Category Archive 'Chemistry'

23 Oct 2018

Miltos: the Roman’s Red Dust

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Samples of miltos, including a sixteenth century Ottoman example (e), and a control sample of yellow oxide (b).

Andrew Masterson, in Cosmos magazine, reports that modern researchers are attempting to pin down the exact identity of an intriguing Roman mineral.

From ancient Greek and Roman source texts it is possible to conclude that in the classical world a mineral, a powder known as miltos, was something of a wonder substance.

Miltos – referred to in the works of writers such as Theophrastus, Dioscorides and Pliny – was red, fine-grained, and made up mostly of iron-oxide.

By the time Theophrastus, a Greek philosopher and proto-botanist, wrote about it in the third century BCE, it was already a mineral validated by antiquity. Its use is attested to in Mycenaean clay tablets, inscribed in the script known as Linear B and dating from the second millennium BCE.

The variety of applications for which it was used was broad indeed. According to a team of researchers writing in the Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports, it was used “as a pigment, as a cosmetic, in ship maintenance, agriculture and medicine”. …

The ancient texts made it clear that miltos, unlike some other types of mineral, could be found, and mined, in only a few places in Graeco-Roman world – namely Kea, in the Cyclades, Lemnos in the northeast Aegean, and Cappadocia in Turkey. This specificity meant identifying the substance was simple: it was the red dusty stuff found at the mine sites, and easily matched, therefore, with older samples held in museums and galleries.


30 Oct 2017

Periodic Table of Element Origins

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17 Jan 2016

New Gin Goes Horribly, Horribly Wrong

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Daily Mail:

A group of hipster gin makers came close to creating chaos after they accidentally made mustard gas while trying to concoct a new flavour.

Workers from Sipsmith distillery, in Chiswick, west London, were attempting to create a mustard-flavoured drink but instead made the dangerous chemical agent, famous for its devastating use in World War One.

The firm, founded by Fairfax Hall, Sam Galsworthy and Jared Brown in 2009, evacuated its plant as soon as the blunder had been detected.

Kit Clancy, assistant distiller at Sipsmith, said: ‘There was a near disaster. What the guys actually produced was in effect mustard gas. The distillery was evacuated. That one wasn’t made again.’

19 Aug 2014

Richard III’s Skeleton Evidences Life Changes

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Unknown artist, King Richard III, late 16th century, National Portrait Gallery.

Chemical analysis of the bones and teeth of the skeleton found beneath the Leicester parking lot seems to confirm its identity as the remains of Richard III, the last Plantagenet king of England.


According to a study performed by the British Geological Survey and researchers at the University of Leicester, the king changed location and diet early in his childhood, and then, when he was crowned king 26 months before his death at the Battle of Bosworth, started eating a richer diet associated with his change in status. …

The team analysed the isotopes found in three locations of King Richard III’s skeleton: his teeth, his femur, and his rib. Each showed elements related to geographical location, pollution, and diet: strontium, nitrogen, oxygen, carbon, and lead. As teeth and bones continue to change and develop throughout life, the team was able to map specific elements to locations and time frames.

According to his teeth, Richard III had moved away from Fotheringhay Castle in Northampshire by the time he was seven, to an area of higher rainfall, older rocks and a different diet to what was available in his birthplace.

According to his femur — which shows an average of the last 15 years before death — Richard moved back to England’s east sometime in his adolescence or young adulthood, and his diet changed to match that of the high aristocracy.

It is his rib that shows his later life. Typically, the ribs renew themselves quickly, so it only represents the last two to five years of life. It was in this period that Richard III’s diet changed the most — although the differences between femur and rib could indicate a relocation, Richard III did not move away from England’s east.

The elements found in his rib suggests an increase in his diet of freshwater fish and birds — such as swan, crane, heron, and egret — which were popular choices for royal banquets. It also suggests that he was drinking more wine. Both these changes reinforce that food and drink — and, in particular, types of food and drink — were very important indicators of social status in England in the Middle Ages.


Multi-isotope analysis demonstrates significant lifestyle changes in King Richard III

Hat tip to Karen L. Myers.

02 Jun 2013

In the Chem Lab

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Glenn Reynolds solidified his nerd credentials by forwarding this oldie-but-goodie chem lab story.

The reaction behaved beautifully – exactly as in literature procedure – the color transitions and all, and even the product distilled pure in a good yield in the end as a highly refractive clear, thin liquid. But the smell – right at the moment when we quenched (in a hood of course) we were pushed back by the solidity of the reek. I got to know many evil chemical smells over the years but nothing comes anywhere close. With the other stinkers, at least one can imagine what sort of unwashed, putrid, fishy, skunky, human-waste object those smells are related to. But I never encountered anything as nauseating or alien like PhePHMe: The memory is stil with me – the most sickly and sweetish smell of rancid gasoline combined with rotten water melons, with undertones of stale sweat, pig carcass, a hint of garlic, moldy oranges, russian-made aftershave and a cheap household air freshener… its a whole package, and rather sweet one – like isonitriles or cyclopentadiene but magnified thousand times. A whiff of that thing and you feel that your nose just suffered a stroke and will hopefully die and peal off so that you never smell that thing again. Inconceivable – and it does not get any better when wearing off; quite opposite in fact – just like with butyric or isovaleric acid, the reek is developing a more alarming depth and complexity with the dilution.

Boy! If I had not gotten rid of my lab equipment a few years ago, I’d be (out in the yard, rather than the basement) having a go at making this stuff right now.

13 May 2006

Fun Things You Can Do With Metals

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I used to do this with Sodium and Potassium in high school too, but I never had… Cesium! Fun, fun, fun.


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