Chemistry in its element: Compounds

  • Gypsum crystals of the Naica cave

    Gypsum

    By Michael Freemantle

    From Lavoisier’s experiments with plaster of paris to the the ‘Sistine Chapel of crystals’ in Mexico, Mike Freemantle explores the history of gypsum 

  • A crowd of people walking in night shopping street at Dotonbori, Osaka, Japan

    Favipiravir

    By

    Originally developed to treat flu and marketed in Japan as Avigan, promising Covid-19 trial results have seen countries stockpiling this medication by the millions

  • Pannage pigs in the New Forest

    Tannic acid

    By Michael Freemantle

    Tannic acid in green acorns can kill wild animals and livestock, but you can prevent poisoning with pannage pigs

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  • A piglet beside a feeding trough

    Ractopamine

    By

    Common in the US but banned in the EU, this animal feed additive makes for muscular pigs and beefy international trade disputes.  

  • Hexasilabenzene chemical structure over an alien landscape

    Hexasilabenzene

    By

    Brian Clegg discovers what a six-membered silicon ring can tell us about alien life

  • A binturong looking at the camera

    2AP (2-acetyl-1-pyrroline)

    By

    Frances Addison on the aromatic compound found in both buttered popcorn and the bearcat’s scent glands, and responsible for the distinctive smell of both

  • Dexamethasone tablets

    Dexamethasone

    By

    News that this cheap, ubiquitous steroid drug may reduce deaths in Covid-19 cases has been greeted with cautious optimism

  • A bone china tea set painted with blue flowers

    Porcelain

    By Michael Freemantle

    Mike Freemantle on the art, history and science of this delicate, translucent ceramic material

  • Labradorite, a type of feldspar

    Feldspar

    By

    Brian Clegg introduces the humble mineral that delights both astronomers and archaeologists

  • An artistic representation of a stomach ulcer

    Cimetidine

    By Michael Freemantle

    Mike Freemantle introduces the peptic ulcer treatment cimetidine, which – as Tagamet – became the first blockbuster drug

  • Tsetse fly

    Fexinidazole

    By

     The World Health Organisation hope to eradicate sleeping sickness within our lifetimes. Jamie Durrani looks at a drug that may make it possible.

  • Brewing ayahuasca

    DMT – Dimethyltryptamine

    By

    Georgia Mills investigates the psychoactive found in ayahuasca that may mirror near-death experiences

  • Pool cleaning equipment on the side of a pool

    Chlorine dioxide

    By

    Katrina Krämer investigates how industrial-strength bleach became promoted as ‘miracle mineral supplement’ – a supposed ‘cure’ for autism, cancer and even Covid-19.

  • Olives and olive oil

    Oleic acid

    By

    Brian Clegg discovers the link between olive oil, dandruff and stained glass windows.

  • Doctors examining a CT scan

    Interferon beta

    By

    An immune-modulating compound used to reduce the symptoms of multiple sclerosis and now showing potential against coronaviruses

  • Ritonavir tablet packaging

    Ritonavir

    By

    The unexplained appearance and dramatic spread of a new form of HIV drug ritonavir hurt patients and cost its makers almost $250 million.

  • An image showing coronavirus particles

    Lopinavir

    By

    How a drug that prevents HIV from donning its protective ‘coat’ now makes up one arm of the World Health Organisation’s Covid-19 trial

  • Remdesivir

    Remdesivir

    By

    Will new clinical trials for Covid-19 give remdesivir a second chance? Ben Valsler introduces the broad-spectrum antiviral that didn’t quite make it as the Ebola drug it was originally planned to be

  • A mosquito, a bottle of hyroxychloroquine tablets and social distancing advice

    Chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine

    By

    The Covid-19 pandemic – and some very high profile backing – has led to malaria drugs chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine hitting the headlines worldwide.

  • Woman taking a pain killer tablet

    Ibuprofen

    By

    Brian Clegg on the popular over-the-counter painkiller, developed by a high-street pharmacy chain

  • A man checking his hair line

    Minoxidil and Finasteride

    By

    Catherine Hodges explores the chemical solutions to thinning hair and patchy beards, examining the popularity of minoxidil and the cautionary tale of finasteride

  • An open bee hive

    Fipronil

    By

    The pesticide that keeps pets free of pests, but may have also been responsible for the devastating collapse of bee colonies

  • 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

  • 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