In the Pipeline is my favorite chemistry blog. He has a regular series called “Things I won’t work with” in which he describes chemicals so dangerous the even he (as a professional chemist) won’t allow in his lab. In his most recent installment he describes a chemical so foul smelling that it made is forbidden list on that basis alone. Here he names Hell’s Dumpster:
My recent entries in this category have, for the most part, been hazardous in a direct (not to say crude, or even vulgar) manner. These are compounds that explode with bizarre violence even in laughably small amounts, leaving ruined equipment and shattered nerves in their wake. No, I will not work with such.
But today’s compound makes no noise and leaves no wreckage. It merely stinks. But it does so relentlessly and unbearably. It makes innocent downwind pedestrians stagger, clutch their stomachs, and flee in terror. It reeks to a degree that makes people suspect evil supernatural forces. It is thioacetone.
Or something close to it, anyway. All we know for sure is that thioacetone doesn’t like to exist as a free compound – it’s usually tied up in a cyclic thioketal trimer, when it’s around at all. Attempts to crack this to thioacetone monomer itself have been made – ah, but that’s when people start diving out of windows and vomiting into wastebaskets, so the quality of the data starts to deteriorate. No one’s quite sure what the actual odorant is (perhaps the gem-dimercaptan?) And no one seems to have much desire to find out, either.
Interesting research for some brave and ollifactory challenged soul.
If you haven’t read the rest of the things in the list, you should. It’s especially frightening to know there is a chemical that sets sand on fire and eats through asbestos fire brick.
Posted in Science
Tagged Chemistry, Fun
I briefly considered chemical engineering as a freshman, but it didn’t take. Had I known then what exciting lives some chemists lead I might have given it more thought. I just discovered this delightful blog category titled “Things I Wont Work With“. What kind of chemicals might scare the bejeezers out of a professional chemist? How about this:
Did I mention that this prep was performed on less than one millimole? Spirited stuff, that tetra-azide. The experimental section of the paper enjoins the reader to wear a face shield, leather suit, and ear plugs, to work behind all sorts of blast shields, and to use Teflon and stainless steel apparatus so as to minimize shrapnel. Hmm. Ranking my equipment in terms of its shrapneliferousness is not something that’s ever occurred to me, I have to say. It’s safe to assume that any procedure which involves considering which parts of the apparatus I’d prefer to have flying past me will not get much business in my lab, no matter how dashing I might look in a leather suit.
That procedure deserves a closer look, though. You can’t just crack open a can of selenium tetrafluoride whenever you feel the urge, you know. That stuff has to be made fresh, as far as I can see, and the way these hearty sons of toil make it is by reacting selenium dioxide with chlorine trifluoride. Yep, that stuff, the delightful compound that sets sand on fire and eats through asbestos firebrick.
So if you’re going to make selenium polyazides, your day starts with chlorine trifluoride and I’m sure that it just rolls along from there. Before you know it, you’ve gone from viciously reactive halogens, paused to prepare some disgusting selenium fluorides, made some violently unstable azides that explode if you stick your tongue out at them and hey, it’s dinnertime already. . .
Fun with chemistry!