The Common Konwledge About Essential Oils

Essential oils are used in many homemade products. They can be expensive, though, if purchased commercially. If you have a flower or herb garden, or use a lot of essential oils, then an economical choice is to make your own essential oils. When you open a bottle of rose or lavender scent, do you wonder how it came to be there? Let’s have a look at how the fragrance of a rose is trapped and bottled!

Essential Oils
You might have read an earlier article about what made perfumes smell nice. In this
article, we’ll have a look into the many steps of chemistry required to make a perfume from the original flowers.

Every flower or leaf has a few chemicals unique to it. For example, lemon leaves contain a chemical called limonene. This is the one that gives them the unique ‘lemon’ smell. The reason they smell is because they evaporate easily, and when they enter our nose, the nerves can detect them.

Used in aromatherapy, rose oil will lift your spirits and help combat depression and anger. Its calming effects are similar to lavender and chamomile and are sometimes found in combination with these other oils. Rose oil helps people with insomnia or who have trouble sleeping through the night. Such chemicals are called ‘essential oils’. They are oils because when liquid, they don’t mix with water. The word essential refers to the fact that they represent the ‘essence’ of the plant. Lemon wouldn’t seem lemony without limonene.

So how do we get them out?
Over hundreds of years, chemists have found ways and means to separate these essential oils
from their plants. Scientists like Al-Kindi and ibn Hayyan were among the first to describe methods.

A common method is steam distillation. You can try it with the help of your chemistry teacher. Set up a distillation apparatus. Get some flowers and crush them (you’ll need a lot). Put them on a steel net and put the net in the part where the water boils (but the water shouldn’t touch the flowers). Now you’re ready to start.

As the water boils, the steam will pass through the crushed flowers. The heat makes the essential oils in them evaporate. As the steam and the evaporated oil pass into the condensation chamber, they’ll cool back to water and oil. Keep this vessel overnight. The water and oil will separate, giving you a layer of oil on top.

Carefully collect the oil from the upper layer into a fresh bottle. You can add some alcohol to build up the volume. Now you’ve got a scent ready!

Ingredient in diarrhea medicine leads to new farm fertilizer

The search for a sustainable slow-release fertilizer—a key to sustaining global food production at a time of burgeoning population growth—has led scientists to an ingredient used in some diarrhea medicines. They describe use of the substance, attapulgite, as a “carrier” for plant nutrients in a report in ACS’ journal Industrial & Engineering Chemistry Research.

This study was carried out to develop a novel slow-release fertilizer, which is based on natural attapulgite (APT) clay as a matrix, guar gum (GG) as an inner coating, and guar gum-g-poly(itaconic acid-co-acrylamide)/humic acid (GG-g-P(IA-co-AM)/HA) superabsorbent polymer as an outer coating. The coated compound fertilizer granules with diameter in the range of 2–3 mm possess low moisture content and high mechanical hardness.

Boli Ni and colleagues explain that about half of the 150 million tons of fertilizer used worldwide every year goes to waste. That’s because most fertilizers release nutrients too fast for the crops to use. The rest can run off farm fields and create water pollution problems. Existing slow-release fertilizers have drawbacks. So Ni’s team turned to the environmentally friendly substance attapulgite, an inexpensive, nutrient-rich clay used for decades to treat diarrhea and for other applications. It once was an ingredient in the Kaopectate marketed in the United States. They also included guar gum, used in cosmetics and to thicken foods, and humic acid (its CAS number is 1415-93-6) from decayed plant material.

The report describes development and successful tests of a new fertilizer composed of those three ingredients. The experimental data and analysis in this study indicated that the product prepared by a simple route can effectively reduce nutrient loss in runoff or leaching, improve soil moisture content, and regulate soil acidity and alkalinity level.
The slow-release pellets were easy to prepare, reduced nutrient loss via runoff and
leaching, improved soil moisture content and regulated soil acidity and alkalinity. “All of the results indicate that it may be expected to have wide applications for sustainable development of modern agriculture,” the scientists say.

What Is Aqua Regia?

Sometimes you may have seen an old gold ornament at home that has got spots or other signs of age. Your parents may take it to a ‘polisher’ to get it cleaned and polished. But did you know that the polisher actually removes a layer of gold?

You may have seen the video on aqua regia – the chemical that can dissolve gold. Gold is a ‘noble metal’. That means it will not react with anything ordinarily. It was so named because it can dissolve the so-called royal, or noble metals, although tantalum, iridium, and a few other metals are able to withstand it. But in jewellery it is actually alloyed with copper or silver, which tarnish over time.

Aqua regia (Latin for “royal water”) is a highly corrosive, fuming yellow or red solution. The chemical is very powerful and can dissolve gold within minutes. That’s because the nitric acid and the hydrochloric acid in it act together (They cannot dissolve gold by themselves). The nitric acid converts a tiny amount of gold metal to gold ions. These ions react immediately with the chloride ions from the hydrochloric acid. This causes even more gold atoms to turn into gold ions, and the reaction speeds up.

You should not clean gold ornaments with aqua regia. Aqua regia dissolves gold, even though neither constituent acid will do so alone, because, in combination, each acid performs a different task. Sadly, many people use it, claiming to be ‘gold cleaners’ or ‘gold polishers’. However, they are not being honest with you. They dip your gold ornaments for a little while in a solution of aqua regia, rinse them with water and give them back to you. The gold looks new and polished.

In truth, the aqua regia (the CAS number is 8007-56-5) has actually eaten up a few top layers of the gold. It is so thin that you won’t notice. But in a day’s work, ‘polishing’ hundreds of ornaments for unsuspecting people, a ‘polisher’ may remove quite a few grams of gold. He can then precipitate the gold using sodium bicarbonate.

To clean gold jewellery, all you really need is hot water, some soap and a toothbrush. That’s because most stains on gold jewellery are just dirt, which will go off with soap (But don’t do this if there are gemstones in the ornament, for soap water can leave stains on them). If they persist however, it is best that you take your ornaments to a professional jeweller for polishing.

Understanding Antibiotic Resistance

Scientists at the University of Bristol, together with collaborators at the University of Aveiro, Portugal, have solved the structure of an enzyme that breaks down carbapenems, antibiotics ‘of last resort’ which, until recently, were kept in reserve for serious infections that failed to respond to other treatments.

Increasingly, bacteria such as E. coli are resisting the action of carbapenems by producing enzymes (carbapenemases) that break a specific chemical bond in the antibiotic, destroying its antimicrobial activity.

Carbapenemases are members of the group of enzymes called beta-lactamases that break down penicillins and related antibiotics, but it has not been clear why carbapenemases can destroy carbapenems while other beta-lactamases cannot.

Using molecular dynamics simulations, Professor Adrian Mulholland in the School of Chemistry and Dr Jim Spencer in the School of Cellular and Molecular Medicine, showed how a particular type of carbapenemase enzyme reorients bound antibiotic to promote its breakdown and render it ineffective.

“The recent appearance and spread of bacteria that resist carbapenems is a serious and growing problem: potentially, we could be left with no effective antibiotic treatments for these infections. The emergence of bacteria that resist carbapenems is therefore very worrying.”

In a study published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society (JACS), the scientists combined laboratory experiments with computer simulations to investigate how one particular type of carbapenemase recognises and breaks down antibiotics. In beta-lactamase (the CAS number is 9073-60-3 or 9001-74-5) that cannot break down carbapenems, this rearrangement cannot happen, and so the enzyme cannot break down the antibiotic. Knowing this should help in designing new drugs that can resist being broken down.

Dr Spencer said: “Combining laboratory and computational techniques in this way gave us a full picture of the origins of antibiotic resistance. Our crystallographic results provided structures which were the essential starting point for the simulations and the simulations were key to understanding the dynamic behaviour of the enzyme-bound drug.

“Identifying the molecular interactions that make an enzyme able to break down the drug, as we have done here, is an important first step towards modifying the drug to overcome bacterial antibiotic resistance.”

Chemist develops spray to detect poison oak’s toxic oil

The last time Rebecca Braslau got a bad case of poison oak, she found herself pondering the chemical structure of urushiol, the toxic oil in poison oak and its relatives, poison ivy and poison sumac (all species of Toxicodendron).

“I thought: I’m a chemist. I should be able to do something about this,” said Braslau, a professor of chemistry and biochemistry at the University of California-Santa Cruz. Now her lab has developed a spray that can be used to detect urushiol on clothes and equipment, and potentially on skin, allowing people to wash off the oil before it causes an itchy, blistering skin rash.

Exposure to tiny amounts of urushiol is enough to cause this allergic reaction in susceptible people, and about 70 percent of U.S. adults are clinically allergic to urushiol or would become allergic if exposed enough times. Although Braslau said she doesn’t think there are toxicity concerns with any of the components of the spray, toxicology tests would be required before it could be approved for use on the skin.

“Of course, it would be great if we could deactivate the oil, but just being able to see it is useful because then you can wash it off,” she said. “People can keep getting exposed from items with the oil on them. About 10 percent of firefighters have to take time off work due to poison oak, and some of that is from exposure to oil that gets on their equipment.”

Chemically, urushiol belongs to a class of compounds known as catechols, which have a characteristic ring structure. Urushiol has a long greasy tail or “sidechain” attached to the ring, and different mixtures of urushiols with slightly different sidechains are found in the various Toxicodendron species.

Braslau’s spray detects the catechol ring structure. It contains a mixture of compounds, including a “profluorescent” compound in which the fluorescence of a dye molecule is quenched, and reaction with urushiol allows the dye to light up.

The formula has been patented, but Braslau said more work is needed to make it into a marketable product. She is also interested in developing it into a technique to detect catecholamines, which include physiologically important molecules such as dopamine and epinephrine.

Braslau’s work on this project has not been funded by any major grants, aside from a small starter grant from her university. Her lab is continuing to do some work on it, mostly experimenting with different dyes. Developing it into a commercial product, however, will require an investor willing to fund additional research, she said.

How To Prevent Apples Turning Brown?

     You start eating an apple, and just then you friend calls you up about homework, and you’re speaking for hours together. When you come back to your apple, it’s gone brown all over. What happened?

Rusting in apples

The brown colour is because your apple has rusted! That’s because apples are rich in iron, which is present in all their cells. When you cut an apple, the knife damages the cells. Oxygen from the air reacts with the iron in the apple cells, forming iron oxides. This is just like rust that forms on the surface of iron objects. An enzyme called polyphenol oxidase (that’s present in these cells) helps make this reaction go faster.

If you cut a browned apple into two again, you’ll notice that the insides are still white. That’s because the cells inside were intact, and did not let oxygen enter right inside.

Lots of other fruits and vegetables also turn brown when cut. These include bananas, pears and even potatoes.

Keeping an apple from turning brownThere’s no harm in eating an apple that has turned brown, for the iron oxide will not affect you. But when you’re making a fruit salad or apple pie, the browning may make it look unattractive. Here are some things you can do to stop or slow the browning:

  1. Cut and keep the apples under water. This prevents air from reaching the iron. But it may cause some vitamins to leach into the water.
  2. Rub the cut apples with lemon juice. The acid in the lemon juice stops the polyphenol oxidase from working.
  3. If you’re making apple pie, you can dip the apples in boiling water for a few seconds and take them out. This is called blanching, and it stops the browning enzyme.
  4. You can add some salt to the apples; the salt stops the enzyme. Do this if you don’t mind the salt-and-sweet taste that will result.
  5. Keep the apple pieces in an airtight jar, or wrap them in cling wrap very tightly. This also stops air from getting to them.

And finally, the method we like the most. Turn your apple into apple juice. The iron oxide gives it the special golden-brown colour, and it’s a tastier way to consume an apple!

What Are Blood Collection Tubes?

When you have to take a blood test, do you notice that the lab person collects your blood into a special tube marked ‘heparinised’? Let’s find out why a special vial is needed.

How blood clots
When you prick a finger, you notice blood comes out. If you leave it alone, the blood soon
dries into a thick, brownish ‘clot’. How does this happen?

If your blood didn’t clot, so much blood would come out of the prick that you would become very ill. But blood has its way of self protection. When there is an injury, the damaged tissue sends special chemical signals to the body. These signals are received by a kind of blood cells known as platelets. The platelets rush to the site of the prick.

Platelets are tiny storehouses of various chemicals, which do many things. Some of them signal to those cells which will start the healing process. But several of these chemicals (together called ‘clotting factors’) cause the activation of a molecule called thrombin. This is an enzyme present in blood that converts fibrinogen to fibrin. Fibrinogen is a protein that is dissolved in blood plasma. When thrombin acts on it, it becomes fibrin, which is insoluble. Fibrin molecules get deposited at the prick, and in a short time, completely seal off the wound. No more blood leaks now.

Many of the clotting factors need Vitamin K to work properly. Lack of vitamin K in the body causes unstoppable bleeding. Cabbages, grapes and green leafy vegetables are rich in vitamin K.

Heparin and other ‘anticoagulants’
When you give blood for a blood test, the blood will clot in the vial. This makes it
unsuitable for testing. Therefore, lab technicians use special vials that are coated with anticoagulants (Coagulation is the scientific name for clotting).

One such chemical is heparin (its CAS No. is 9005-49-6). This is a complex polysaccharide produced by white blood cells. When heparin is mixed with blood, it interferes with the action of thrombin. This prevents it from converting fibrinogen to fibrin.

Apart from use in blood tests, heparin is also used to treat people who have abnormal clotting within their blood vessels. It is used when open heart surgery is being done to keep the blood flowing, and also in other heart disease conditions.

Coagulation in the lab
Try this experiment in your biology lab. Take a glass slide, and put a drop of heparin* on
one side. Ask your teacher to prick your finger, and with a capillary, suck up some blood. Mix one drop with the drop of heparin, and on the other side of the slide, put a drop of plain blood. Leave the slide for a few minutes, and then watch under a microscope. What do you see?

A simpler path to a catalyst

Researchers at ETH Zurich developed a new synthesis procedure for a catalyst. This procedure may be used for the large-scale production of, for instance, plastics from renewable resources in an environmentally friendly and efficient manner.

It started with an idea of Ive Hermans, Assistant Professor at the Institute of Chemical and Bioengineering: The chemist and his co-workers were looking for a new synthesis procedure for an important catalyst for the chemical industry. To date, the synthesis of the catalyst occurs in a very complex and error-prone procedure. The ETH researchers discovered a far more convenient two-step procedure, which is more suitable for large-scale production.

The catalyst in question is a zeolite, a powdery, porous, particulate material. Like all catalysts also this substance can accelerate a certain reaction and/or steer it towards a desired product. Hermans and his co-workers wanted to develop a catalyst that facilitates oxidation reactions and can thus be used for the preparation of so-called lactones from ketones.

The use of a catalyst for such reactions has many advantages. “The preparation of lactones, for instance, is time-intensive and expensive, as acids are formed as side-products”, says Hermans. By using a tin containing zeolite as a catalyst instead, it becomes possible to use hydrogen peroxide as an oxidation reagent so that water is the only side-product. This method has not been implemented industrially so far, due to the time-consuming synthesis procedure of the special zeolites: the process requires 40 days. In addition, the procedure is difficult to control and can easily fail. Experiments have shown that the newly prepared zeolite contains more tin than conventionally prepared catalysts. Due to that, the catalyst is significantly more efficient.

In cooperation with an industrial partner, the ETH researchers want to optimize the preparation procedure for large-scale applications. In the future, the catalyst could be used for the industrial synthesis of starting materials required for important plastics. One example would be the preparation of polylactic acid from renewable resources. Polylactic acid is being used in plastic packing materials or foil. “The demand for plastics made from renewable resources will strongly increase as soon as crude oil – the basis of many plastics – will become more rare and expensive”, explains Hermans. “With our catalyst, it is possible to produce such products on a large scale in a much more environmentally friendly way. “

What makes sugar explode?

Imagine you are at the breakfast table and about to put some cereal in the milk. Now as you reach for the sugar from the bowl, the spoon clinks against the bowl and – BOOM? Sounds impossible? Could be. Read on to find out more.

The fact
Sugar (the chemical name is D(+)-Sucrose) won’t really end your breakfast with a bang, but
what’s crazy is that sugar actually can be dangerous; not to the consumer, but to the people who operate the refinery. That’s the place where sugar is prepared and packaged.

The little-known danger associated with refining sugar came suddenly into focus on Feb. 7, 2008, when the Imperial Sugar Company refinery in Port Wentworth, Ga., suddenly exploded. Fire officials believe that an accumulation of sugar dust within the refinery ignited and caused the incident. Sugar dust? How exactly can sugar explode? Let’s solve the mystery.

Sugar: A Natural Explosive
Though you may not normally think about it, one of sugar’s properties is that it is
flammable – means it can catch fire. A flaming marshmallow is a good example of burning sugar.

Any organic material can burn. But for an explosion to take place, especially in the case of volatile dusts like sugar, a few other factors must be involved.

Imagine you’re in an enclosed room coated with a thick layer of sugar dust. You smack your hand down on a table top, disturbing some of the sugar dust and dispersing it into the air. If you are unwise enough to light a match, and you could see the ensuing explosion in slow motion, you’d notice that what appears to be a single, instantaneous burst is actually a series of chain reactions. The sugar dust particle ignited by your lit match ignites another particle and so on. The entire process is fueled by the oxygen in the room, and since the dust is suspended in the air, it interacts with the oxygen more easily than when it’s settled on the table. This is also why marshmallows don’t explode; the D(+)-Sucrose inside the dense confection doesn’t have much oxygen to interact with.

The force of the blast depends on the enclosed room. The chain reaction produced from the ignited sugar dust particles produces energy. This produces compression and expands the volume of the air. When this buildup occurs faster than the flame burns – as can be the case indoors – you have an explosion. The first explosion is called the primary explosion, and the force created by a primary explosion can unsettle even more sugar dust, causing a secondary explosion. The two can happen in quick succession, and the second blast is often the more powerful. First a boom, then a KABOOM!

So even though now you can eat your breakfast in peace, remember that even something as minute as sugar dust can be dangerous. So be safe.

How do artificial flavors work?

All the snacks and chocolates that you love to feast on have something in common. If you read the packaging carefully you’ll see the text ‘Contains Artificial Flavors’. If you ever wondered what that means, read on.

First of all, how do we smell and taste things?

Smell is a very direct sense. Anything that we smell contains some sort of chemical that evaporates and enters our nose and comes in contact with sensory cells in the nose.When chemicals come in contact and activate our taste buds, we taste them.

Artificial flavors in action
Mimicking a natural flavor isn’t that easy because natural flavors are normally quite
complex, with dozens or hundreds of chemicals interacting to create the taste/smell. But it turns out that many flavors – particularly fruit flavors – have just one or a few dominant chemical components that carry the bulk of the taste/smell signal. Many of these chemicals are called esters. For example, the ester called ‘ Octyl Acetate is a fundamental component in orange flavor. The ester called ‘Isoamyl Acetate’ is a fundamental component of banana flavor. If you add these esters to a product, the product will taste, to some degree, like orange or banana. To make more realistic flavors you add other chemicals in the correct proportions to get closer and closer to the real thing. You can do that by trial and error or by chemical analysis of the real thing.

Creating flavours that don’t exist in nature
There are hundreds of chemicals known to be flavoring agents. It’s interesting that they
are normally mixed to create “known” tastes. People make artificial grape, cherry, orange, banana, apple, etc. flavors, but it is very rare to mix up something that no one has ever tasted before. But it can and does happen occasionally. Juicy Fruit gum is a good example!

So next time if you read ‘Contains Artificial Flavors’, you’ll know that chemistry was involved in helping create it!

High-quality Products From Rubber Residues

Each year throughout the world, up to 22 million tons of rubber are processed and a large portion of it goes into the production of vehicle tires. Once the products reach the end of their useful life, they typically land in the incinerator. In the best case, the waste rubber is recycled into secondary products. Ground to powder, the rubber residues can be found, for example, in the floor coverings used at sports arenas and playgrounds, and in doormats.

But until now, the appropriate  techniques for producing high-quality materials from these recyclables did not exist. Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Environmental, Safety and Energy Technology UMSICHT in Oberhausen recently succeeded in optimizing the recycling of rubber waste materials. They have developed a material that can be processed into high-quality products, like wheel and splashguard covers, handles, knobs and steerable castors.

The new plastic compounds are called elastomer powder modified thermoplastics or EPMT for short. They are comprised of rubber residues crushed into elastomer powder that are blended with thermoplastics. EPMT can be easily  processed in injection molding and extrusion machines, and in turn, these products are themselves recyclable. The physical and mechanical material properties of the substance – like elasticity, breaking strain and hardness – can be individually modified, according to the customer’s wishes.

The crushing of rubber waste is more environmentally-friendly and resource-efficient than producing new rubber products – an important aspect in view of the rising costs of energy and raw materials. The researchers are capable of producing 100 to 350 kilograms of EPMT per hour. Spurred on by this success, Wack and both of his colleagues founded Ruhr Compounds GmbH. In addition to the production and the sale of EPMT materials, this Fraunhofer spin-off offers custom-made service packages

The widest array of industries will benefit from the expertise of these professionals: processors of thermoplastic elastomers can obtain EPMT and further process it into products. Industrial companies whose work involves elastomers – such as  the industrial and construction sectors, or car-makers and athletics – could recycle these products, make EPMT from them, incorporate them into their existing products and thereby close the materials cycle.

In the “Re-use a Shoe” project, sports gear maker Nike has been collecting used sneakers for a while now, recycled their soles and under the label “Nike Grind”, reprocessed them as filler material for sports arenas and running track surfaces. The EPMT compound of the Fraunhofer researchers enables Nike to place new products on the market. 

Why Do Plants Need Fertilizers?

Plants are also considered as living beings of nature just like humans, animals and other living stock. Just like how we humans need extra vitamin, calcium and other supplements apart from our normal intake of nutrition to stay healthy, plants need fertilizers to grow and stay healthy. In order for the plants to grow, they need a number of chemical elements. Let us find out how fertilizers work.

Important Elements That Plants Need
Plants need carbon, hydrogen and oxygen, which are available in plenty from air and water.
Besides these, they need nitrogen, phosphorous, potassium, sulphur, calcium, magnesium, boron, copper, iron, cobalt, manganese, molybdenum and zinc as add on for their growth.

Nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium are considered as building blocks for cells in the plants as without them the plants cannot grow and will not be in a position to build cells.

How Do Fertilizers Work
In some cases, plants find it difficult to find all the macronutrients from the soil itself
and this hinders with their growth. Nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium are found from the decay of plants that have already died. Nitrogen is found from dead to living plants and is the only source found in the soil. Fertilizers provide all the important elements in a readily available form.

Also when the fertilizers are added to the plants, they have to just synthesize them as opposed to making an effort to break them down into the desired form. As a result the synthesizing is quick and the plants grow faster and better.

Each bag of fertilizer has numbers written on them. These numbers indicate the amount of available nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium in each bag.

So next time if the plants in your garden don’t bear flowers, you know what you are suppose to do.