The New Globally Harmonised System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals Pictograms Explained

Like many others around the world, my laboratory is finalising our compliance with the new globally harmonised system of classifying and labelling chemicals (GHS). Part of this process has involved relabelling many of our chemicals with the new GHS hazard pictograms. Some of these pictograms are different from those we have used in the past, and the hazard is not always obvious from the picture alone so it is necessary to commit to memory what all of the pictograms represent. Hence I have provided this handy guide to interpreting the new set of pictograms.



I hope this guide has been helpful to you.

Q. Vegemite Chocolate, How Does it Smell?

A. It can’t, it doesn’t have a nose.


When I die and the internet writes my epitaph, it will say “here lies Renée, she did some chemistry on the smell of Vegemite”.

As such, I felt that when Cadbury released Vegemite Dairy Milk chocolate to the market, it was my solemn duty to once again do some chemistry on the smell of Vegemite. I decided to repeat the aroma analysis experiment on the Vegemite filling from the chocolate and compare with the results from the original Vegemite analysis. The product description states that the filling is caramel mixed with Vegemite so I thought it would be interesting to see if the aroma compounds that were prominent in the Vegemite analysis are present in the chocolate filling, and if any new compounds might be identified from the caramel component.


I used the same extraction and analysis procedure as the previous experiment, so I could directly compare the chromatograms. The results of the two analyses are below, with the original Vegemite in red below and the Vegemite chocolate filling in blue above.




It’s clear to see that there are some key compounds present in both the Vegemite and Vegemite chocolate samples. The three major peaks are common to both samples. These are the ethyl esters of octanoic and decanoic acids, and trans ethyl-4-decenoate. Many of the other smaller peaks are also present in both Vegemites. However, not unexpectedly, there are a couple of compounds present in the Vegemite chocolate filling which are not found in the original Vegemite sample. Notably, tetramethyl pyrazine with the odour descriptors nutty, musty, vanilla, cocoa and maltol which is sweet, caramellic, cotton candy, fruity, bready, and phenyl acetaldehyde with honey, floral rose, chocolate aromas.

Some of the interesting peaks from the original Vegemite analysis (sulfurol, niacinamide, caryophyllene etc.) were absent in the chocolate sample, although I am leaning towards attributing this to dilution effects from mixing with the caramel and an unoptimised analytical method rather than them being somehow ‘removed’ from the product.

To conclude, although I am a fan of both Vegemite and chocolate, I had no qualms in sacrificing a few squares from the block in the name of science. Would not buy again, 1 star.



Silly Science Songs 3rd Edition

One Angry Dwarf Prof and 200 Solemn Faces Students by Ben Folds Five – Aug 7

September ’75 my H-index was not that high
My dean said by Christmas I would have
A research group all of my own
All these little minds to blow
I still had to teach 1st year class
Now I’m big and important
One angry prof and 200 solemn students are you
If you realy want to see me
Check in Nature and Angewandte
Look who’s telling who what to do



Always by Bon Jovi – Aug 15

this compound’s not crystallising
it just looks like tar or mud
it’s nothing but some atoms
this imposter cooked up
it’s been refluxing for eternity
now I’m drowning in black gunk
you see I’ve always been analytical
but with synthesis, I give up
see I can’t make a molecule
like the way it’s meant to be
well I guess I’m not that good a chemist
but baby that’s just me



LDNAB by Lily Allen – Aug 25

sitting at my bench in the lab all day
my experiments are in crisis
it doesn’t get me down and I feel OK
cos the skills that I’m gaining are priceless
everything seems to look as it should
but I wonder what goes on out of doors
laughter and some chatter but it doesn’t really matter
I’ll be stuck here for several hours more
you might laugh, you might frown
walking around the lab town
sun is in the sky oh why oh why would I want to be anywhere else


Every Day Should be a Holiday Science Day by Dandy Warhols – Sep 16

Super cool, science rules OK
Got no dough cos no grants came my way
Anytime, call me up if you
Got a job, in a permanent way
Any time
Baby let’s go
Every day
Should be a science day



When You’re Gone by Bryan Adams and Mel C – Sep 28
(for @upulie and burger ring aromas)

I’ve been wandering around the lab all night
Got experiments to do
And I’m trying to concentrate but all I can think of is food
Yeah the phone don’t ring everyone’s gone home
I don’t mind being all alone
But I’m working with this DTT reagent that reminds me of food



U Can’t Touch This by MC Hammer – Sep 29

Stop. Retention time
Go with the flow in helium if you can’t separate this
Then you probably are dead
So inject sample be aware
Bust through the column, run your compounds through the air
This is it for a paper
Plot out this and you’re gonna see vapour
Move slide your rump
Just for a minute integrate the bumps
Bump bump bump yeah



Welcome to the (Jargon) Jungle by Guns N Roses – Oct 2

Welcome to the jargon jungle
We like to abbreviate
We’ve got everything you want
If you only knew the names
We are the people that can find
Whatever you may need
If you only knew the name for it
We call it something weird



Something About the Way You Look Tonight Crystallise by Elton John – Oct 7

There was a time
I tried everything and nothing would happen
For many weeks
I tried all of the solvents under the sun
I need to tell you
How I scratched and scraped the bottom of the flask
But in frustration
I just chucked you in a cupboard in the dark
And I can’t explain
But it’s something about the way you crystallise
Takes my breath away
It’s that feeling I get about acicular types
And I can’t describe
But it’s something about the way you crystallise
Takes my breath away
The way you crystallise



Don’t Ask Me Why by Billy Joel – Oct 20

All the electrons in your molecule
Leave their orbitals when you blink
Every reaction you do every day
Every product down the sink
Don’t wait for answers
Just take your chances
Don’t ask me why

More Silly Science Songs

It’s time for another edition (edition 1 here) of “songs posted on twitter that I have reappropriated with stupid science lyrics“. Please enjoy/roll eyes/headdesk as appropriate. I’ve included YouTube links to the original songs this time, for those who don’t share my refined and highly sophisticated tastes in music.


Wuthering Heights Synchrotron Nights by Kate Bush – March 28

Out on the circley, light source floors
You diffract the x-ray beam
You had to work nights
I had jealousy
Too late, too sciencey

How could you leave me
When I wanted to
Watch BSG with you
I hated you, I loved you too

Bad dreams in the night
They told me it was just a really bright light
Leave me behind on synchrotron, synchrotron, synchrotron nights

Heathcliff, it’s me Cathy
Please come home
I’m so bored, let me watch that TV show


Just the Way You Are Be a Chromatographer by Billy Joel – March 25

Don’t go swagin’
To try and seal me
I’ve never sprung a leak before
I don’t imagine
You’ll lose your helium
I’d might not seal you anymore

I would not leak you
In times of trouble
We never could have flowed this far
I’ll take the noble gas, I’ll take the bad air
So you can be a chromatographer

Where the Streets Peaks Have No Name by U2 – May 13

I want to run I want to find
I want to identify the molecules that show up as ions
I want to reach out and touch the flame
Where the peaks have no name
I want to feel, the oven vent on my face
I see my sample disappear without a trace
I want to take shelter from the unknowns, shame
Where the peaks have no name


Nightswimming Titrating by REM – May 27

Deserves a quiet lab

The standard solution in the fumehood
Made up years ago
Turned around backwards cos the label’s gone

Every titre
Reveals the indicator changes
The endpoint’s so much clearer

I forgot my labcoat at the benches edge
The burette’s low on titrand

You May Be Right by Billy Joel – June 10

Friday night I smashed your flasky
Saturday I said I’m sorry
Sunday came and trashed glassware again
It was just a reaction
Wasn’t hurting anyone
And we all worked through the weekend so no change


I’ve been stranded in the no yield zone
I walked the mass spec room alone
Even solved the NMR shifts in the rain
And you told me not to characterise
But I made the white crystalline
So you said that only proves that I’m insane


You may be right
I may be crazy
But it just may be the molecule I’m looking for
Turn out the lights
Turn on the UV
You may be wrong for all I know
But you may be right


Young and Beautiful Topical by Lana Del Rey – June 25

Will you still cite me
When I’m no longer young and topical
Will you still cite me
When I am nothing but historical
I know you will


Heart Nanoparticle of Gold by Neil Young – July 1

I’ve been to Stanford
I’ve been to Harvard
I’ve crossed the ocean for a nanoparticle of gold

It’s citrate stabilised
It’s such a small size
Keeps me searching for a nanoparticle of gold
And I’m getting old


Running on Cooking Up Ice by Billy Joel – July 10

There’s a lot of tension in my home
The cancer’s building up inside of me
I’ve got all the symptoms & the side effects
Of imminent mortality

It’s not hard to understand that
My blue crystals are superior
In a world of pregnant wife and teenage son
My motives are ulterior

So I decided to start cooking up ice
Paying the price too long
Killing and scheming cos I’m cooking up ice
Where did my life go wrong



Flavour Tripping with Miraculin – Renée Reports

Earlier today I hosted a quite interesting afternoon tea with some friends at work. I’d purchased some miraculin tablets, and a few assorted foodthings to try ‘flavour tripping’. Miraculin is a protein found in the fruit of the Synsepalum dulcificum plant, native to West Africa. When a miraculin tablet is dissolved in the mouth, the protein binds to your taste buds and changes your perception of flavours. The remarkable effect of this is that sour or bitter tastes are changed to taste sweet.

2014-04-07 17.16.45

The tablets themselves are pretty nothing, with a flavour I would describe as ‘cardboard fruit tingles’. You have to be sure to roll the tablet very well around your tongue, and coat it all over or you’ll find there are parts where your tastebuds can still detect sour flavours. The foods we tried this afternoon included;

  • Lemons and limes: in a word, delicious. Especially the limes. It’s a delight to sink your teeth into a wedge of lime and have the taste of sweet citrus fill your mouth, no puckering or squinting required!
  • Salt and vinegar chips: unusual, the acidity of the vinegar is completely muted and there is a dull sweetness present, but the chips still tasted overall like a savoury snack. Ordinarily I find salt and vinegar chips revolting, but I could’ve easily eaten the packet on miraculin.
  • Natural yoghurt: as expected, the sour flavour of natural yoghurt was modified so it tastes just like a sweetened yoghurt. Very pleasant.
  • Sharp cheddar: the sharpness of the vintage cheddar was muted, so that the cheese tasted like a colby or other mild firm cheese.
  • Goats cheese: very close in flavour to cream cheese icing commonly found on carrot cake. Easily could’ve eaten the whole lot.
  • Vegemite: pretty gross, vegemitey but somehow sickly as well. Do not recommend.
  • Tabasco: the hottest sweet chilli sauce I’ve ever tried.
  • Vinegar: I read somewhere that on miraculin vinegar would taste like apple juice… HELL NO. Look, it’s drinkable but it’s still vinegar really. Drinkable vinegar. Yum…
  • Guinness: I also read that Guinness was going to taste like chocolate. It did not. It’s interesting that the bitterness of the beer is completely gone, but the chocolate I was hoping for was sorely lacking and it was not really very nice at all.

2014-04-07 17.15.45

After trying these, a few other items I’d be interested in sampling;

  • Balsamic vinegar
  • Wasabi
  • Mustard
  • Rocket, endive or other bitter leaf vegetable

If you are curious about trying Miraculin I’d definitely recommend giving it a go. At $2-3 bucks a pop, the tablets aren’t cheap, but it’s worth it because it’s a lot of fun and really messes with your perception of some foods. We found the effects of the Miraculin tablets lasted about 30-40 minutes. I still have a couple of tablets left, so if you have any suggestions for other things that could be fun to try, hit me up.

A Boundless Dorkery of Chemistry Songs

Reading back my tweets in shame
Whoa oh oh ahhh oh
And the world’s gonna know I’m lame
Whoa oh oh ahhh oh.



My twitter followers might have caught one or two of my tweets where I take a pop song and change the words to make it it chemistry themed. If this is not definitive proof of my boundless dorkery, I don’t know what is. I’m going to start collecting them together in blog posts before twitter eats them into oblivion (because some have already been lost and the world is certainly poorer for it). I find inspiration for these songs all around me, in fact it’s quite possible that I might be a creative genius. Now if only I could be this brilliant when it came to my science…


Monsters Ghost Peaks by Something for Kate: March 21, 2014

I was sitting in the lab of chromatography
Waiting to discover something about some fuel
I couldn’t find my compounds
And I couldn’t separate them
It was like trying to think in reverse
And I don’t want to rinse a non-crosslinked phase
And I don’t want to inject acid or base
But these ghost peaks follow me around
Hunting me down
And I can’t bake them out
Bake them out


Scenes from an Italian Restaurant Chemistry Laboratory by Billy Joel: March 18, 2014

Alkyl nitrite, chlorophenol red
Perhaps a solvent wash bottle instead
We’ll get a fumehood near the sink
In our old familiar place
You and I face to face
Ruthenium red, sodium sulphite
It all depends on your reaction tonight
I’ll meet you any time you please
In our chem laboratory


Blame Myself by Sky Ferrera: March 14, 2014

How could you know what it feels like
For analytes to coelute
You think I’d learn to dilute
How could you know what it feels like
When your analysis is moot
Chromatographic pursuit
I just want you to realise
I blame I blame I blame myself
For this separation


Elevation Separation by U2: March 12, 2014

A mix
What I can see is nix
Very complex matrix
Maybe you can separate my kind
Explain these controls
Can’t isolate the whole
The goal


The (Tungsten) Wire by Haim: March 6, 2014

You know I’m bad at mass spec detection
It’s the hardest thing for me to do
And it’s said it’s the most important part
The analytes go through
And I’d give it all away
Just so I could say that
I know I know I know I know
That you can detect them another way

You know there’s no rhyme or reason
To the way you fragment for me
I didn’t change the ionisation source
Not intentionally
I know it’s hard for me to say it
But I can’t bear to stay and
I just know I know I know I know
That I can’t detect them another way


Royals Chemists by Lorde: March 1, 2014

I’ve never seen an atom in the flesh
I cut my teeth on retort rings in laboratories
And I’m not proud of synthesis
In the round bottom flask
No percent yield envy

But everybody’s like solvents, test tubes, shimming in the spec room
Chromate stains, lab coats, spills in the weighing room
We don’t care, we’re winning Nobel Prizes in our dreams

But everybody’s like crystals, rotavaps, diamonds on IR machines
Ring strain, science, analysis of gold beads
We don’t care, we aren’t caught up in a boat or chair

And we’ll never be chemists (chemists)
It don’t run in our blood
Those electrons ain’t for us
We crave a different kind of buzz


Riptide by Vance Joy: February 18, 2014

I was scared of Schlenk lines and the Shark
I was scared of arrow curls and starting new reactions
Oh all my friends do synthesis


Buy Me a Pony by Spiderbait: February 12, 2014

Don’t you wanna be
Doing chromatography
Or mass spectrometry
But you’ll never make it if you can’t separate it


One More Time by Britney Spears: January 15, 2014

Radiation is killing me (and I)
I must confess I still believe (still believe)
When I found radium I lost my mind
Give me a prize
Nobel me baby one more time


Roar Pour by Katy Perry:  January 4, 2014

I’ve got the eye of a chemist, menace,
Dancing through the premise
Cos I am a scientist
And you’re gonna watch me pour


Any sciencey singers out there who want to join me in some kind of Bernie Taupin/Elton John-esque type relationship? We could be amaze.

New Sister Journal to Nature Chemistry

Nature Publishing Group today announced that it was launching a new journal in 2014 to keep up with current trends in chemical sciences. The journal, to be known as Nature Buzzchem, will be launched later this month. I’ve obtained an advance copy of the cover and table of contents.


Nature Buzzchem

February 2014, Volume 1, Issue 1 pp1-124













Feel like having your teeny tiny mind blown? Start reading. This won’t take long.

O. Verhiped Akademik



8 weird nitrogen atoms that will make you question everything

This is what a silicon microparticle anode can do for your high energy lithium ion battery

Roses are red, violets are blue, growing nanoparticles, non-stoichiometrically in situ

You won’t believe this interstellar hydroxyl reaction with methanol

10 reasons sp3 defects brighten carbon nanotube photoluminescence

Is it just me or does this thiamine-utilising ribozyme decarboxylate pyruvate-like substrates?

14 reasons you wish you were a computational nanobiozeptophotochemist

The 6 almost-chemistry sexy subdisciplines people hate the most

The anti-Markovnikov reductive functionalization reaction you’ve always wanted

Bad day in the lab? 5 high yield, facile, sterocontrolled, metal-catalysed cycloadditions you really should try

The most powerful cloud-based simulation of ligand modulation activation pathways you will see today

How a little diversity-oriented synthesis can help change macrocyclic scaffolds forever

I’m starting to think about PET imaging and broadly applicable [18F]trifluoromethylation of aryl idodides makes a lot of sense

9 surprising facts you didn’t know about β-Carbon activation through N-heterocyclic carbene organocatalysis




*This is a joke. Apologies to NPG, Nature Chemistry and the authors of the original papers.

The CERN Song


For Upulie, (and all of the team, friends and followers of Real Scientists).
To the tune of Tina Arena’s Burn.




Do you wanna be a particle, and collide?
Do you wanna be a neutrino, faster than light?
Do you wanna be a physicist, and win the Nobel?
Do you wanna meson to muon?
Do you wanna plasma, quark and gluon?
Or whoosh around the 27 k tunnel?



Be anyone you want to be
Bring to life your fantasies
But I want something in return
I want you to CERN, CERN for me baby
Like a candle in my night
CERN for me
CERN for me



Are you gonna be a proton, and get smashed?
Are you gonna be a boson, and give mass?
Or go to Scotland and touch Higgs’ face?
Are you gonna be an strange, charm flavour quark ?
Are you gonna tell us, what is matter dark?
Or a test
Of supersymmetry


Ill lay down on your standard model
Offer up my safety goggles
But in return
I want you to CERN
CERN for me baby
Like a candle in my night
Oh CERN, CERN for me, CERN for me
I want you to CERN baby ooh


Laugh for me
Cry for me
Pray for me
Lie for me
Live for me
Die for me
I want you to CERN
CERN for me baby
Like a candle in my night
Oh CERN, CERN for me, CERN for me



#ChemMovieCarnival – On teenage angst and the importance of a great science teacher

Here we go with another of the bloggy doggy’s great Chemistry-themed carnivals, and this time it’s the #ChemMovieCarnival.

Although it’s not really chemistry-related, I’ve chosen a scene from the 2001 Richard Kelly cult classic, Donnie Darko. This is possibly my most favourite movie ever, definitely top three, and I’ll even admit to enjoying the director’s cut more than the original film.

The really short (~20 s) scene in question involves the main character Donnie (Jake Gyllenhaal) walking home from school with the new kid Gretchen (Jena Malone) and they have a conversation about an assignment Gretchen has been set by the science teacher Professor Monnitoff (Noah Wyle).

Gretchen Ross: Look, I should go. For physics, Monnitoff is having me write this essay. Greatest invention ever to benefit mankind.

Donnie Darko: It’s Monnitoff. But that’s easy. Antiseptics. Like the whole sanitation thing. Joseph Lister, 1895. Before antiseptics, there was no sanitation, especially in medicine.

Gretchen Ross: You mean soap?

Leaving aside any factual errors in Donnie’s statement, you can see from the screencap below that Gretchen has this completely incredulous look on her face, awash with teenage attitude.  I think part of the reason I was so drawn to this movie initially is that the interactions between the characters are so authentic and believable against the backdrop of some out-and-out batshit craziness.


I really like this scene, and the question it poses, because although I’d largely prefer to forget the bulk of my high school years, I was lucky enough to have had one or two passionate teachers like Monnitoff (although nowhere NEAR as good looking) who would set assignments or class discussions around these kind of ‘big questions’ topics. For me, it was these types of lessons, early introductions to philosophy of science, critical thinking and the scientific method which really propelled me towards science as a career.

The importance of a strong grounding in the sciences in school is something I feel can’t be overestimated. The science teacher in this movie is an ex-academic, and the students find him approachable and knowledgeable. He is happy to take Donnie’s questions after class, and also lends him a book which plays a critical part in the plot of the movie. In another scene with Donnie and Prof Monitoff, we see the portrayal of the unfortunate position of public school science teachers in the US. Donnie is a bright and curious young man looking for guidance from a teacher, but on the question of God and religion, Monitoff is forced to end the discussion for fear of being fired. It’s unlikely that Kelly’s intention was to demonstrate the importance of an enthusiastic science teach on young minds, rather it is a by-product of his careful character development in this film.


Another ‘big question’, and one of the main themes of the film is time travel. But I’ve already not talked about chemistry in this post, so I’m certainly not going to not talk about physics as well!

Chocolate Chip Cookies – Science Style

Because we can just never get enough chemophobia, See Arr Oh from the Just Like Cooking blog has alerted the chemblogosphere to some more ridiculous scaremongering about the chemicals in our food. He has rightfully ridiculed the advertising and you should go there and read it (and about what the pseudonymous dog has for breakfast himself!).

However, the post made remember something I did ages ago (maybe 6-7 years?) which I had completely forgot about and I will share with you below:


The biscuits made from this recipe actually won me a baking competition at the place I worked at the time. Although of course they were tremendously delicious, I attribute my win to the fact that I displayed this recipe along with the cookies, and the judges all had chemistry degrees. A lesson in knowing your audience 🙂

***Update 13-01-2013

Reader @markemer has pointed out that vanilla essence (reagent #7) is not pure vanillin, and usually is a solution containing a number of other compounds, including water, ethanol, and methyl carbinol. Thanks Mark, corrections always welcome.