Monday, November 23, 2009

The Gold Book

The Gold Book and the Silver Book (currently under revision) are two of the so-called colour books. Which kind of implies that gold and silver are colours. Not that IUPAC ran out of ‘real’ colours — e.g. they still could have chosen pink or yellow or black. For long time I thought that the reason behind naming the Gold Book ‘Gold Book’ was its (intended) role as a gold standard for chemical terminology. I was wrong. It was named in honour of Victor Gold (1922—1985), the British chemist who was the first author and compiler of the book. No such story with the Silver Book, I am afraid.

One of problems with the Gold Book (as opposed to other colour books) is that it deals with ‘general’ chemical nomenclature. Therefore, when it comes to terms which are different meanings in different fields of chemistry, the Gold Book gives more than one definition. Which one should be used? Take ligands. The definition 1 (coordination chemistry) is short and nice, while the definition 2 (biochemistry) is long and horrible. At least it mentions that in bioinorganic chemistry, one should be careful which definition to use.

In case of sulfides, there are three different meaning. Sulfides 1 (organic chemistry) is the replacement term for obsolete but less ambiguous ‘thioethers’, while sulfides 2 (inorganic chemistry) are “salts or other derivatives of hydrogen sulfide”. I am happy with salts but not with the “other derivatives”. Is sulfenic acid (IUPAC name ‘sulfanol’) a sulfide? As for sulfides 3, the definition goes “a term used in additive nomenclature”. Excellent.

Similarly, there is a consistency problem with related terms that are derived from different IUPAC recommendations. The entry for dipolar bond (1994) says:

The term is preferred to the obsolescent synonyms ‘coordinate link’, ‘coordinate covalence’, ‘dative bond’, ‘semipolar bond’.
And yet the more recent entry for dative bond (1999) does not mention that the term is obsolete. It is even states that
In spite of the analogy of dative bonds with covalent bonds, in that both types imply sharing a common electron pair between two vicinal atoms, the former are distinguished by their significant polarity, lesser strength, and greater length.
A textbook example of dative bond is the one in ammonium. Of course, all the N—H bonds are exactly the same, even if you choose to represent one of them with an arrow.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Visual maths

Many old jokes are based on the stereotype of mathematicians as impractical freaks (as opposed to, say, chemists). Here’s one from my university days (as told by the lecturer in physical chemistry):
How to calculate the area of this figure? (Draws a squiggly figure on a blackboard.) A mathematician spends three days establishing the nature of the function and two days taking the integral. By the end of the week, the problem is solved. A chemist draws the figure on graph paper, cuts it out and weighs it on an analytical balance. The problem is solved in 10 minutes.
Note that the chemist, apart from being ‘simply’ practical, also provides more direct answer to the question.

I prefer graphics to formulae. If I can’t draw a graph, I won’t grasp a concept. Luckily, there are some great resources on the web. For instance, MatematicasVisuales contains a nice collection of Java applets which elegantly visualise a number of mathematical concepts. Examples range from geometry to probability.

This applet illustrates some aspects of the braid theory. Click on ‘draw’, enter a braid word, e.g. BcbACb, and see your braid! The applet also can ‘reduce’, or simplify, the braid diagram, as well as to solve the braid isotopy problem (‘compare’).


Saturday, November 07, 2009


The name of chromium is derived from the Greek χρωμα (colour), because many of chromium compounds have bright colours. Chromium is also the name of the open-source browser project behind Google Chrome. Chrome is a hacker slang for the graphical user interface. The Chrome logo (a) features Google colours while the Chromium logo (b) is almost monochrome.

Chrome logo
Chromium logo

I liked the idea of Chrome for Linux without Google’s branding. I have followed this instruction to the letter to install Chromium on my Acer Aspire One netbook and it worked beautifully. Chromium certainly lacks lot of Firefox’s functionality but it does most things I need. Plus, it is very fast and you can change the appearance of browser using themes.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Some ChEBI news

Wow. Today’s ChEBI news inform that
ChEBI release 62 is now available, containing 455,788 total entities, of which 19,236 are annotated entities and 607 were submitted via the ChEBI submission tool.
Looking back, I must say that ChEBI news lack consistency and therefore the users are bound to be confused. Before, we never said how many entities ChEBI contained in total. For the previous release, only “annotated” entities were counted:
ChEBI release 61 is now available, containing 18933 annotated entities, with 413 of those submitted via the ChEBI submission tool.
And a few releases back, “annotated” was not mentioned at all:
ChEBI release 58 contains 18186 entities with 175 of those submitted via the ChEBI submission tool.
Does “annotated” matter? Most ChEBI entries are annotated is some way. That includes all these thousands of compounds which just came from ChEMBL. What is meant here really is “annotated and approved by ChEBI curators”. But wait:
With this release, we’ve incorporated the compound records from the ChEMBL dataset and introduced a starring system to identify core (3-star) annotated ChEBI entries from entries annotated by the ChEMBL project and ChEBI submitters.
This is unfortunate that ChEBI introduced stars to signify entry quality. I think I am not the only one who firmly associates stars with user’s (external reviewer’s) rating. “Thou shalt not award no stars to thyself.” In addition, the star rating system usually implies that stars can be lost as well as gained, which is not the case in ChEBI: once the three-star status is reached, the entry stays as it is.

Oh well. Sure ChEBI is not perfect, but what is? Perhaps in a couple of releases we’ll see another change, stars replaced by other celestial bodies or flowers or traffic signs. Good night.