Monday, March 26, 2007


Derek has some thoughts on hydrides on his blog. I remembered the following endearing conversation between Linus Pauling and Matthew Meselson (co-orchestrator of the 'most beautiful experiment in biology'). This was just after Meselson joined Pauling as a grad student.
LP: Well, Matt, you know about tellurium, the group VI element below selenium in the periodic chart of the elements?

MM: Uh, yes. Sulfur, selenium, tellurium ...

LP: I know that you know how bad hydrogen sulfide smells. Have you ever smelled hydrogen selenide?

MM: No, I never have.

LP: Well, it smells much worse than hydrogen sulfide.

MM: I see.

LP: Now, Matt, Hydrogen telluride smells as much worse than hydrogen selenide as hydrogen selenide does compared to hydrogen sulfide.

MM: Ahh ...

LP: In fact, Matt, some chemists were not careful when working with tellurium compounds, and they acquired a condition known as "tellurium breath." As a result, they have become isolated from society. Some have even committed suicide.

MM: Oh.

LP: But Matt, I'm sure that you would be careful. Why don't you think it over and let me know if you would like to work on the structure of some tellurium compounds?
I doubt if anyone has smelt H2Te and lived to tell the tale. Me though, I would love to smell some H2Po (Po: next in line after Telurium) if it exists.

Tremulous trepidation titillates.

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Blogger Abi said...

I don't know why, but your post reminded me of the first lines of David Goodstein's book "States of Matter":

"Ludwig Boltzmann, who spent much of his life studying statistical mechanics, died in 1906, by his own hand. Paul Ehrenfest, carrying on the work, died similarly in 1933. Now it is our turn to study thermodynamics."

6:35 PM  
Blogger Ashutosh said...

Haha...good one! And quite true.

7:50 PM  
Blogger Freudian Slip said...

Interesting dialogue there :)
Sharing it with my class.

6:09 PM  

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