Field of Science

A holiday at the intersection of biology and chemisty

I'm on vacation in California taking care of my dad's 10 acre farm while he is out of town. The resident fauna include 2 watch llamas and a small flock of Barbados sheep (self-shearing). When I arrived the flock had 11 sheep - now there are 16. If you're counting (and I am, every morning), that means that 5 new sheep have appeared. Four of them were born in the space of 2 hours a week ago last Saturday in the 107 degree heat of the afternoon. Birth is a messy business, and in the end I sacrified not one, but 2 white t-shirts to the process.

After the biology had settled down and was nursing happily, I turned to chemistry to get the stains out of my shirt. My dad (experienced in these matters) advised no bleach, and soaking in a strong salt solution. Why no bleach? Bleach is an oxidant, and "removes" (or at least decolorizes) many stains by oxidizing the carbon-carbon double-bonds which are responsible for the color. The red color of blood comes from the oxyhemoglobin. Oxidizing the iron in the hemoglobin produces iron oxide - aka rust - not necessarily an improvement on the front of your t-shirt.

One of the new arrivals.

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