Monday, 30 April 2012

07:35 – We’d be ready to build more chemistry kits, except for one thing. Each kit includes a 30 mL bottle of 0.1 M IKI (iodine/potassium iodide) solution. I’m now waiting for iodine to dissolve.

Iodine is very poorly soluble in water, something like 300 mg/L at room temperature. That changes if iodide ions are present in the water. Molecular iodine–a neutral molecule made up of two iodine atoms–reacts with an iodide ion to form a triodide ion, which is extremely soluble in water. IKI solutions contain iodine and iodide ions in water, with the iodide ions typically in at least small excess. The solution we supply is 0.1 molar with respect to both iodine and iodide, which means there’s no excess iodide. That solution is made up of 12.69 grams of iodine and 16.60 grams of potassium iodide per liter.

The problem is, iodine is tightly controlled by the DEA because it’s used by illegal methamphetamine labs. I do have some on hand, but I try to reserve it for situations where I really need elemental iodine. Accordingly, I’ve been buying an IKI solution from one of my vendors that contains 22 grams of iodine and 40 grams of potassium iodide per liter, then adding iodine crystals to bring it up to equimolar, and then diluting to give an IKI solution that’s 1.26% iodine and 1.66% potassium iodide. But iodine dissolves very, very slowly in that 2.2%/4% solution. By “slowly” I mean a week or two with frequent swirling. So, right now, there’s a one-liter volumetric flask sitting on my lab bench with a few grams of undissolved iodine sitting in the bottom. Fortunately, I already had some of the IKI solution made up, but not enough for 30 kits. So I’ll probably bottle that and make up how ever many kits that IKI solution will cover.

The really annoying thing is that although iodine dissolves very slowly in a dilute KI solution, it dissolves quickly in a concentrated KI solution. If I were making up this solution from scratch, I’d dissolve 16.60 grams of potassium iodide in about 20 mL of distilled water and add 12.69 grams of crystal iodine. The iodine would go into solution within a few minutes.

In fact, I think that’s what I’ll do. The stuff in the volumetric flask, when it finally dissolves, can be used for the next batch of kits. It’s not like anything is going to be growing in a 1.26% solution of iodine. And as to my supply of crystal iodine, I may just do what someone suggested a week or so ago. Order it on eBay. I see that there are several vendors offering ACS Reagent grade iodine crystals in 250 g or 500 g bottles for reasonable prices.


Saturday, 28 April 2012

07:58 – Inventory of the chemistry kits is getting critically low, so while I work on the forensics book this weekend Barbara will be working on chemistry kits. We’ll put together another couple dozen of those. I also need to create and issue purchase orders for more components for the chemistry and biology kits, not to mention some initial orders for the forensic science kits.


Friday, 27 April 2012

09:06 – I’m getting emails from a lot of people who’ve received their copies of the biology book. Kit orders are also coming in, and I’m getting a bit concerned. It’s only 9:00 a.m. and I’ve already received two kit orders so far this morning, with the book barely available. We built and boxed 30 biology kits as our initial stock, and have the components on-hand to build 30 more. Once those run out, it’ll take at least two weeks to get the components in and make up and bottle the chemicals needed to build a new batch. Meanwhile, stock on the chemistry kits is getting dangerously low. And I have a 31 May deadline on the re-write of the forensics book. Things are going to be busy around here.


Thursday, 26 April 2012

07:11 – Still working heads-down on the forensics book. Today I need to order a few square meters of each of several fabrics to supply in the kits as specimens for the hair and fiber analysis lab sessions.


09:34 – Colin just had his first up-close-and-personal encounter with a baby bird. When we went out the front door to go for a walk, there was an adult robin and what looked like a leaf in the middle of the yard. Colin pulled over to see the robin, which of course flew away. Then he noticed the baby robin. It wasn’t moving, and he wasn’t sure what it was. He circled it cautiously several times at some distance. Apparently, he finally located the rear of the baby bird because he cautiously approached it from that direction until his nose was almost in contact with the baby robin. Apparently deciding that Colin must be its mother, the baby robin opened its mouth wide, asking for a worm. Colin levitated up and backward, ending up a meter or so from the baby robin. Then Colin repeated his approach, but the baby robin opened its mouth wide again. Not wanting to be fanged by such a vicious opponent, Colin leapt back again. I finally managed to get him away from the fledgling and took him for a walk down the block. When we returned a few minutes later, the baby bird was gone, although Colin spent several minutes bloodhounding to locate it.

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

07:56 – I just put a reminder in my calendar to vote on 8 May. Ordinarily, my vote wouldn’t matter much for a largely-uncontested primary, but this time we’ll be voting on Amendment One, the obnoxious attempt to make discrimination against gay people part of our Constitution. Every vote is important. Edmund Burke had the right of it: “When bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle.”

Work on the forensics book continues.


Monday, 23 April 2012

07:38 – Back to heads-down work on the forensics book.


10:02 – Wow. The government’s bogus inflation numbers continue to surprise me. I originally wrote the text for this forensics book back in late 2008 and early 2009. I was just updating one of the lab sessions on soil analysis. It uses the Project Star Spectrometer, which was widely available for $25 or so back in 2009. (I know; I bought one and I still have the receipt.) Three years later, it’s still widely available, but now it sells for $37 to $45. That’s 50% to 80% inflation in only three years, or an annual inflation rate of roughly 14% to 22%.


13:25 – Derek Lowe has an interesting post up about self-medication: Making Their Own ALS Drug. As Bob Dylan wrote in his best track and probably the best rock-and-roll track ever, “When you got nothin’, you got nothin’ to lose”. And these ALS patients definitely got nuthin’.

What was particularly interesting to me is that Derek, a pharmaceutical chemist, states publicly something that few scientists would admit to: that if he were diagnosed with such a disease, he’d go the Hail Mary route and happily start taking this stuff. And, although few scientists would admit something like this publicly, it’s something that nearly all would do privately. In short, some evidence, no matter how scanty, is sufficient to take desperate action rather than doing nothing. When you know what the certain outcome is, even a one in a million shot is better than nothing. And many of these proto-drugs have sufficient evidence suggesting possibly beneficial effects that taking them on spec is considerably better than a one-in-a-million shot.

When the Cancer Cell article about dichloroacetic acid came out, I immediately downloaded and read the full paper. My reaction then was, “this might not work in humans, but then again it very well might.” So, that very day, I ordered 250 mL of reagent-grade dichloroacetic acid from Fisher Scientific and put it on the shelf. I forwarded a link to the paper to Paul Jones, and in a follow-up conversation I mentioned with some hesitation that I’d ordered the DCA. Frankly, I was afraid he’d think I was ridiculous for giving in to woo, but his reaction was the same as mine: it might not work, but then again what’s to lose?

Paul and Mary are both organic chemists. Barbara is not a chemist, but she trusts the three of us. If the worst happened to any of us and traditional treatments held out no possibility of a cure, I think it’s very likely that we’d have a little get-together around the lab bench. We’d make up a big batch of sodium or potassium dichloroacetate and purify the shit out of it by repeated recrystallization, preparatory column chromatography, or whatever. So, yeah, I can understand why these ALS patients are willing to swallow a sodium chlorite solution and cross their fingers. When you got nothin’, you got nothin’ to lose. And the damned FDA and the rest of the government should just look the other way.

Sunday, 22 April 2012

09:34 – I’ve finished stubbing out the company web site. It was getting embarrassing to have just the order pages for the kits. There are still missing and broken links, and some of the text is just placeholder stuff, but at least the framework is up and working.


Colin needs more exercise than he’s getting. Working Border Collies routinely run 50 miles a day or more. He doesn’t need that much, but he does need more than I’ve been giving him, which is a half dozen short walks a day, down the block and back. Watching Amy on Heartland exercising horses on leads in the coral gave me the idea to try exercising Colin the same way. I connect him to the 6-meter roller leash and stand in the middle of the front yard, with Colin running in circles around me, at about 35 to 40 meters per circuit. If he stops, all I have to do is turn my back on him and take a couple steps in the opposite direction. His Border Collie instinct is to circle out to cut me off. I figure that if humans can run 4-minute miles, a BC on the run should do 3-minute miles, so a few minutes of that gives him at least a mile (1.6 km) of flat-out running. I try to do that at least 2 or 3 times a day. The trouble is, a young BC like Colin could run a full Marathon and be ready immediately to run another, literally. BCs truly are running machines.

Saturday, 21 April 2012

10:37 – Barbara is working on science kits today. I’m doing laundry and working on the forensics book.

I should learn to trust myself. One of the solutions included in the chemistry kit is a sodium salicylate solution that’s 200 ppm with respect to salicylate. It’s used as a standard in a lab session about quantitative determination of salicylate in urine by the Trinder reaction. (Ferric ions react with salicylate ions–actually, almost any phenolic ions–to form an intense violet complex; the intensity of the color is proportional to the concentration of salicylate in the specimens.)

Unfortunately, that dilute salicylate solution is ideal for mold growth, so we have to add a preservative. As I was making up the solution, referring to the instructions I’d printed months ago, I noticed that they mentioned adding a few crystals of thymol as a preservative. That couldn’t be right. Like salicylate, thymol is a substituted phenol, so thymol should also react with ferric ions. So, I thought, dumping an arbitrary “few crystals” of thymol into the solution would ruin its carefully-measured accuracy.

I’d almost decided to substitute a few drops of chloroform as the preservative, but I decided to check just to make sure. So I added one crystal of sodium salicylate to a spot plate, followed by a drop of iron(III) nitrate. As expected, the violet coloration was so intense it looked almost black. I added one crystal of thymol to a second well, followed by a drop of iron(III) nitrate. There was absolutely no visible change.

I really should learn to trust myself. I don’t remember doing it those months ago, but there’s no way I would have added thymol to a salicylate standard solution without checking. What occurred to me now would also have occurred to me then.

Speaking of organic chemistry, I was talking to Paul Jones yesterday and he mentioned that he’d be grading take-home finals for his organic students. Then he mentioned something about the exam focusing on syntheses. I thought what he described sounded a bit much for first-year organic, so I mentioned that to him. It turns out that Paul isn’t teaching first-year organic this year. The final he was talking about was for his grad students. I told him that was a relief, because I was just thinking about asking him if I could take the final, just to see how much (if any) I remembered. Paul was amused. He said I probably wouldn’t do very well on this final, because the synthesis reactions used hadn’t been invented when I was taking first-year organic 40 years ago. (Take that, old guy!) In fairness, Paul did say that the reactions I learned back when dinosaurs roamed the earth typically actually worked pretty well, while the ones his students were learning were sometimes a bit shaky.