10 Comic Chemicals, presented by Chemistry Cat

This week is National Chemistry Week in the US, so I thought I’d take this opportunity to showcase some of the more unusual chemicals. To make it interesting, we also have Chemistry Cat giving his/her (?) thoughts on the comic compounds.

1. C4H4AsH
Any guesses as to the common name of this chemical? ArsoleYup, that is Arsole.

The chemists have really gone to town on this one, writing papers such as Studies on the Chemistry of the Arsolesand sticking six of them together to get a ‘sexiarsole‘. One study looks at whether arsoles smell. Due to the wonders of the academic publishing system, access to these fascinating insights will cost you $65. Other contributions to this expanding niche include Unusual Substitution in an Arsole Ring and Arsole metal complexes.

Arsole Meme

2. C20H30O4
3. C33H40O1
and Clitorin 1. The name Vaginatin comes from Selinum vaginatum, the plant from which the chemical was extracted. It contains lots of oil and is used in Indian herbal medicine.

Vaginatinclitorin   4. Mg2Mg5Si8O22(OH)2 CummingtoniteA long time favourite of geologists, chemists, and other sciency types, that little lump of rock there is called Cummingtonite. It got its name from the locality where it was first found, Cummington, Massachusetts.


5. Apolloane
6. Rocketene
Apolloane was synthesised around the time of the Apollo 11 moon landings, and when drawn looks like a rocket. The OH is located at carbon 11, making the full name apolloane-11-ol. Legend has it that Neil Armstrong’s has a copy of the paper which named it. 2


7. Arsenical Diphenylaminechlorarsine
Adamsite is an organic compound used in riot control and chemical warfare. It was independently developed one Roger Adams in 1918. Within minutes of inhaling even the smallest amount, you will be vomiting and sneezing all over the place. Good work, Mr. Adams. It was used by the US in the Vietnam war, and is now being produced and stockpiled by North Korea.


8. Ca4Si2O6(CO3)(OH,F) 2
 gets its name from the Fuka mine in the Fuka region of southern Japan. It is very rare, and is a form of calcium silico-carbonate.


8. Ca2SbMg4FeBe2Si4O20
Welshite is named after the American amateur mineralogist Wilfred R. Welsh.

9. Diethyl azodicarboxylate
This chemical is abbreviated to DEADCAT. It is toxic, shock and light sensitive, and can violently explode when heated above 100°C.


10. 3,4,4,5-tetramethylcyclohexa-2,5-dien-1-one/C10H14O
Also known as Penguinone and probably the cutest molecule ever!

1. Penguin. 2. Penguinone.

1. Penguin. 2. Penguinone.

For more penguin-themed goodness in academia, see this previous post.


Bonus: The final two are more chemistry thought experiments, but they are pretty cool nonetheless.

11. Chemistry: the human dimension
The Nano Putian group of chemicals are proposed in a paper called Synthesis of Anthropomorphic Molecules. Standing at a diminutive 2-nm-tall, these tiny figures have nonetheless drawn 13 citations!

The Nano Putians   The Nano Putians


12. Old MacDonald (had a meth lab)
Ever wondered what your childhood songs would have been like if the characters pursued alternative career paths? Well now you can get a sense of what would happen if Old MacDonald left his farm to become a professor of organic chemistry. The paper Old MacDonald Named a Compound: Branched Enynenynols, proposes some whimsical compounds as a method to teach students chemistry nomenclature rules.

Old MacDonald

Many thanks to Paul May for his incredibly comprehensive page and book on funny molecules which inspired this post.

  1. The closest that male chemists get to female anatomy?
  2. Neil has unfortunately not returned my request for comment.

The Last Writes: posthumous publishing

Over on his Chemical connections blog, Stuart Cantrill posted an article last year entitled ‘The Last Writes‘.1  He mentions a number of academics, chemists in particular, that have published posthumously. In the arts and in literature it is not at all uncommon for works to be released after death, however it is hard to imagine many cases where the same might apply in academia. Perhaps there is a 3-4 year window left open by the glacial pace of academic publishing, but beyond that, your days are numbered, so to speak. Two instances in particular caught my eye.

Firstly, Alfred Werner, the first inorganic chemist to win the Nobel prize. A paper published in 2011 used the ubiquitous asterisk footnote to flag the fact that one author, Werner, died in 1919. This means that Werner published his most recent paper a staggering 82 years after his death!

Coming a distant second in this rather bizarre contest is another Nobel laureate in Chemistry, Robert B. Woodward. Woodward was the preeminent chemist of his day, and was known for synthesising many natural compounds for the first time. Woodward authored around 200 papers in his life and was so prolific in the lab that the pace of his scientific discoveries outstripped his ability to publish. As a result, much of his work was published after his death. So it was that in 1993 Woodward was able to co-author a paper, 13 years after his death.

I haven’t been able to find any examples of posthumous publishing in other fields. If you come across any, please do let me know!

  1. Thanks Stuart for the great pun. Try as I might, I couldn’t better this one!