Making Science Palpable: Improving the Everyday
Article by Britton Shortle
Everyone loves tie dying t-shirts, but what people don’t know is that a lot of chemistry is involved with dyeing clothes. Every dye is chemically made specifically to be a chosen color, and different chemicals produce different colors. While most dyes have specific chemical makeups for colors, most of them have the same basic structure. This basic structure is made up of compounds that are also found in perfumes, plastics, and medicine to name a few. These compounds are known as nitroarenes and nitroolefins. These compounds contain an atom of nitrogen or a nitrogen containing compound such as nitrogen dioxide. The nitrogen atoms in these two specific groups are bound to a hexagon shaped structure of carbon known as a benzene ring. These carbon rings have special properties that allow them to either produce a smell or change the color of a compound. With this information, it makes sense why manufacturers are using these compounds in perfume and clothing dye. To make these compounds, reactions had to be run with a catalyst in order for the reaction to fully complete. Yet a new process has been discovered by chemists in Iran that requires no catalysts and is much more efficient.
In chemistry most researchers or doctors try to be environmentally friendly when running reactions. When designing reactions, eliminating as much waste of chemicals (in some cases catalysts) is a very big focus. A lot of research involves finding new ways to complete old processes and making them more efficient and safer for the environment, which is what the chemists in Iran did. The Iranian chemists were looking for and testing different compounds as reactants to form the nitroarenes and nitroolefins. Their first objective was to try and cut out the need for a catalyst which would in turn reduce the waste of the process. To do this they decided to make an acid containing a nitrate (NO3). This acid is then combined with other benzene containing acids to form the final nitrate compound. This process was run under normal air conditions with no catalysts or other solvents. This new process was found to be a great replacement to the old reactions that produce these compounds. The scientists were able to obtain up to a 92% yield of product with these reactions.
Normally when new processes are discovered that are able to replace an older reaction will follow the same process. First the scientific data will be published in a journal for the scientific community to review and understand, then a patent of the process will be filed, and eventually will be marketed to major companies for use in the commercial market. Patents are the most important part as a scientist. Maintaining ownership of one’s intellectual property is important to be able to make a profit off of new discoveries.