Monday, 11 May 2015

Cacodyl Cyanide Chemistry Catastrophe - Professor Bunsen's Aphasia, Black Tongue, Blind Eye & Nearly Fatal Poisoning.

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(CH3)2As—As(CH3)2

Cacodyl is nasty stuff. It's an obnoxiously smelling liquid with truly dangerous properties. In 1837 Robert Bunsen (of burner fame, although perhaps his other work is of more note) embarked on experimental work with cacodyl.  In his own words - 


"the smell of this body produces instantaneous tingling of the hands and feet, and even giddiness and insensibility...It is remarkable that when one is exposed to the smell of these compounds the tongue becomes covered with a black coating, even when no further evil effects are noticeable" 

Bunsen didn't piss-about with small-scale preparations. His first production of cacodyl involved kilo quantities of reactants. This hazardous occupation culminated in his preparation of cacodyl cyanide (CH3)2AsCN, which nearly killed him. This from Popular Science, Aug 1881.


His scientific achievements include the discoveries of caesium and rubidium. Invention of the Bunsen burner and carbon-zinc electrochemical cell. Methods of gas analysis and the development of spectrochemical analysis. However, with the discovery of the cacodyl radical, Bunsen could well have chemically damaged his brain, this from Popular Science, Dec 1899 -


Further info on Bunsen & organometallics here


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Unrelated to this post, below is an example of
eclectic science esoterica 


Technetium 99 generator, developed at Brookhaven National Laboratory, circa 1958





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