The Who, What, When, Where and Why of Chemistry
Chemistry is not a world unto itself. It is woven firmly into the fabric of the rest of the world, and various fields, from literature to archeology, thread their way through the chemist's text.
At a party Saturday night someone mentioned a rumor about extracting illegal drugs from dandelions. This was news to me, I hadn't thought that dandelions had all that much to offer pharmacologically. Google didn't produce any hits, nor did my students know anything (though they did tell me that on MythBusters they'd made nitrous oxide from ingredients you could obtain at home). There is some evidence from rat models that dandelion extracts can interfere with antibiotic absorption (particulary those in the same class as ciprofloxacin), and it has potential for control of blood sugar, but I can't find anything in PubMed more interesting than that.
Biomorphogenesis, the process by which biological forms arise during development, is a fascinating area that crosses many fields, including computer science, mathematics, biology and chemistry. How do the stripes develop on a zebra? Alan Turing, one of the first computer scientists and the man who developed the computational engine that cracked the Enigma code in World War II, took on this problem in the early 1950s. In 1952 he published, "The Chemical Basis of Morphogenesis" [Phil. Trans. R. Soc. London B1952, 237, 37-72]. He posits in this paper that oscillating chemical reactions, such as the Belousov-Zhabotinsky reaction, could lead to temporal-spatial differences in pigmentation. You can see why this might be the case in this animation of the reaction.
The BZ reaction is complex, the proposed mechanism consists of almost 20 steps - much more complex than those we are discussing in general chemistry this week! You can watch the BZ reaction in this video clip - the color changes look like magic.