Chemistry

Test your chemistry savvy in the Reaxys #ChemSearch Challenge

Weekly quiz features fun questions to test your problem-solving skills – and the speed and smarts of your search tool

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Update: See the weekly winners below — and their answers.


A friend calls you in a panic and asks you how to de-skunk her dog. How quickly would you be able to impress her with your chemistry search prowess and put the dog out of its misery?

Could you answer this question — quickly? (The dog is waiting.)

So that you don’t let your friend and her pooch down, here’s the answer:

You want to oxidize the thiols (the stuff that stinks in skunk musk) without hurting the dog. A quick search on Reaxys reveals the solution: a reaction using hydrogen peroxide, water, and a catalyst that works at a dog-friendly 40 °C in about 10 minutes.

This is the kind of question that will be part of the Reaxys ChemSearch Challenge (#ChemSearch), which starts today.

Reaxys ChemSearch Challenge

The challenge relates to a serious problem chemists are facing: there's too much information. So much so that finding the answers they’re looking for becomes a challenge in itself, as they spend an ever increasing amount of time chasing the data they need.

The contest will challenge chemists to answer fun but difficult questions to see how fast they can find the information they need to solve actual problems – like finding out the truth behind the poisoning of Abraham Lincoln’s mother. Chemists can use their preferred chemistry database or search engine, and the response times and score accuracy will be recorded for the contest.

Dileep Sharma“We’re going to monitor how long people spend answering the questions,” said Dileep Sharma, Senior Product Marketing Manager for Reaxys, adding that they will be comparing the results of different search methods. “Ultimately, we’re confident that that people will find the answers more quickly when they use Reaxys.”

Reaxys® enables chemists to search for answers to their research challenges by providing structure, property and reaction data, experimental procedures and literature. Its filters are designed to help users find answers quickly.

There will be a quiz each week for 12 weeks. During that time, there will be leaderboards and prizes for the people who answer the most questions correctly and in the fastest time. Prizes include $200 USD and “your name in lights,” with mentions on the Challenge website and here on Elsevier Connect.

Weekly Winners

These winners logged the fastest response time to the weekly #ChemSearch Challenge.

Week 4

Alexander TwistAlexander Twist, PhD Student, Applied Chemistry, Department of Applied Sciences, Faculty of Health and Life Sciences, Northumbria University, UK. His charity of choice to receive the winning prize is Partners in Health.

His answer 

What Makes Your Lipstick So Red, Carmen? Carminic acid (or carmine) is the name of the red dye in lipstick and many other consumer goods, including food. It comes from cochineal beetles, a type of scale insect. These beetles are so small that it took the development of the microscope to settle the debate over the origin of this dye outside of the new world.

Exposure to artificial food colorings has been related to scourges such as cancer and hyperactivity in children. Carminic acid is a coloring agent with no known safety issues (aside from allergies in susceptible individuals) that blends well with other ingredients and has a long shelf life. Humans have been exposed to carminic acid for centuries. This natural coloring appears in consumer goods including food, medications, cosmetics, and even Campari.1 Objections arise from those who are allergic, and vegans who avoid eating compounds sourced from anything with a face—even if it takes a microscope to see that face. 

Recently, carminic acid has shown some interesting therapeutic properties, particularly its ability to interfere with mat formation in Streptococcus mutans bacteria on hydroxyapatite.2 So, keep that in mind when you see a tooth smeared with lipstick.  It could be a clever strategy for preventing disease. 


Week 3

Geert Noordzij, PhDDr. Geert Noordzij, PhD Candidate at Maastricht University, the Netherlands.

His answer 

People Appreciate Art in Their Own Way. The Balloon Dog series by Jeff Koons challenges your perception of mass. The promotional literature states that the technology to give these large steel sculptures the look of a shiny, colored balloon was developed by Koons and his team specifically to produce his balloon animal series. This is a fine example of science being driven by art and vice versa. 

Anodized and dyed aluminum is a popular surface treatment, making commercially available colored aluminum commonplace. While the porous nature of Al2O3 coatings make it possible to infuse them with organic pigments, this ceramic is not extremely durable. This is evidenced by the way that the color wears off of the corners of any well-used MagLite Flashlight or MP3 player, both of which are made from solid aluminum. This kind of surface on stainless steel would make it vulnerable to fingerprints and vigorous cleaning. 

The Koons team is not revealing how they made their colored mirror coating on stainless steel, but this article points to a way they might have done it.1 Another clue is provided by the extra vigilance of museum staff, otherwise known as the fingerprint police.

  1. Wang, Yunlong, Zhaohua Jaing, Xinrong Liu, and Zhongping Yao. 2009.  “Influence of Treating Frequency on Microstructure and Properties of Al2O3 Coating on 304 Stainless Steel by Cathodic Plasma Electrolytic Deposition.” Applied Surface Science 255:8836-8840.

Week 2

Dr. Michael Townsend, Data Content Editor, Royal Society of Chemistry. Michael has chosen the World Wildlife Fund as his charity of choice to receive his winning prize.

His answer

The R&D Rabbit Hole? That triple bond in the product was brought to you by a class of reactions known as carbonylated Sonogashira Cross Couplings. Cagey placement of alkynes, as in this example, can serve as a gateway to making the stereo centers so prevalent in plant-derived compounds, and doing so in good yield. This comes in handy when you want to make a molecule like papaverine. This is an antispasmodic approved to treat spasms of the gastrointestinal tract. It is present in poppy extract (laudanum[4] or tincture of poppy), along with many other biologically active compounds. But taking full tincture of poppy (old-school laudanum) for your stomach cramps will get you more than you bargained for—specifically side effects like: - analgesia with a side of addiction (from morphine and codeine) - nausea and vomiting (from noscapine a powerful emetic which has traditionally been removed from laudanum for obvious reasons) - unconsciousness and death (from etorphine used in elephant tranquilizer darts—a drug so powerful that it is banned for use in humans; if you are a Siberian tiger, one side effect of etorphine might be having your incisors measured by Vladimir Putin.


Week 1

No winner.


Reaxys #ChemSearch animation


Elsevier Connect Contributor

Thibault Géoui, PhDDr. Thibault Géoui contributed to the first structural genomics program on the Epstein-Barr Virus (EBV). He worked as a global product manager at QIAGEN where he launched over 30 laboratory products, improving the productivity of protein-scientists in Academia, and in the Pharma/Biotech industry.

Thibault joined Elsevier in 2011. As Director of Marketing for Chemistry & Biomedical Solutions, he manages a portfolio of online products for researchers in the academic and corporate segments.

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