Blog 2: Cellulose

Samantha Williams

Much like sugar, cotton lead to and helped sustain to the buildup of slave trade for three centuries. Textiles made in Britain from the raw cotton picked in places like Southern United States were shipped to Africa to be traded for slaves, who then in turn harvested the cotton used by the British. Although places like India and Mexico had known cotton for at least 5000 years, it had been unknown to Europe until around 300 B.C. because the climate of Europe was unsuitable for the frost sensitive cotton plant. However, the constant damp climate made manufacturing cotton a whole lot easier. Because damp conditions meant that there was a less likelihood of the threads breaking down during manufacturing, factories in dryer, warmer climates suffered high production costs. Therefore, England became a powerhouse in the textiles and cotton industry. Mechanical innovation sprung from the demand for cheap cotton; eventually, everything was mechanized. The cotton gin also sprouted in this time period. It separated cotton fiber from the seed. Unfortunately, the English Midlands were used for farming and small trade centers. Working and living conditions were harsh and the hours were long with little pay. Children in the workplace were often beat to keep them awake on 12-14 hour shifts. These conditions brought about the protests and revolts centered around work hours, child labour, and safety and health regulations.


Like most fibers, cotton is about 90% cellulose, which is a polymer of glucose. Cellulose is also a structural polysaccharides, meaning it provides a means of support for the organism; these units are B-glucose. The storage polysaccharides are A glucose. In both of the polysaccharides, the glucose units join each other through carbon 1 on a glucose molecule and carbon 4 on the adjacent glucose molecule.

Many properties of cotton come from the structure of cellulose. The long cellulose chains packed together gave the rigidness to the fiber. The OH molecules that are not part of the long chains attract water molecules, thus making cotton so absorbent.

Cellulose and other storage polysaccharides are very abundant in the world, and it is a very replenishable resource.

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Blog 2: Malaria

Malaria could quite easily be considered the greatest killer of all humanity, the word itself means “bad air”. That’s quite a hefty accusation to make, but compared to other epidemic cases where the risk of a spreading infection is limited to an average of 4-10 people per the infected, malaria has a 100% chance of infecting anyone who comes in contact. 100%. Final destination… no escape… or is there? Malaria is an infection transmitted through the blood by the malaria parasite. The infection is spread through a mosquitoes bite, allowing the parasite access to a human’s blood stream. The many symptoms of malaria include: fevers, chills, muscle pains, and throbbing headaches. All are seen in the four different types of the disease, however the most lethal is falciparum malaria. Malaria has been recognized in countries such as China, India, and Egypt for thousands of years. It was also common in European countries such as England and the Netherlands which was known as “the ague”. Malaria has affected civilizations all over the world through out time. Alexander the Great, David Livingston, soldiers from the Civil War and even Napoleon’s troops all suffered under the grasp of this terrible disease. Even as late as 1914, over half a million people in the United States were stricken with malaria.

Quinine is an alkaloid from the bark from a Cinchona tree, indigenous to the Andes mountains. The bark was originally used in teas to cure a fever but was then found to be very effective in the battle against malaria. This discovery was so great and the demand for Cinchona bark so much that extinction was inevitable at the rate of harvest. It was synthesized into chloroquine, which lasted about 40 years before mosquitoes evolved and became resistant to it. So the search continued an this time at the source of the disease: the mosquitoes itself. Therefore, the insecticide DDT was created. DDT acts by interfering with a nerve control process unique to insects. The great part about DDT is its not toxic to humans or other animals and is very cheap to make and of course effective! The one consequence to the insecticide was the resulting ecological imbalance, causing a few bug problems.

Personally I think malaria has had a large impact in our world. I didn’t realize how wide spread the disease become over time. Without the many cures found over the years our world would be very different than how it is today. A disease as deadly as malaria would cause major issues without such discoveries. I also think malaria was a great choice by the authors in adding a chapter to the book centered around it. I learned a lot I didn’t know about it especially how much it really has effected so many different civilizations over time!

Lydia Miller

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            Of all of the molecules that I read about in the book Napoleon’s Buttons, ascorbic acid had one of the largest effects on human history. In the early 1500’s, over 90 percent of people that boarded a ship for a long sea journey would die. Most of these deaths were caused by a disease most commonly known as scurvy. Scurvy is an illness that is caused by a dificency in vitamin c. So how does ascorbic acid play such a huge role in history? It is pretty simple.


            Scurvy can be prevented rather easily. All one has to do to not aquire this deadly disease is to ingest enough foods that are high in vitamin C. Although it could happen anywhere, it is usually associated with ship voyages because they did not have the food preservation technology that we so today, so it would be illogical to bring citrus fruits on their journey.


            In the mid 1700s captain James Cook wised up to this scurvy epidemic. He carried lemon juice around with him, and made his entire crew have citrus fruits very often on their voyage. He could not preserve them for the whole voyage, so he made many stops along the way to pick up fresh fruit for his crew. This directly caused him to have zero tragedies on his ship that resulted from scurvy. It was amazing, these foods that where rather common, and very high in ascorbic acid where a very simple solution, yet it took t\us centuries to figure it out



            Vitamin C, or ascorbic acid, was the third vital nitrogen-containing compound ever to be discovered (even though it actually doesn’t contain nitrogen). Many animals do not need absorbic acid in their diet because they naturally produce it in their livers. Humans on the other hand do not have that blessing. Human beings must keep ascorbic acid, or Vitamin C in there regular diet, so that we can stay healthy and not come down with a bad case of scurvy. In fact, it is recomended that one consumes at least 60 milligrams of ascorbic acid everyday by many medical professionals. 


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Morphine, Nicotine, and Caffeine

Morphine, nicotine, and caffeine. These molecules, though seemingly different, have some things in common; they share the common history of being factors in the Opium Wars, are all alkaloids, and have each had a profound influence shaping modern society in aspects ranging from medicine to economics to recreation. The first molecule, morphine, comes from the opium poppy, Papaver somniferum. In previous generations, it was used as a method of enhancing creativity, as a medical herb, and as an intoxicant. Today it continues its use in the medical world as it frequently serves as a strong pain killer; yet it frequently becomes a subject of intense addiction because of its euphoric, sedative qualities (morphine gets its name from Morpheus, the Roman god of dreams). The basic chemistry behind this molecule follows a rule that is simply enough known as the “morphine rule”. The morphine rule states that “a benzene ring, quaternary carbon atom, a CH2-CH2 group, and a tertiary N atom” must be present and in sequence. The reason that morphine is able to successfully relieve pain is that it has the ability to mimic the action of endorphins (the molecules responsible for happiness and pleasure). Although morphine was, and is, effective as a narcotic, the addiction and side effects it was causing led the Bayer and Company laboratory to create a new and improved form of morphine (or so they thought). This new form was created by using the acylation reaction that had previously been used to create aspirin. The new derivative was called diacetylmorphine and was even stronger than morphine. While that served as a benefit since it could be used in smaller doses, it did not allow for the chemists to achieve their goal because diacetylmorphine, more commonly known as Heroin nowadays, became “one of the most powerfully addictive substances known”.

The second molecule, nicotine (the major alkaloid in tobacco), was brought to Europe by Christopher Columbus who discovered it when he landed in the “New World”. He saw it being used in a multitude of ways: it was inhaled or smoked into people’s nostrils, chewed or snuffed, and inhaled directly from burning masses of the Nicotiana plant (a more potent variety of modern-day tobacco that was said to cause hallucinations) during ceremonies. When Columbus brought nicotine to Europe, its inhabitants were quick to use and cultivate it, however not everyone was so readily accepting. Many criticized it for being dangerous and some places, such as Russia, even went as far as to outlaw it altogether. These may have created mere roadblocks, but did not halt the spread and influence of tobacco. The reason for its long-lasting admiration stems from the fact that it has a tendency to, more often than not, lead its users to develop addictions. Tobacco’s addictive quality can be understood by looking at its chemical makeup and biological influences. Nicotine acts as a stimulant as well as a depressant. After the stimulation wears off, it causes heart rate and blood circulation to slow down and oxygen to be delivered to the brain slower. To counteract these effects, users turn to tobacco again in order to stimulate their body’s activities. Nonetheless, nicotine has proven to be a substance of great influence. It has created copious addictions which have led to health issues, relationship complications, and, more positively, a source of economic prosperity for some.

The last molecule, caffeine, is probably the most common amongst the most people of all ages and social statures. It is found in coffee, tea, and chocolate, among other things. From cafes in Venice to the ever-so-famous Boston Tea Party, there is no doubt that caffeine has impacted lives of the past and present alike. Caffeine, like nicotine in a way, is a stimulant. Contrary to popular belief however, caffeine does not wake us up, it rather masks feelings of sleepiness. This is due to the fact that caffeine blocks the effect of adenosine, which is the chemical responsible for inducing sleep. Aside from its obvious pleasurable quirks, it also holds multiple medical purposes including asthma relief, migraine treatment, and a diuretic, to name a few. Its recreational uses has increased steadily with the emergence of chain coffee shops like Starbucks and individually packaged chocolate bars found everywhere from gas station convenience stores to five-star restaurants. There is no doubt that each of the alkaloids have had a profound influence of society and I think Le Couteur and Burreson do an adequate job of touching on those details. They mention the basic principles that connect them all together; their roles in the Opium Wars and the fact that they all can, and do, result in addiction. I think it’s important that for each of them they mentioned not only the negative but also the positive effects that have been produced because with every molecule in this book, as well as those mentioned, there is always a reaction of consequences that circle between good and bad but in the end always result in the same residing fact; that they shaped the world we know today.

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Ascorbic Acid, Claire Barnett

Ascorbic Acid, and Its Chemistry    

            Ascorbic acid is also known as Vitamin C. It was the third vitamin ever identified, hence the label “C”. Many mammals make Vitamin C in the liver, by a series of reactions. Out of all mammals, only primates, guinea pigs, and Indian fruit bats must consume the Vitamin C they need.

            In 1928, a Hungarian biochemist named Albert Szent-Györgyi became the first person to isolate a sample of pure Vitamin C. He removed it from the fatty part of the endocrine glands near a cow’s kidney. He did not initially recognize it as Vitamin C, and therefore he resolved to name the substance hexuronic acid. The hex prefix was because of the six Carbon atoms present in the molecule: its chemical formula was C6H8O6. Hexuronic acid was finally recognized as Vitamin C four years later. Szent-Györgyi’s next task was determine the structure of Vitamin C, so he used Hungarian paprika (high in ascorbic acid) to separate over a kilogram of pure Vitamin C crystals. Haworth, a professor of chemistry, successfully helped Szent-Györgyi find ascorbic acid’s structure. Both men received Nobel Prizes for their groundbreaking work.

            Its been more than seventy years, but scientists still don’t know everything about ascorbic acid and its interaction with our bodies. One important protein we have found that Vitamin C helps produce is collagen. Collagen is the most prevalent protein and one of the most important proteins in the animal kingdom. A lack of collagen can cause many of the initial symptoms of scurvy. Ascorbic acid has left its mark on history by being a cure for scurvy.


Ascorbic Acid’s Impact on History

             As a crucial human Vitamin, ascorbic acid has many positive effects and much potential. However, its biggest contribution to history has been as a cure for scurvy. It is a disease, caused by Vitamin C deficiency, which has been around since ancient times. Most often scurvy has appeared in sailors who take relatively long voyages without any Vitamin C-rich foods. These long journeys became more frequent and longer near the end of the fifteenth century and through the Age of Discovery, and as a result scurvy became a bigger issue. When sailors were going to be at sea for months, they packed foods that could be easily stored and preserved. There were no refrigerators on the ships, so often the crew would only bring things like bread, cheese, butter, vinegar, dried peas, beer, and rum. These items would eventually go bad, but not as quickly as the fruits and vegetables that happen to have Vitamin C. After as little as six weeks at sea, sailors would begin to show signs of scurvy. On De Gama’s trip around the southern tip of Africa in 1497, about 100 of his 160 crew members perished from scurvy. It was 1601 before English ships, a small fleet under the direction of Captain James Lancaster, would first stop mid-journey and collect oranges and lemons to prevent scurvy. Of the four ships in this group, only the one being run by Lancaster was free of scurvy.

            The benefits of ascorbic acid for scurvy victims was not clinically proven until 1747, when Scottish surgeon James Lind used twelve crew members aboard his ship for an experiment. However, another forty years passed before the British navy made lemon juice mandatory. This was because of the expense and inconvenience of keeping fresh fruits on board all long voyages. British Royal Navy Captain James Cook was the first to prevent each crew he ever manned from contracting scurvy. This success was due to high standards for hygiene, and, more importantly, diet. Cook had a very low mortality rate aboard his ships, even of diseases unrelated to scurvy and Vitamin C.

            The impact ascorbic acid had as a cure changed the Age of Discovery. What if we had known the cure sooner? Would the world have turned out differently due to ships that could travel farther and more often? What if we had never discovered that ascorbic acid is the cure? Would we have ever successfully colonized America if the supply ships didn’t always return? While history likes to cheat Vitamin C of its rightful place, it is ever so important to recognize ascorbic acid’s impact both on our past and our bodies today.


My Opinion and the Authors’ Argument

            It is my opinion that Vitamin C is just as important now as it ever was. Our bodies still need ascorbic acid to be healthy and happy. Though it may go unrecognized by most, ascorbic acid has a massive effect on our daily lives. If anything, Vitamin C’s influence has gone up as more people have been educated about its usefulness.

            The authors’ argument is difficult to dispute because it makes so much sense. Le Couteur and Burreson explain thoroughly yet concisely how ascorbic acid is valuable to all humans. They outline how it has obviously impacted history and how it continues to be of importance. If they could provide more evidence, it would top the cake, but as it is I believe that their explanation clearly and effectively shows how Vitamin C has changed history.

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Chapter 9-Dyes

Summary of the Molecule

If you sit down and think about how molecules were found and how they impact our society today where nobody knows that history, it’s quite sad. On molecule in that position is dyes. Dyes go back as far as 3000 B.C in Chinese literature but it was not the same back then as it is today. Roots, leaves, bark or berries were used for the earliest dyes and were valuable although they had problems like the color fading fast from vibrant colors to dull ones, difficulty obtaining them and they bleed out in every wash.

The Chemistry:

One color that was very common was blue and was sought after in the Indigofera tinctoria plant. Looking at the Indigofera tinctoria you would not know that you could use it for blue dye until after fermentation. It starts as Indican which colorless and through fermentation in the base it becomes Indoxol which is also colorless. Finally through oxidation in the air it turns into Indigo or otherwise known as indigotin (blue). Another valuable color was Tyrian purple which was worn only by kings or emperors. This color started from a compound secreted by the mollusk or snail and goes through oxidation in the air, adding another bromine atom creating Tyrian purple.

The History:

In Mythology it is said that Hercules is credited for the discovery of Tyrian purple. His dogs were said to be stained a deep purple color as they crunched on some shellfish. To manufacture this color the mollusks shells would be cracked open to extract a glad, which would then saturate a cloth and be allowed to dry so that the color would develop. A synthetic form of indigo was found by Johann Friedrich Wilhelm Adolf von Baeyer, a German chemist. When synthetic dyes started to be created in the 1700s it changed the world as we know it. It started with William Perkin when he was trying to synthesis quinine but none of his experiments worked. In one experiment it created a black substance that dissolved in ethanol to make a deep purple. He dropped a few pieces of silk into the mixture, laid it out to dry, tested the silk with light, and water and soap and realized that none of it had faded. Perkin opened a small factory and soon his purple was taking the world by storm. It also allowed others to come along and create synthetic dyes for other colors, which soon reached a number of about two thousand by the ninetieth century.

My Opinion and Author’s Argument:

I think that dyes have really impacted the modern world because it wouldn’t be that much fun to wear the same basic colors over and over again along with everyone else. Sports wouldn’t be the same because people would have a hard time discerning who was on whose team if they all wore the same color. I think the authors did a really good job explaining the history and chemistry about dyes in a way that people could understand and comprehend very easily. I also was intrigued the entire time about how far dyes go back in history and how much they have progressed since then. Production of dyes has had a huge impact to the industries of the world and trade. I wonder how much farther they could go.

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Oleic Acid

Olive oil was used for cosmetic purposes. Greeks and Romans rubbed the oil into their skin after bathing. Athletes use the oil to keep muscles supple. Women used the oil to keep their skin looking young and to keep their hair shiny. Olive oil was thought to help baldness. Greek physicians used olive oil to help with nausea. The leaves of the olive oil tree were used to reduce fevers. These leaves had salicylic acid which was used in the development of aspirin. Democritus believed a man with a diet of olive oil and honey can make him live to be a hundred years old.

Fats and oils are closely related in chemistry. There is only a small difference. Olive oil is a triglyceride. It has 18 carbons. Triglycerides goes through a process called saponification and produces glycerol and three molecules of soap.

Olive oil is valuable in the Mediterranean area. Olive oil is a major export from the Mediterranean.

I agree with the author in this chapter. I think olive oil has impacted our history. Even today olive oil is used every day for cooking, massaging oils, and fragrances.

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Cellulose, a polysaccharide composed of multiple molecules of monosaccharaides chemically bonded together, is a chapter built from the previous one of glucose.  Not only being 90% of cotton, cellulose also is a major component in the make-up of a cell wall; in fact, it provides a lot of structural support.  This structural support is what, like other plant fibers, makes it so prominent in cotton.  The cotton plant needs certain temperatures and moist, well-drained soil for it to successfully grow.  This is why during the Industrial Revolution it became so popular in places such as Britain.  In 1760, England was able to import 2.5 million pounds of raw cotton, and in later years processing up to 140 times more than that.  The impact of cotton was effective and largely beneficial.  The farming districts were rezoned, there were numerous trading centers throughout the region, and factories appeared everywhere.  The unfortunate truth…

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Ch. 8: Isoprene

It’s hard to imagine a world without Isoprene, more commonly known as rubber. From elastic in our clothes to tires on our cars, Isoprene has played, and continues to play, a vital role in our lives today. The molecular formula of Isoprene is C5H8. and natural rubber is a polymer of Isoprene. Natural rubber is formed when Isoprene molecules link together in an end-to end fashion. This polymerization of the Isoprene molecules results in the formation of double bonds called cis double bonds. This is only one of the two types of the bonds that exist in rubber, The second type of bond in rubber is called a trans structure. Trans bonds have a continuous carbon chain that crosses from one side of the bond to the other. 

The uses of rubber have proved to be important for a long time. Ever since the indian tribes of the amazon used rubber to make bouncy balls for family fun, rubber has made a huge impact on history.Christopher Columbus came back to the New World for the second time, he was urged to take some of this interesting substance back with him. This is when isoprene truly gained publicity. Charles Marie de La Condamine was the first to investigate this stipulating molecule and find if it had a real use for society other than making fun games for families. Now we know that it most definitely has played an important part in history along with the modern world. 

In my opinion, rubber plays a bigger role in society now than it did in the past. When rubber was first introduced it was simply used to make fun balls and to help towards reducing the tackiness of tar. Now we need it for the tires on our cars, erasers on our pencils, and elastic in our clothing. These are just a few of the uses we use rubber for today, so I believe it is inevitable that it plays a bigger role today compared to in the past. I think the authors argument is very valid and he backs it up well. We share the belief that rubber is more important in today’s world, but he provides key examples of how it was useful in the past as well. Overall, I agree with the author in that rubber has played a great role in history along with its immense to contribution the world today. 

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Ch.14 Oleic Acid

Summary & Chemistry:
Oleic acid is the main compound found in Olive oil, an oil pressed from the fruit of an Olive tree. Oleic acid is said to have been the reason for the affluence of Mediterranean societies. It was an extremely valued trade item and was centered around the cultures of these civilizations.
Oleic acid is also known as a triglyceride, a compound formed from a glycerol and three fatty acids. It is a mono saturated, eighteen carbon acid that makes up between 55- 85% of olive Oil. Olive oil as increases the amount of good lipoproteins that are produced. It also doesn’t spoil as quickly as other oils. This is due to the fact that olive oil’s proportion of polyunsaturated fatty acids is 10% lower than other oils. Furthermore, olive oil contains small amounts of polyphenols and vitamin E and K. These molecules are all antioxidants, which plays an important role in the natural preservation of of the olive oil.
Based on Ancient Greek mythology, Athena gave Romans an olive tree to symbolize peace, and be a provider of food and fuel. Athens was named in her honor, to show their appreciation to her. Olive Oil became a valued trade item. It was also was used in all aspects of life, from light to cosmetic purposes to medicine. It began to symbolize prosperity, victory, wisdom, strength, power, wealth, fertility and many other things. Oleic acid was also mixed with ashes to produce the first soap, allowed for some since of personal hygiene to be obtained.
Impact on the World:
I think that oleic acid definitely contributed to society in the past. However, it is still used to this day for various things, especially cooking. It still is a major export from the Mediterranean, and also is still a very prominent part of various cultures.
I think that the authors made some very good points. Olive Oil was a very valued commodity, and many societies centered around the uses of the oil. However, I think it was a stretch to say that all of western civilization’s ideologies were fostered from olive oil. However, the acid did bring wealth and affluence to the people, which allowed them to be educated.

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