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Thursday, November 27, 2008

A Thanksgiving Morning Brain Teaser

Posted by on Thu, Nov 27, 2008 at 10:27 AM

Slog is going to be slow going today, of course. But here's something for the dedicated Sloggers to tear apart in comments...


This was on a chalkboard in the building where I spoke at Washington University earlier this week. I'm sure it means something, but I have no idea what. Enlighten me, Slog mob.


Comments (46) RSS

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That there is a bit of a physical chemistry lecture. This is looking like an introduction to molecular geometry (how the atoms orient themselves in a bond with others) and orbital theory. The second is basically just a way to mathematically explain the way the atoms' electrons behave in a bond.
Posted by olechka on November 27, 2008 at 10:36 AM · Report this
Generic structure of an amino acid?
Posted by suz on November 27, 2008 at 10:39 AM · Report this
@2- no, there's no amine group on that board.
@1- Physical chemistry usually refers to thermodynamics, and this doesn't seen to be thermodynamics.

Looks like coordination chemistry to me. Either that or some sort of hybrid course with organic chem and coordination chem.

I haven't taken coordination chem in 10 years so my knowledge of it is a bit fuzzy, but the x-y-z 3D-space is a bit of a giveaway.
Posted by kylamonkey on November 27, 2008 at 10:55 AM · Report this
Its a Script Kiddy (hey, 1990's!) trying to hack a chalkboard...pwnd!!!!1!11!!!one!!
Posted by Jeremy from Seattle on November 27, 2008 at 10:57 AM · Report this
Clearly, this is a John Madden chalkboard diagram of Chris Johnson's 58 yard touchdown run in the Detroit vs. Tennessee game.
Posted by COMTE on November 27, 2008 at 10:59 AM · Report this
The figure on the left is a simple hydrocarbon, 1,2-propadiene; the simplest allene. (

The notations around it are related to the molecule in three dimensions. If the left two hydrogens are wishboned off of the first carbon in the plane of the blackboard, then the right two hydrogens would be wishboned into and out of the plane of the blackboard.
Posted by Michael J Swassing on November 27, 2008 at 11:12 AM · Report this
@3 Since this is exactly what the board looked like in the first week of my physical chemistry class 4 years ago, I beg to differ.
Posted by olechka on November 27, 2008 at 11:12 AM · Report this
Posted by duncan on November 27, 2008 at 11:15 AM · Report this
It looks like hybrid orbital analysis.
Posted by wwlaw1 on November 27, 2008 at 11:22 AM · Report this
Time machine
Posted by Iain on November 27, 2008 at 11:23 AM · Report this
The meaning of life
Posted by teddy b on November 27, 2008 at 11:26 AM · Report this
Posted by Abby on November 27, 2008 at 11:28 AM · Report this
I believe it's a logic flowchart for a Charles Mudede Slog post.
Posted by Ryan on November 27, 2008 at 11:33 AM · Report this
How to make chocolate Chex. mmmmmm.
Posted by poorjavier on November 27, 2008 at 11:45 AM · Report this
It's some sort of hybrid orbital stuff, from the Phosphorous on the side. The only cryptic stuff seems to be the P-sub-x and P-sub-y under the hydrocarbon. Maybe I learned it in different notation.

@7 This isn't the first week of class anymore. They should have moved long beyond orbitals by this point in the term, and should be doing Michaelis-Menten kinetics type-stuff by now.

Posted by kylamonkey on November 27, 2008 at 12:01 PM · Report this
Um, you don't do Michaelis-Menten in physical chemistry. That's biochemistry.
Posted by Michaelis on November 27, 2008 at 12:05 PM · Report this
Good Will Hunting fantasy. You're not Matt Damon.

how you like dem apples, etc
Posted by alex on November 27, 2008 at 12:13 PM · Report this
Dan, there is another writer at the Stranger you should be asking. I believe you had him on your show once. He goes by the bold title of Dear Science: Seattle's only Scientist.
Posted by ask someone smart on November 27, 2008 at 12:17 PM · Report this
@15: Perhaps that notation would usually be pi_x and pi_y,. for overlapping orbitals? Seems like that would make sense in context.

The bit on the right appears to be sp2 hybridization, which is one of the various ways a chemical reaction can take place - trading one atom for another demands certain geometric restraints (the new atom has to enter from a direction that makes sense), and sp2 is one of those setups.

Thanksgiving: it's better with science.
Posted by Nicholas on November 27, 2008 at 12:19 PM · Report this
This is actually stuff you learn in general chemistry. You don't need to understand p-chem or coordination chem to decipher that.
Posted by Roni on November 27, 2008 at 12:26 PM · Report this

The three P orbitals are generally labeled x, y, and z. SP2 hybridization will only utilize two of the three (x and y).

And yeah, this is mid-quarter majors-level intro to general chemistry. :)
Posted by violet_dagrinder on November 27, 2008 at 12:31 PM · Report this
Yeah, those are just two example molecules to talk about the orbital paths of different electrons.

I was watching a documentary on Fermilab the other day and they through up a huge list of electron orbits on a chalkboard and I had some major flashbacks. Somewhere in my brain, all of that knowledge still exists (little-known fact, I was a chemistry major in college).
Posted by Julie in Chicago on November 27, 2008 at 1:03 PM · Report this
I go to WashU (great lecture by the way, loved it. Esp that bit against monogamism at the end.) I'm pretty sure there was a TA review before you and probably had to review something for a General Chemistry class.

It's too late in the semester for the material to be covered by organic chemistry or physical chemistry
Posted by John on November 27, 2008 at 1:09 PM · Report this
Obviously, this diagram is of the complex nature of unified Mormons and blacks, and their plan to pass Prop 8....

Posted by justin on November 27, 2008 at 2:06 PM · Report this
It is Organic chemistry (carbon molecules = organic). It is an explanation of the types of bonds formed between the atoms (how the electrons are shared) and what the bonds would look like in 3-D space.
Posted by University Science Student on November 27, 2008 at 2:27 PM · Report this
you should check with terry bergeson I'm sure she could figure that out, just make sure she has her glasses....
Posted by WASL on November 27, 2008 at 2:43 PM · Report this
lol! it is o-chem y'all. early o-chem reactions.
Posted by lsk3 on November 27, 2008 at 3:13 PM · Report this
Based on limited high school science, this is what I came up with: The x, y, and z represent how a molecule is configured in space due to the various attractions/repulsions of the atoms and their electrons. The left cluster shows C3H4 with the double lines between the C's representing a covalent bond with each other. Carbon has 4 of 8 valence electrons filled, and must fill the other 4 spaces by sharing. The carbon on the left fills its 8 electron spaces by sharing 2 with the carbon next to it and forming a bond with the 2 hydrogens which contribute 1 electron each. The covalent, shared bond is represented by the double line and the ionic bond with hydrogen is represented by 1 line. The right cluster shows the molecule PH5, which is highly unstable because P only needs 3 more electrons to be stable. The attraction between the Hydrogen molecules is greater than the attraction between the Hydrogen and the Phosphorous. I'm assuming the squiggly lines are meant to represent this instability. The + above the phosphorous is meant to contrast the - of the Hydrogen. The sp2 describes the different types of hybridization for carbon. Maybe someone that's a science major and not an English major like I am can explain the rest?
Posted by jens on November 27, 2008 at 4:02 PM · Report this
That's a chemistry lesson- one of my favorites, actually. It's a Lewis Structure, what chemical, I can't read.
Posted by Margie on November 27, 2008 at 4:41 PM · Report this
@28 - The squiggly lines represent a bond whose geometry has it going into the board. The triangular shapes between atoms (including the weird semicircular one on P) represents bonds going out of the board. The point of the left figure (allene) is to show that the leftmost hydrogens are in the plane of the board because of their pi bonding using just the p_y orbitals of C1 and C2. The rightmost H atoms go into and out of the board because their pi bonding using the p_x orbitals of C2 and C3. The result: The hydrogens are not in the same plane! I'm not totally sure what the point of the figure at the right is. Probably something indicating that the three hydrogens all in the xy plane are experiencing bonding with sp2 hydbridized orbitals of the central P. The lowermost H would be bonded with the p_z orbital. Throw in a d orbital and you can bond the H on top, but otherwise it can be considered to be attracted through charge. My guess: this is from a general chemistry course or organic. If this was from a more advanced course (Physical Organic Chemistry, Advanced Inorganic Chem, etc.), I would expect some more depth to the diagrams, i.e. the figure at left is D_2d symmetry.
Posted by Almost a MS Chem on November 27, 2008 at 5:02 PM · Report this
It's the chemical equation of "Ashton thinks you're an rude asshat". Sp2 is mindless support of stupid, pointless wars.
Posted by hooey on November 27, 2008 at 5:28 PM · Report this
I'm getting organic chemistry flashbacks. Make it stop, please.
Posted by Jaya on November 27, 2008 at 5:53 PM · Report this
I bet if you ask Barack Obama, he would know.
Posted by Scotto on November 27, 2008 at 6:47 PM · Report this
just a bunch of elitist stuff!
Posted by LT on November 27, 2008 at 7:06 PM · Report this
Barrak would ask Michelle ... and she WOULD know ....

And, she would make it clear that she knows ...

Change in the air
Posted by Adam on November 27, 2008 at 7:15 PM · Report this
36 Comment Pulled (OffTopic) Comment Policy
Isn't that the chemical equation for goat semen?
Posted by Yawn. on November 27, 2008 at 10:35 PM · Report this
What 30 said. The Py's and Px's and sp2's are not the same as the P in the middle of the H's though. That's a phosphorus atom. C's are carbon. H is hydrogen. The other Py-Px-sp2 all have to do with how the atoms are bonded with each other. The H with the minus sign floating above the phosphorus isn't really bonded like the other hydrogens. It's mostly just attracted (opposites attract) to the phosphorus atom, which is positive because all the hydrogens it's bound to are sucking it's negativity from it.

And the lines are bonds in the plane of the chalkboard. The squiggles go backward, the triangles come forward. It's all very 3D, because we are 3D, and these molecules make us up.

This only really matters if you're into chemistry or wondering why we all don't just fall apart into the basic units of the universe.
Posted by idaho on November 28, 2008 at 12:34 AM · Report this
The equation on the blackboard means that I have discovered the secret to life....itself!
Posted by Eric from Boulder on November 28, 2008 at 8:49 AM · Report this
@19 Dan will appreciate the fact that in my organic chemistry class (some 10 years ago) that reaction was called "Sp2: Backside Attack."
Posted by spoo on November 28, 2008 at 8:53 AM · Report this
It's a map of scary tyler moore's brain.

Posted by Cookie W. Monster on November 28, 2008 at 8:54 AM · Report this
Well, I see two penises on the left; they probably drew them for Dan.
Posted by geoffreyyyyy on November 29, 2008 at 8:38 AM · Report this
it looks like the reason I decided to study philosophy rather than chemistry
Posted by Nietzsche is Pietzsche on November 29, 2008 at 11:10 PM · Report this
Chemistry professor here, chiming in (very late) to say that given the point in the semester, this is certainly from a general chemistry lecture/recitation, NOT organic or physical. (Unless there's a special major at UDub that doesn't require the students to learn any chemistry beyond a freshman level)

As other commenters have pointed out, it's about hybrid bonding. On the left, the Px+Px shows that the second CC double bond is oriented up and down on the board, while the Py+Py shows the second double bond oriented out of the board - that's why the hydrogens are oriented the way they are (i.e. in a plane perpendicular to the orientation of the double bonds). The CH bonds in the allene are indeed sp2 hybridized, meaning a combination of a spherical s orbital and two oriented p (peanut-shaped) orbitals.

The sp2 on the diagram on the right shows that the 3 hydrogens in the plane coming out of the board are s hybridized with px and py, while the axial hydrogen forms a single bond with the vertical pz orbital. Add the hydride (H-) and you get a hypervalent compound where one bond is shared between two PH "bonds."

Summary: it's an attempt to explain to freshmen why molecules are shaped the way they are.
Posted by Helena on November 30, 2008 at 8:24 PM · Report this

Washington University is not called UDub. It's Wash U, Washington University, or Washington University in St. Louis if you want to be formal.
Posted by Richard Nixon's Ghost on December 1, 2008 at 9:17 AM · Report this
The professor is right about what s/he was saying except a few things. 1. This is an Organic problem. In general chemistry it is an introduction to chemistry for students who have not taken or not familiar with chemistry. ANY University chemistry department would be able to tell you that. If the students at the university that you teach are doing this at an entry level then more props to you all for selecting students that are extremely familiar with the basics in chemistry and do not have to start from scratch. That simply means that you have an outstanding chemistry students. 2. As a professor why would you be so negative toward other universities and not even take the time and appropriately type the name of another university
Posted by hint? on January 13, 2009 at 10:59 AM · Report this

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