Oh, shoot!

I was delighted to read Paul Roebuck’s letter about disposing of chemical waste by shooting bottles. It took me back to the mid 1970s when I was working in Fisons’ research and development department in Loughborough, UK.

We had a similar solution for handling suspicious bottle materials, only we had to use an air rifle. The location chosen was on land in the back of the parking lot and we used a large metal tray that was used for fire training. Our risk assessment was limited to shooting away from parked cars and hiding behind a hollow. We never had an explosion, not even from dried out picric acid or very old ether with a deposit on the bottom of the Winchester. We carried a lot of potentially unstable materials in plastic buckets through a large building. Those were the days!

Roebuck mentioned the much-missed Colonel Shaw, and I’m sure many chemists of a certain age will remember his excellent talk (with a bang) on ‚Äč‚Äčexplosives.

Tony Payne CChem MRSC
Ilkeston, UK

I can understand how a well-aimed bullet can be used to remotely open an ampoule or bottle. Very few universities have an outdoor shooting range and I suspect that the operators of many outdoor facilities are not happy about using their sites to dispose of chemicals.

A bottle of diisopropyl ether was found at a university, which had solidified due to the formation of peroxide. The bottle was taken to a military rifle range by a group of soldiers who did not know what they were dealing with. They continued to fire a bullet into the bottle from a distance. Instead of having to sweep up the broken glass, the sand dune on which the bottle was standing disappeared. Then they had a terrible realization about the unnecessary risk they had taken when many of them were traveling in the same vehicle as the innocent looking bottle.

When I was a PhD student, a scientist told us in quiet moments in the teaching laboratory how he handled duds from the Air Force. If a bomb is unearthed during construction work, it is best to cordon off the area and wait a few days. If it explodes during this time then the problem is solved. If nothing happens, his next method was to tie a rope to the bomb and use it to remotely shake the bomb. His reasoning was that if the bomb contained a time fuse, a jolt might tick the clock again. It was only after the bomb lay there for a while that he wanted to consider other methods. I am sure that with a pulley block, some rope, and some ingenuity, it is possible to break an ampoule from a safe distance.

Mark Foreman MRSC
Gothenburg, Sweden

Lonsdale’s legacy

I read with interest the article by Marelene and Geoff Rayner-Canham in which she and Polly Porter as “mentors” to Dorothy Hodgkin (Chemistry world, May 2021, p. 36). I’ve been interested in Hodgkin’s work since I attended a crystallography class at the University of Leeds, UK, from JH Robertson, once a member of Hodgkin’s research team at Oxford, in the early 1970s. A few years later I was present when Hodgkin was giving a lecture in Leeds and Robertson made the closing remarks at the request of the Vice Chancellor.

The Chemistry world Article begins: “Everyone“ knows ”that Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin was the pioneering female X-ray crystallographer. The aim of this letter is not to contradict this view, but to mention another “X-ray crystallographer”, Kathleen Lonsdale. Born in 1903, she was seven years older than Hodgkin, who was preceded by two years as a Fellow of the Royal Society. The International Union of Crystallography was founded in 1948 with Lawrence Bragg as its first president. Lonsdale became president in 1966 and Hodgkin in 1972.

Judith Howard and Sofia Candeloro de Sanctis, who were both research students at Hodgkin, held high academic positions in crystallography. It is narrated in the Georgina Ferry biography of Hodgkin, referred to in the Chemistry world Article that the simultaneous presence of Howard and Candeloro de Sanctis in Hodgkin’s hospital bed shortly before the end of their life prompted Hodgkin’s son to inquire about ‘a collective term for women professors of crystallography’!

Clifford Jones FRSC
Chester, UK

Marelene Rayner-Canham and Geoff Rayner-Canham answer:

Professor Jones makes a good point. We have been negligent not to mention Kathleen Lonsdale as another x-ray crystallographic pioneer. Indeed, there were significant numbers of female X-ray crystallographers in the early years. In our current book Pioneering British women chemists, let’s discuss them in the context of their mentors. Julia Sanz-Aparicio, in an article in arbor, has provided an excellent update that includes some of the prominent (and often overlooked) later generations of female crystallographers.

Mourning Midgley?

Now that the United Nations World Environment Day has passed, Tom Welton’s June editorial, Thomas Midgley Jr., could have been just a little more devastating in my opinion.

A more sober assessment of his disastrous inventions described Midgley as “having a greater impact on the atmosphere than any other single organism in the history of the earth”. Praise indeed! Especially since another of his inventions, a Heath-Robinson-like device that was supposed to support him in his later polio-disabled condition, strangled him to death.

One wonders if, in an easily possible post-climatic dystopia, Midgley will be among those cursed for their chemistry.

Lionel Milgrom CChem FRSC
London, UK

For all ages

In my 90th year of life, I confirm Alan Peacegood’s hope that there is another “wrinkle”, who has the feeling that once a chemist is always a chemist and who finds a lot of interest, stimulation and enrichment Chemistry worldeven if some of it is now out of the reach of those of my background. For me it is a privilege that several universities here in Scandinavia keep asking me to check the doctoral theses of their young doctoral students in terms of linguistic and factual content and thus to keep my chemical instinct alive.

Anthony Bristow CChem MRSC
Tullinge, Sweden


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