Chemistry in its element: Compounds

  • An Ob mouse sat beside a normal weight mouse

    Leptin

    By

    Rotund rodents revolutionised our understanding of the biological role of fat. Now, as Katrina Krämer discovers, the hormones created by fats could redefine obesity

  • An assortment of foods rich in vitamin K

    Vitamin K

    By

    Ben Valsler on vitamin K – the blood clotting factor that is likely to be the first supplement you ever receive

  • Barley crop

    Amylase

    By

    Brian Clegg on the enzymes make life a little sweeter by breaking down starch into sugars, helping to make bread and beer

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  • A yawning beaver

    Hydroquinone

    By

    Georgia Mills on a compound that explodes from a beetle’s bum, and has a controversial role in skin depigmentation

  • Fisherman holds up a fish poisoned by cyanide on the Tisza river

    Sodium cyanide

    By Michael Freemantle

    This week marks the 20th anniversary of the Baia Mare disaster, when toxic sodium cyanide spilled from a gold processing plant led to ecological damage on a huge scale.

  • Turpentine bottle

    Terephthalic acid

    By

    Once thought of as an interesting – but useless – turpentine derivative, this oddly-named acid became the precursor to one of the world’s most widely used plastics

  • An assortment of cobalt blue glass bottles

    Cobalt oxide

    By Michael Freemantle

    From ancient Egyptian pottery to distinctive blue bottles, cobalt oxide has been providing ‘chemically and artistically perfect’ pigments for centuries

  • Viva la vegan sign outside a restaurant in London

    Vitamin B12 or Cobalamin

    By

    If you’re trying out a vegan diet, you’re likely to be told to make sure you get enough vitamin B12. But what is B12, where do we get it from, and how can we be sure we’re getting enough?

  • A composite image of Tom Lehrer, Helen Arney and the Waterbeach Brass band

    The Elements Song

    By Chemistry World

    To see out the International Year of the Periodic Table in style, we’ve brought Tom Lehrer’s classic periodic table patter up to date

  • An angry black labrador

    Iminosugars

    By Michael Freemantle

    After some promising results treating ill pets, some researchers think iminosugars could become treatments for infection and even cancer. Mike Freemantle explores the buzz around iminohoney

  • Oxycodone pill bottles

    Oxycodone and hydrocodone

    By

    Frances Addison examines how our quest to control and manage pain has led to a modern medical crisis, as opioids oxycodone and hydrocodone are among the most abused prescription medications in the US

  • Thanksgiving dinner spread with a roast turkey

    Tryptophan

    By

    Ben Valsler tackles ‘zombie facts’ and the tenuous connection between tryptophan in turkey and your post-Thanksgiving dinner doze

  • Zeolite powder

    Zeolites

    By

    Brian Clegg introduces the class of materials where the holes are more important than the whole – the super-porous zeolites

  • The Hindenburg airship

    Allicin

    By Michael Freemantle

    It helps prevent garlic plants from marauding insects and should have prevented the Hindenburg disaster – Mike Freemantle on allicin and the smell of freshly crushed garlic

  • Pink damask roses

    Beta-damascenone

    By Louise Crane

    Louise Crane explains how a series of happy accidents led to the discovery of this rose-scented compound, found in rose oil, beer, apple pie and Kentucky bourbon.

  • Self-portrait of NASA's Curiosity Mars rover

    Gallium arsenide

    By

    Brian Clegg introduces gallium arsenide – the supercar of the semiconductor scene

  • Gold and silver bars

    Electrum

    By

     Georgia Mills introduces the malleable mixture of gold and silver that minted some of the world’s oldest coins

  • A man sits on a Nepalese mountainside with his head in his hands - apparently suffering from altitude sickness

    Hypoxia-inducible factors – HIFs

    By

    The oxygen sensors that help life react to changing conditions, key to the 2019 Nobel prize in physiology or medicine

  • Colourful fish at a fishmarket

    Ciguatoxin

    By

    The toxin found in reef fish that leads to food poisoning so bad it can cause life-long symptoms

  • Bothrops jararaca

    Ramipril

    By Michael Freemantle

    How a Brazilian scientist’s knowledge of viper venom led to the discovery of a whole class of medication for high blood pressure. With Mike Freemantle

  • Jasmine flowers and oil

    Hedione

    By Louise Crane

    Louise Crane investigates a jasmine-derived synthetic scent with supposed sex appeal

  • Warning sign for 1080 in bait stations

    Sodium fluoroacetate

    By

    The controversial killer compound – also known as 1080 – being used to protect New Zealand’s native wildlife

  • Marathon running race on city road

    DMAA

    By

    A popular sports supplement with deadly consequences

  • Crows flying over trees

    Domoic acid

    By

    The marine toxin that drives animals crazy and might have inspired one of Alfred Hitchcock’s most famous films

  • Surgeons or doctor hands with protective glove hold sponge holding a sterilzed gauze with antiseptic liquid

    Boric acid

    By Michael Freemantle

    Mike Freemantle revisits battlefield surgery to investigate boric acid, a key part of Dakin's antiseptic solution used extensively in the first world war

  • Apricot seeds and almonds

    Amygdalin & Laetrile

    By

    Patrick Hughes delves into the molecule at the centre of a decades-old cancer treatment conspiracy theory

  • Man skydiving

    Dopamine

    By

    Georgia Mills tackles the feel-good neurotransmitter and hormone behind thrill seeking, addiction, and mobile gaming

  • Hydrogen sulfide hot spring in Iceland

    Hydrogen sulfide

    By Michael Freemantle

    Mike Freemantle finds the connection between Land of Hope and Glory and the noxious, corrosive, flammable gas that stinks of rotten eggs

  • Silhouette of man drinking alcohol

    Baclofen

    By

    One doctor's battle with alcoholism and self-experimentation with baclofen led to a rush of people desperate to try the drug to curb their addictions. But are we simply replacing one problem with another, asks Enna Guadalupe 

  • Someone holding small pieces of plastic on a beach

    Polypropylene

    By

    Microplastics, including polypropylene, are present in our oceans, on our beaches and even in bottled water. Ian Robertson investigates the scale and some solutions

  • Dental exam

    Zinc polycarboxylate

    By Michael Freemantle

    Lay back in the chair and say 'Ahh', as Mike Freemantle introduces zinc polycarboxylate dental cement

  • Zircon jewellery on a white background

    Zircon

    By

    The versatile gemstones that give scientists insights into the chemistry of the early Earth, introduced by Brian Clegg

  • Surgeons with anaesthetic gas mask

    Cyclopropane

    By

    Chemistry’s tastiest bonds for an explosive anaesthetic that was as useful as it was dangerous

  • Several pills of MDMA (Extasy) on white table

    2C psychedelics

    By

    A class of hallucinogenic phenethylamines, explored by the 'godfather of psychedelics' Alexander Shulgin and sadly implicated in a tragedy at a 2017 music festival

  • Scientist working with blood sample in a laboratory

    Azidothymidine

    By

    The first drug approved in the US to treat Aids required a completely new approach to clinical trials – Frances Addison explores the history of azidothymidine

  • Photographic dark room in red light

    Silver iodide

    By

    How the compound that ushered in a photographic revolution has taken to the skies to try to control the weather

  • Grey long-eared bat (Plecotus austriacus)

    Amantadine

    By

    Katrina Krämer investigates how one of the smallest small molecule drugs around saved Jeanna Giese's life

  • Chanel N°5 perfume

    Indole

    By

    Kat Arney investigates a potent chemical that might explain the brain-bending powers of bacteria

  • amber resin tree sap

    Amber

    By Michael Freemantle

    Mike Freemantle introduces amber – the valuable organic gemstone that invests unwary insects in a durable tomb

  • Computer chip

    Beryllium oxide

    By

    Brian Clegg examines the duality that makes beryllium oxide so valuable to the electronics industry

  • Children in classroom

    Methylphenidate (Ritalin)

    By

    Jamie Durrani diverts his attention to the rise of Ritalin, a drug first identified as a way of improving tennis performance

  • Horseshoe crabs in water

    Limulus Amebocyte Lysate

    By

    Frances Addison takes a look at the discovery that brought horseshoe crabs to the heart of the pharmaceutical industry

  • Blister pack tablets

    Levothyroxine

    By

    Kit Chapman investigates the drug that has been one of the top five prescription medications in the UK every year for the last two decades

  • Arrowroot crop in Bermuda

    Starch

    By Michael Freemantle

    Inspired by a mention of arrowroot in Jane Austen's Emma, Mike Freemantle investigates how subtle differences in composition mean starch can be resistant dietary fibre or easily-digested nourishment.

  • Olive oil

    Aniline

    By

    How an early synthetic dye chemical came to play a role in a mysterious disease outbreak in 1980s Spain

  • Plume of talcum powder

    Talc: Magnesium silicate

    By

    Coating your naked body with powdered magnesium silicate may sound strange, but it's an important part of many bathtime rituals

  • Sea buckthorn berries and oil

    Tocopherols

    By Michael Freemantle

    Mike Freemantle discovers sea buckthorn fruits also called 'beauty berries' because of their high concentration of tocopherols and tocotrienols, collectively known as vitamin E

  • Sommelier smelling wine and taking notes

    Trichloroanisole: Cork taint

    By Louise Crane

    If you've ever been unlucky enough to experience 'corked' wine, then 2,4,6-trichloroanisole, or TCA was likely the chemical culprit

  • Cub scout surrounded by flowers

    Vinblastine and vincristine: Vinca alkaloids

    By

    Kat Arney unearths a story of an overlooked female researcher in the search for the origins of cancer drugs found in plants

  • The Vasa, restored and on display at the Vasa Museum in Stockholm

    Polyethylene glycol or PEG

    By

    The simple polymer that preserves and protects ancient artifacts, and saved a historical Swedish shipwreck from complete collapse

  • Feather pen, inkwell and letter

    Ferrous sulfate

    By Michael Freemantle

    The iron compound that has been turning oak gall extract into indelible ink for centuries, but is now eating though our ancient manuscripts and musical scores

  • Development of soybean root

    Nitrogenase

    By

    The mysterious enzyme that can beat the world’s biggest chemical process when it comes to breaking the dinitrogen triple bond

  • Funeral mask of the Pharoah Tutankhamun

    Lazurite

    By

    A brilliant rich blue rock, prized in antiquity as a gemstone and a prominent pigment, lazurite is the basis of lapis lazuli, the original ultramarine paint and – as Brian Clegg finds – it even adorns Tutankhamun's death mask

  • Tsetse Fly

    Melarsoprol

    By

    Cases of sleeping sickness – human African trypanosomiasis – are in decline, dropping 86% in Africa between 2000 and 2014. Gege Li explores the role that this toxic, arsenic-based medication has to play.

  • Pile of capsules Omega 3 on white background

    Omega-3 fatty acids

    By

    Many consume cod liver oil due to 'a vague sense we should be taking them for something' – but what to the omega-3 fatty acids actually do?

  • A UH- 1D helicopter from the 336th Aviation Company sprays a agent orange on a dense jungle area in the Mekong delta - Illustration

    Cacodyl

    By Michael Freemantle

    It made Robert Bunsen seriously ill, Michael Faraday thought it 'barbaric' to use in battle and even Fritz Haber – the 'father of chemical warfare' – abandoned it after a fatal accident in his lab. This week, Mike Freemantle tells the story of tetramethyldiarsine, otherwise known as cacodyl.

  • Russian gymnast David Delyavskiy's bronze medal from the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

    Bronze

    By

    Kit Chapman takes us back to the 1904 Olympics in St Louis, via the bronze age and ancient Greece

  • Whisky tasting glasses

    Ellagic acid

    By Louise Crane

    Louise Crane introduces the antioxidant that led to exaggerated claims that 'whisky helps fight cancer'

  • Nutmeg fruit and seeds

    Myristicin

    By

    The spice that gives your Christmas eggnog its distinctive taste and aroma is also a toxic narcotic that played an important role in international history

  • Hot molten steel in a foundry

    Low-background steel

    By

    Post-nuclear steel is a little bit radioactive, so for some specialist jobs we need to find a source of steel from before the bomb

  • Tin cans

    Tin chlorides

    By

    The compounds that put the 'tin' in tin cans and help you to reflect on your appearance

  • Chopping onions on a wooden board with a ceramic knife

    Propanethial-S-oxide: how chopping onions makes you cry

    By

    Kat Arney’s investigation of the pungent chemical in onions is enough to bring tears to your eyes

  • Coloured epoxy resin on wood

    Epoxies

    By

    Epoxies – including hard-wearing resins and strong adhesives – can be found almost everywhere, from your household white goods to the Large Hadron Collider