The Anonymous Widower

Twisted Mind That Gave Us Chemical Warfare

The title of this post is the same as that of an article by Ben Macintyre,  in today’s copy of The Times.

It is subtitled.

Fritz Haber’s pacifist wife killed herself as he plotted Great War carnage…and he picked up a Nobel price.

Fritz Haber was a brilliant chemist, described in the first paragraph of his Wikipedia entrry.

Fritz Haber ( 9 December 1868 – 29 January 1934) was a German chemist who received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1918 for his invention of the Haber–Bosch process, a method used in industry to synthesise ammonia from nitrogen gas and hydrogen gas. This invention is of importance for the large-scale synthesis of fertilisers and explosives. The food production for half the world’s current population depends on this method for producing nitrogen fertilisers. Haber, along with Max Born, proposed the Born–Haber cycle as a method for evaluating the lattice energy of an ionic solid.

This description is rather stained by the second paragraph.

Haber is also considered the “father of chemical warfare” for his years of pioneering work developing and weaponizing chlorine and other poisonous gases during World War I, especially his actions during the Second Battle of Ypres.

Ben Macintyre feels strongly about Haber and finishes with this paragraph.

Rescinding Haber’s Nobel prize will not stop Assad from killing his own people with poison bombsbut it would be a profound symbolic expression of the moral revulsion over the misuse of science so dramatically demonstrated by Haber’s wife a century ago.

I don’t know whether Nobel prizes can be rescinded, but the article is a very informative read about the origins of chemical weapons.

 

 

 

April 14, 2018 Posted by | World | , , , , | 3 Comments

A Blue Plaque In Stepney

I found this blue plaque as I walked back to the Overground from the river.

A Blue Plaque In Stepney

A Blue Plaque In Stepney

Sir William Henry Perkin, FRS 4 July 1907) was an English chemist best known for his discovery, at the age of 18, of the first aniline dye, mauveine. So it is not just today, when people create something amazing before their twentieth birthday! But how many today do such work, when they were born into relatively humble circumstances?

He was certainly one of the world’s greatest chemists.  He is even commemorated by the Americans with the Perkin Medal.

June 2, 2013 Posted by | World | , , , | Leave a comment

Syria And Sarin Gas

following the attack on the Tokyo subway with sarin gas in 1995, I asked a friend, who is one of Cambridge’s most eminent chemists about how difficult it is to make sarin gas. He indicated that making the gas is not the problem, but stopping it killing those who make it, is a difficult one, as even a tiny leak is fatal.

For protection, he said, you need the best protection suits. And they are very difficult to obtain and extremely expensive.

So who is providing Syria with these suits? Or do they want to kill everybody, even their own soldiers?

But with Syria, who knows what they think?

April 27, 2013 Posted by | World | , , | Leave a comment

Le Pong Invades England

The whole of the south of England has been invaded by Le Pong, which originates in a plant in Rouen.  Reports of the smell have been received by the BBC from people as far north as Daventry. The story is here on the BBC web site.

January 22, 2013 Posted by | News | , | Leave a comment

Magnetic Soap

You might say so-what as there have been magnetic soap holders for years.

But Bristol University have come up with something special, if it can be used to say clean up oil spills or waste water.

There’s a more technical explanation here in The Engineer.

Could it be that the next ten years will be decade of chemistry, as micro-electronics have ruled for too long? I have also heard that some of the new techniques used in chemistry owe a lot to chip fabrication methods. After all you could argue that a lot of chips are just a three-dimensional array of atoms.

January 24, 2012 Posted by | News | , | Leave a comment

Gossip About Polythene

I’m putting in this post, as it was just office gossip with a guy I shared an office with at ICI Mond Division in Runcorn, but feel it ought to be recorded before I forget it again.

Bert Cross was ICI Mond’s infra-red analysis expert and he was a man who’d worked for the company from well before the Second World War. I remember one classic tale about the visit of the then Lord Melchett to the laboratories, where Bert then worked in Northwich and the Lord’s meeting with a researcher, who let’s say didn’t like the idea of capitalism.  Whenever, I hear the current Lord Melchett mentioned, I chuckle at Bert’s tale.

Bert also told how when polythene was discovered at ICI’s laboratories by accident, when they were applying high pressures to ethylene gas.  They found this waxy substance in the experiments. but they had no idea what to do with it.  One idea that was current, was that it might be added to candles to stop them bending. In the end it was polythene’s excellent electrical insulation properties combined with the need to develop better radar systems in the Second World War, that were to prove polythene’s earliest substantial use.

In the early days, it was thought that polythene was a perfect polymer, with no cross linking or imperfections.  Bert disproved this using infra-red analysis and always claimed he was nearly fired for his work.

Later when I worked at ICI Plastics Division, I didn’t actually work on polythene, but I worked with others who did.

At the time, ICI made low-density polythene and this was an amazing process with high-pressures, whirling shafts to mix it all and bearings that were lubricated by molten polythene.  It was engineering at its most difficult and best. The section I worked for, had actually applied computer control to two plants, using IBM 1800 computers.

At the time, one of ICI’s products was a high-grade cable-grade polythene used where a high-degree of electrical insulation was required.  A lot of this product went to Tupperware, as it made the containers look perfect.

January 21, 2011 Posted by | Business, World | , | Leave a comment