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.
As well as popularising the use of tobacco in England Raleigh was interested in chemistry.
statue in N Carolina
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.
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.
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.”
Tea was very expensive because it came from China and it was taxed very heavily,
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.
In July 2017’s journal ACS Chemical Biology, M Golczak and J Silvaroli show what happens when you cut an onion.
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.
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.
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
The Nobel poet Derek Walcott died last month. He wrote about the Caribbean, its harsh legacy of colonialism. In particular, they considered his island of St. Lucia, its opulent vegetation, the white beaches and its tangled multicultural heritages.
His 1962 collection “In a Green Night” included the poem “Islands”:
As climate seeks its style, to write
Verse crisp as sand, clear as sunlight,
Cold as the curled wave, ordinary
As a tumbler of island water.
In 1990, he told The Economist: “The sea is always present. It’s always visible. All the roads lead to it. I consider the sound of the sea to be part of my body. And if you say in patois, ‘The boats are coming back,’ the beat of that line, its metrical space, has to do with the sound and rhythm of the sea itself.”
Walcott was also an accomplished watercolorist and illustrated many of his books:.
His 2004 work, “The Prodigal”, had a distinctly elegiac undercurrent and offered a glimpse of the author’s restless travels to Italy, Colombia, France and Mexico.
“Prodigal, what were your wanderings about?”
“The smoke of homecoming, the smoke of departure.”
“There can be virtues in deprivation.”
“For every poet, it is always morning in the world. History is a forgotten, insomniac night. History and elemental awe are always our early beginning, because the fate of poetry is to fall in love with the world, in spite of History.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
Milton’s Paradise Lost is 350 years old this month.
William Blake, a most brilliant interpreter of Milton, wrote of how “the Eye of Imagination” saw beyond the narrow confines of “single vision”, creating works that outlasted “mortal vegetated Eyes”.
In more than 10,000 lines of blank verse, the poem tells the story of the war for heaven and of man’s expulsion from Eden. a meditation on challenging and longing.
In Paradise Lost, Milton conjures the spirits of blind prophets. He invokes Homer, author of the first great epics in Western literature, and Tiresias, the oracle of Thebes who sees in his mind’s eye what the physical eye cannot. As the philosopher Descartes wrote during Milton’s lifetime, “it is the soul which sees, and not the eye”.
Now, there are many ways to see through blindness. One is by scanning tunnelling microscopy which can give images on an atomic scale.
One autumn evening in Norfolk, William Cole wrote:
“The atmosphere with humid vapours flow,
And the pale moon displays her lunar bow.”
He felt it necessary to explain with a footnote: “See the Norfolk Chronicle of Nov. 17, 1799”. It was a reference that explained the unusual lunar feature.
In this more recent image, released on 18 October 2016, a moonbow is visible in the night sky above a field in the Coquet Valley in Northumberland, England (Ian Glendinning/AP)
These lunar bows occur when light reflected from the moon (rather than shining directly from the sun) is refracted through mist or rain suspended in the dimming atmosphere.
The German romantic painter Caspar David Friedrich (1774-1840) showed a moon bow in his Mountain Landscape that now hangs in the Folkwang Museum in Essen (Wikipedia)