Posts Tagged With: Chemistry

Breaking Bad: Making Meth… I Mean Aspirin!

Breaking Bad

Image: Ursula Coyote/AMC

Today I made aspirin. Next up… meth! I kid. At chemistry lab tonight, we synthesized aspirin–it was pretty cool.

I find it amazing how creative and yet utterly logical that chemists have to be to come up with a procedure for synthesizing a specific chemical. In order to arrive at a destination (aspirin in this case), the chemist has to follow a very specific procedure. Well, not necessarily. There are multiple procedures and multiple ways in which each step can be accomplished, and that’s where the creativity comes in.

Let’s say you want to make C9H8O4 (i.e. aspirin). From the formula, we know that each unit of aspirin contains 9 carbon atoms, 8 hydrogen atoms, and 4 oxygen atoms. The problem is, we can’t just take 9 moles of carbon, 8 moles of hydrogen, and 4 moles of oxygen, put it all in a bag, shake it for a few minutes and open the bag to find aspirin. Oh, no! We’d probably be left with a pile of carbon at the bottom, oxygen gas in the middle, and a bunch of highly flammable hydrogen awaiting us at the top of the bag.

The puzzle is, how to we utilize the different properties of different chemicals to create a specific chemical that we don’t yet have? Well, in our case, we mixed salicylic acid (the stuff you put on warts) and acetic anhydride (it’s basically dried vinegar) together and added a few drops of phosphoric acid to speed things up. Then we applied heat, which caused the stuff to magically react to form something that was not in the test tube to begin with. Who would’ve thought? But now our aspirin is contaminated by an excess of acetic anhydride. How can we get rid of it? I know, let’s add water! (I’m trying to think like the chemist who invented the procedure.) That will turn the acetic anhydride into vinegar which can be filtered out of the aspirin crystals. That’s basically the process we used to synthesize crude aspirin. If you’re interested, you can find the full procedure here.

Our class’ synthesis of aspirin was simple by chemistry standards, but it gave me a peek into the mind of a chemist. A chemist is much like a chef. A chef has an extensive knowledge of the properties of different foods and spices. He or she thinks logically–following multi-step procedures in a specific order to create a product worthy of awe. The chef is precise–too much or too little of any spice will ruin the product. The true chef is also creative–the true chef experiments and designs new procedures that yield amazing new products. The chemist, I’ve come to see, is much like the chef. There is careful precision, there is a lot of logical planning and procedure-building, but there’s also creativity and experimentation. If I wasn’t so set on making Star Trek a reality, I would be quite happy being a chemist.

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Whew! Last Final!

This afternoon I had my last final exam for the semester–chemistry. I feel pretty confident with my score. I should get a score around the mid-90’s, which isn’t bad considering that I didn’t review much for the exam. No worries, though… I can score all the down to 76% on the final and still walk away with an A for the course.

Last Friday I had my trigonometry and pre-calculus finals. I faced the same issue that I did with the mid-terms–I had to be at the college’s southern campus (45 minutes south of home) at 4:00PM for pre-calculus, then I had to be at the college’s northern campus (1/2 hour north of home) at 7:00PM for the trigonometry final. This time, however, I was well prepared for both exams and had no trouble. I aced both of them. So far (3 math courses) I haven’t had less than 100% on any proctored math exams. One time, I got one question partially wrong, but weirdly enough, a perfect score results in a score of a few percentage points more than 100, so that time I ended up getting exactly 100%.

I’m glad the semester is over. Toward the end there I was getting bored and having trouble with ambition. That, of course, resulted in some scary procrastination. Now I have about three weeks to catch up on other things before going back to school. This weekend our household (3 adults) is moving to a new place. That’ll be fun. Not. Next weekend, my fiancee and I plan on visiting Florida State University, which is likely to be the university that I transfer to for fall 2015. Hopefully, I’ll also be able to work a little more–save up some of that green stuff that I haven’t seen around much of late. Maybe, I’ll even have time to drink a few beers and do some reading.

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Not Dead

Bad habits all around me...

Bad habits all around me…

No, I’m not dead. It’s been a few weeks since I last posted on here… school, work, and sleep–that’s about all I have time for. However, I need to make time for these posts. I don’t keep a journal anymore (no time), so this blog will have to serve as my public journal. Furthermore, these posts always seem so therapeutic. For me, that is, I don’t know if you feel the same way about them.

I’m currently in the fourth week of my second semester (counting the jam-packed summer semester). Today I completed the first of my monthly trigonometry tests–aced it. On Friday, I have a pre-calc exam, and on Sunday I have an anthropology paper due. Busy, busy, busy, and here I sit writing and taking periodic swigs of cold Budlight (the first one in months, I swear).

I dropped my creative writing course, by the way. Now I’m down to four courses: anthropology, chemistry, pre-calculus, and trigonometry. I dropped it because 1) I was only taking it because I thought it would be an interesting expansion of my studies, 2) I’m already set to go over 65 credit hours by the time I complete my Associate’s degree, and 3) dropping the course opened up a little more time to work and support myself financially.

My goal has always been to be at least a week ahead on my assignments, which would be possible given that I’m only taking online and blended courses this semester. However, I’m not even close to achieving that. My assignments seem to be getting done just in time. Yesterday, for example, I submitted my anthropology assignment with 30 minutes to spare. It’s not that the studies are difficult or the assignments overwhelming in quantity. I’ve simply been working too much the last several weeks.

I really love the studying. I have no social life, and sometimes I yearn for it, but always the urge to study suppresses it. This evening I learned about ionic bonds for the first time. I had always assumed that all chemical compounds come in discrete bite-sized molecules. Now I know that a lot of them form non-discrete 3-dimensional lattice formations via ionic bonds. Amazing isn’t it? I enjoy studying so much that after college, and after grad school, I may well go into research. Theoretical physics… now wouldn’t that be fun?

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Looking Forward to Fall 2013

Notepad and Pen

Here’s a picture of a notepad and pen. Just because…

For the fall semester, I enrolled in five courses, and I’m excited about all of them. I’m going to note some of my feelings/ideas about the coming semester, and after it’s all over, I’ll see if it went as well as I think it will.

I will be taking all of my upcoming courses online, except for one: chemistry will be a blended course–lectures online, but lab in the physical world. By taking them online, I can work on raising funds to support my addiction to education.

Introduction to Anthropology

I picked this course primarily because it seemed to be the most interesting course that satisfies segments of both the Gordon Rule and International/Intercultural requirements. I know there will be at least four essays, but they don’t scare me–they’re only required to be two pages long. As long as I find the subject interesting, I don’t mind writing the essays. I think I will enjoy learning a little more about the history of that species of rascals that currently infests Earth.

Introductory Chemistry

I’m really looking forward to this course. I’ve always been interested in learning about the fundamental building blocks of nature, and while the elements of chemistry might not be the quarks of quantum mechanics, I think I will learn a lot and enjoy doing it. I didn’t study chemistry in high school, and I’ve never “played” in a laboratory, so I’m really looking forward to that aspect of it. If I can learn the skills to become the next Breaking Bad methmaker, that’d be a bonus. I kid.

Trigonometry

I’ve studied trigonometry before, so I don’t think this course will be very difficult for me. It will mostly be review, but I have to take the course before I can enroll for the calculus series.

Pre-calculus Algebra

Same as above. About half of this course will be spent reviewing what I just got done reviewing in College Algebra. I’ll slog through it looking forward to the day when I can finally enroll in that first calculus course.

Creative Writing

I’m still vacillating a little about this course. If I don’t like the syllabus when I look at it, I might drop the course. I hate poetry, but I enjoy writing. I have a moderate interest in writing science fiction, and I’m hoping this course can help me. If you have any advice for me, please leave a comment!

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