampblack and Lead,  by E. Rollinson.

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It tells how G. Cardano gave instructions back in 1550: ‘A fresh leaf is rubbed with verdigris and carbon; soaked in the right amount of colour it is printed on one of two large sheets of paper, so that an almost life-like image remains.’ (De Subtitilitate, Book XIII). Earlier, a physician named Conrad von Butzbach, in his 1425 Codex Auratus, coated paper with oil and used soot from a candle flame to make an impression of a plant specimen.

Smell of Rain

Petrichor is the earthy fragrance produced when rain falls on soil or stone after a long period of warm, dry weather. It comes from the Greek “petra” meaning stone, and “ichor”, the fluid that flows in the veins of the gods in Greek mythology.

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Petrichor was named by Australian researchers in 1964, who described it as a combination of plant oils and the chemical compound geosmin which are released from the soil when it rains. Geosmin is a bicyclic alcohol with the formula C12H22O, a derivative of decalin.

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It was also romanticised by Shakespeare in a sonnet:

Love comforteth like sunshine after rain,
But Lust’s effect is tempest after sun.
Love’s gentle spring doth always fresh remain;
Lust’s winter comes ere summer half be done.
Love surfeits not, Lust like a glutton dies;
Love is all truth, Lust full of forged lies.

In 2015, scientists from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), USA, used high-speed cameras to show how the smell of rain gets into the air. Raindrops trap tiny air bubbles as they hit the ground. The bubbles then shoot upwards through the raindrop and erupt into a fizz, producing extremely fine liquid droplets that stay suspended in the air as aerosols of scent.

 

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The smell of rain is strongest when light rain falls on sandy or clay soils. The speed of the raindrops during heavy rain makes it harder to trap the air bubbles that produce petrichor. Some scientists believe that humans developed a liking for the smell of rain as our ancestors depended on rainy weather for survival.

The MIT high-speed cameras, below, show raindrops landing and the emergence of petrichor aerosols as tiny white flecks.

Petrichor animation. Video by Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Renovation

Scientific advances in materials science and image analysis enable the work of renovation tackle more ambitious challenges. A recent example of this is the Hudson Theatre in Manhattan.

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One of Broadway’s oldest surviving theatres, first opened 114 years ago, has been renovated and reopened earlier this year –

05HUDSON3-jumbo-v2.jpg— with Jake Gyllenhaal in the revival of “Sunday in the Park With George”. It becomes Broadway’s 41st and newest playhouse, 114 years after it became one of Broadway’s first. Then, it opened with a production of “Cousin Kate” starring Ethel Barrymore.

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The theater was built by Henry B. Harris, above left, who ran it until 1912, when he perished on the Titanic. His wife, Renée, also above, survived and returned to New York to operate the theater. She became one of Broadway’s first female producers but she lost it to foreclosure in the Depression.

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Located on 44th Street just east of Broadway, the ornate theater has led a life as various as Manhattan itself, with stints as a TV studio (1950s), a reborn theater and then a porn palace (’60s), a rock venue (’80s), and, for the last 20 years, an event space for Millennium Hotels.

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After the renovation by the Ambassador Theatre Group of Britain the Hudson is ready to be a showplace again and one of the few new theatres on  Broadway.

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