Perennial Grass (Miscanthus)

From the Picture It… Chemistry blog.

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Our society relies on oil. We use it to power our cars, our homes and our factories. Yet oil is formed over millions of years and one day it will run out. But what if we could grow plants to use as fuel? Could they take the place of oil? Welcome to the exciting, and controversial, world of biofuels.

1. This picture shows some leaves of the perennial zebra grass Miscanthus sinensis ‘Zebrinus’ in a measuring cylinder on the draining board of a laboratory sink, a small model of a section of lignin polymer, as well as a wash bottle of ethanol and a small bottle of petroleum ether, distilled to have a boiling point between 40 and 60 degrees Celsius. The zebra grass is standing in for one of its cousins, Miscanthus x giganteus, which is starting to be used as a source of renewable energy crop. This…

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Rhubarb (Rheum rhabarbarum)

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A Finger in the Pie Plant

1. The picture above shows the beautiful shades of reds, pinks and purples you might find in a garden, for example in rhubarb, violas and heuchera leaves. The viola flowers are in a round bottomed flask, a vessel often used for doing chemical reactions. There is also a glass funnel, which is used for transferring liquids or for separating liquids from solids when used in combination with a filter paper. Inside the glass funnel sits an anthocyanin molecule, chrysanthemin (cyanidin 3-glucoside). Anthocyanins make up a large family of molecules which give rise to the reds, pinks and purples which we see in garden plants and flowers, notably in the stems of rhubarb.

Rhubarb is the gardeners friend; early to fruit and easy to maintain. Yet there is much more to rhubarb than crumble and pie. Cultivated by the Chinese for thousands of years as…

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Rose (Rosa damascena)

For something a bit different, check out our new blog over on chempics.wordpress.com.

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We all recognise the sweet, delicate scent of the rose; that eternal symbol of love, passion and romance. So much so, in fact, that cosmetics companies around the world recreate this exquisite fragrance in their perfumes, lotions and bubble baths. But how can we capture something as intangible and subjective as a scent? And can something created in the lab ever smell as sweet as the real thing?

1. The main image shows rose petals in and around some common laboratory glassware, a round-bottomed flask on the left and a beaker on the right. In the background you can see additional laboratory equipment and a fumehood where a lot of chemical reactions are performed under an extractor fan to prevent the accumulation of fumes and smells in the laboratory. While the roses used for this picture were bought in the supermarket, the Damask Rose (Rosa damascena) is the…

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