You’ve probably used butane to cook at least once in your life or know someone who has. But what is actually butane?
Perhaps we should talk about alkanes first. An alkane is a compound consisting of hydrogen and carbon only (a hydrocarbon) with all its carbon atoms bonded to four other atoms (that is, saturated). The simplest alkanes have a linear structure. Their linear chain is formed by carbon atoms which are bond to as many hydrogen atoms as necessary to complete the four bonds.
Butane is an alkane with a four-carbon-atom chain. It can be represented:
Methane — main component of natural gas and which humans expel in farts — is an alkane with one only carbon atom.
The formulas of butane and methane are, respectively, CH3−CH2−CH2−CH3 (or C4H10) and CH4. It’s not necessary to represent the bonds between carbon atoms, thus butane would be CH3CH2CH2CH3. Some observation reveals that the numbers of hydrogen atoms equals the double amount of carbon atoms plus two. Therefore, CnH2n + 2 is the general formula for alkanes.
Alkanes are named with a prefix related to the number of carbon atoms in their chain and the ending for alkanes according to each language.
Nomenclature and formulas for some alkanes.
||CnH2n + 2
The four first alkanes, from methane to butane, are gases at room temperature and atmospheric pressure. From pentane and to the 17-carbon-atom alkane (heptadecane), they are liquids, and they are solids over 18 carbon atoms at room temperature and atmospheric pressure.
Masterquímica (which would be Masterchemistry) is an event to popularize chemistry in Catalan. It’s been its seventh edition this year, starting last Wednesday and finishing today.
This is the one.
In this familiar congress, a score of master’s students of the Faculty of Chemistry of the Universitat de Barcelona have shown the results of our scientific research on a poster which had to be written in correct Catalan.
Yesterday afternoon the Masterquímica’s awards ceremony to give the prizes was held in the Enric Casassas conference hall of the Faculty. They used the occasion to give some short tales and poetry awards and some foreign students read some of them. Even Enric Casassas son himself read some. It was a curious and very entertaining way to join chemistry and Catalan.
I don’t want to show false modesty. I probably wouldn’t have written about this if I hadn’t won the first prize. I guessed it would be an advantage to have language studies, but I wasn’t expecting the first prize. Now you can see my poster published with a big star with a number 1 on it. Congratulations to me.
We had a toasted sandwich supper to celebrate it, but this goes without saying.
Dangerous as it may sound, it’s not. I’m sure you all know someone who tells you things about their job and you know where they work and lots of things that happened there, but you don’t have any idea about what they actually do. Well, I’m definitely one of these people.
I’ve been talking about the laboratory and my master for one year now and last week I did my presentation, but I’ve never told you ― or even some lab mates ― about our research. It was no big deal, so I can explain it now and I’m sure everyone will understand it. Moreover, it’s sort of alcohol-related and you love this. We’ve developed a method to analyse polyphenols in wine by liquid chromatography. “Wow, Òscar, hold your horses! So much for something anyone can understand.”
Polyphenols: Substances like those in the picture with those rings and –OH bound to them.
Chromatography: Simply put, solutions go through a column filled with small particles and the compounds in the solution move faster or slower, therefore got separated according to their affinity to the particles inside. Then you get a chromatogram like one of the three superimposed in the picture and there you find all the data you need.
It looks cool, doesn’t it?
The thing was to get a proper chromatogram. We’ve developed the method to make the analysis, now they are working with a new student to prove that they can distinguish wines according to their characteristics (and they can). That could be useful for quality tests and stuff like this.
The fun part of the research were our wine parties. We couldn’t let the leftover wine samples go to waste, could we?
We are already in 2011 — welcome to the absent-minded —and, being a chemist, at least on paper, I could not mention that this is the International Year of Chemistry (IYC).
Logo of the IYC.
The initiative of IUPAC (International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry) and UNESCO to declare 2011 as the International Year of Chemistry was approved on the 30th of December of 2008. Under the theme “Chemistry — our life, our future” the IYC will offer a range of entertaining and educational activities for all ages.
The main objectives of the IYC are:
— Making people realise the importance of chemistry in their lives: medicines, textile, new technologies, art restoration, cleaning products, materials…
— Promote young people’s interest for chemistry.
— Celebrate women’s role in chemistry and other major events, like the centenary of Marie Curie’s Nobel Prize.
There are many activities scheduled and there will be many more organised along the year.
I hope that this year people change their idea of chemistry as a source of contamination and destruction. Take in account that everybody uses it and we the chemists are the ones who look for scientific solutions to their misuses of what they are given.
Non-rhetorical question: Will 2011 be a special year for you in any way, IYC aside?