Carbohydrates and recycling

Carbohydrates are the entirely composed of recycled materials – carbon and water.

Water we all know about – we know about rain and evaporation, the two factors principally responsible for the recycling of water in our environment.

Carbon is also recycled, but most people are not sure how.

Let’s consider the simple case of wood.  Wood ultimately is a carbohydrate.  When it is burned it releases CO2 into the atmosphere.  Later on the same CO2 molecule is converted back to wood by photosynthesis.

We could write the reaction this way:

carbon dioxide + water = trees + oxygen

in simplified chemical terms, it would look like this:

CO2 + H2O = CH2O + O2

There are of course other ways of returning carbon to the atmosphere.  When we breathe is, for example, we breathe in oxygen and we breathe out carbon dioxide.  The carbon ultimately comes from the carbohydrates in the food that we eat. So we breathe in oxygen, we breathe out carbon dioxide, it is converted to a banana which we then eat a year later, and the carbon is returned to our bodies.

So for plants to grow they need water and carbon dioxide.  Most people know about the first one, but few people realise how much plants love carbon dioxide – check out this video

More on carbohydrates later.


Homemade Rat Poison

Got rats? Then do I have the solution for you??!!

this topic came up as a result of a news article regarding so-called “super rats” on the east coast.

Apparently there are some rats that are developing resilience to the traditional poisons.  Some, apparently, have actually become addicted to them.

So, what do we do about it?

Well, it’s not an easy answer.  Rats are very smart creatures, and apparently possess an uncanny similarity to humans particularly with regard to the neural processes, which is where the term “lab rat” comes from.  The reason they are used so widely in neural research is not only because they are firm and, but because of this similarity.

Because they are so smart, they are very good at detecting traps and poisons, and will even smell the human scent left behind on a rat trap for example (so if you are going to set a rat trap, use gloves).

And when it comes to poisons, they behave as scavengers, only edit eating a bit at a time.  Now, as it happens, D chemicals contained in rat sack or “the big cheese”


The Chemistry of Carbohydrates

Let’s start with a quiz.

Based purely on the name, what do you reckon a carbohydrate is? Hint: carbohydrates are one of the few classes of chemical whose name tells you exactly what they are.

Well, if “carbo” stands for carbon, and of course “hydrate” refers to water, then we arrive at the conclusion that a carbohydrate is carbon + water.

In fact, you’d be right. Let’s write it as a chemical symbol and see how we go: CH2O

As it happens this is quite right – every carbohydrate can br educed to this simple formula. Let’s consider glucose – the simplest carbohydrate:

Its formula is C6H12O6 – if we divide everything by 6 we get back to CH2O

In fact carbohydrate molecules occur in blocks of 6 carbons (called “saccharide” units) – so glucose, a monosaccharide is C6H12O6, and sucrose, a disaccharide is C12H24O12

And they just get bigger, with units up into the hundreds or thousands. The mono and di-saccharides are simple carbohydrates and the higher numbers are complex carbohydrates.

As it happens, glucose (ie glycogen) is the fuel that our body runs on. Before anything that we eat can be used as fuel, it must first be converted to glucose. The ease with which this process happens is recognised as being a major factor in determining whether we put on weight or not and is linked with diabetes.

Not all carbohydrates are digestible, however. Like trees. Or cotton. But more on this later – and how they help stiffen your clothes when ironed.


Organic vs Inorganic Chemistry

I have no idea what organic food is supposed to be (and no one seems able to tell me) but I sure know what Organic Chemistry is.

All of chemistry is divided into two broad classes – Organic and Inorganic.

Now, here’s the weird thing – the periodic table has 103 elements at last count – organic chemistry is based on the chemistry of one of them – carbon – and inorganic chemistry is based on the chemistry of the other 102.

The reason for this is that carbon atoms have a unique ability to link to themselves, forming long chains, rings, lattices, helixes and even balls. It is for example the perfect tetrahedral structure of diamonds that gives it its incredible hardness, and the multiple ring linkages that gives carbon fibre its incredible lightness.

Organic chemistry, also known as carbon chemistry, is the chemistry of life.

Although our body certainly contains some inorganic elements – bones and stuff – we are mostly organic – hence the name: the chemistry of organs.

So it makes sense that any chemical that interacts with our body is also organic – carbohydrates, amino acids, proteins, oils and fats, and of course, pharmaceuticals. And, of course, clothes – whether they be natural or synthetic – are also organic, as are many of the stains that find their way onto them.

In future posts I’ll look a little deeper at some of these interactions, especially as they concern laundry detergents and the like.


Suds and Fizzing

We associate suds with cleaning. This also extends to fizzing.

When you add Harpic toilet cleaner to the water in your bowl, we think it it working because it is fizzing.

Actually, it fizzes because the bisulphate is reacting with the carbonates – it is fizz for fizzes sake – nothing to do with cleaning.

The same is true of the popular home recipe of adding bicarb to vinegar. All it is, is fizzzing for the sake of fizzing.

In fact the bicarb and vinegar are neutralising each other. Here’s the reaction:


The gas that’s coming off is carbon dioxide, and has no cleaing power whatever.

Hair shampoos have foaming agents added to them, which is necessary as the (amphoteric) surfactants that make up many hair shampoos are low foaming, and may create the impression of poor cleaning if they didn’t foam.

Yet another case of “perception is reality” in the marketing of household products.