Almighty Sense of Humor 11/20/22

Thoughts with Richard Bleil

God has a very strong sense of irony.  Case in point; through what I view is divine inspiration (you don’t have to agree) I finally solved the hydrogen bonding problem.  I don’t want to (and won’t) get into too many details, but hydrogen bonding is a non-bonding intermolecular force.  A non-bonding intermolecular force refers to the attractive forces between atoms and molecules other than chemical bonds.  These are the forces that hold molecules together to create condensed states like liquids and solids.  Something has to make these molecules attract one another, otherwise there would only be gases, but because molecules in a liquid are free to move around (much like a couple at a party who are free to go and visit with their friends independently of one another), these forces are not chemical bonds.  Most are simple electrostatic attractions, partially negative parts of one molecule being attractive to the partially positive parts of another.  Just like magnetic attraction.  We call most of these forces dipole-dipole (a dipole is created when opposite permanent partial charges are separated by a distance such as a partial positive atom and a partial positive atom separated by a chemical bond). 

The hydrogen bond is an enigma.  The strongest of all non-bonding intermolecular forces, it is the least well understood, which is interesting since without the hydrogen bond none of us would be here to discuss the nature of it.  See, it’s because of the strength of a hydrogen bond that it can hold two strands of DNA together to form a double helix, and weak enough to be cleaved when the DNA is ready to replicate in the creation of new cells. 

The hydrogen bond is one of the most fundamental concepts in chemistry, and yet there are still chemists that don’t believe it’s a force in its own right.  Some (but very few) argue that the hydrogen bond is nothing more than another type of dipole-dipole force.  When I was taught how the hydrogen bond forms in high school chemistry, I quickly realized that there was a problem with the explanation the teacher gave.  See, the only elements on the periodic chart that experimentally display the hydrogen bond are nitrogen, oxygen and fluorine.  But the odd thing is that chlorine has approximately equivalent properties, but does not show hydrogen bonding, so something has to be wrong. 

I was in high school in the late seventies, so figure, oh, thirty or forty years later I’m still struggling with this concept.  This very fundamental and critically important concept at that.  I’ve had a few hypotheses as to what the answer might be, but the hydrogen bond always was the opposite of my hypotheses.  For example, one involves the ability to distort electron clouds as the hydrogen bond forms, but this hypothesis implies that chlorine should have hydrogen bonds, while nitrogen, oxygen and fluorine do not.  Many years and many hypotheses have failed me, and never have I found a publication that explained the hydrogen bond enigma.

When I was a young budding chemist sitting in freshman chemistry class in college, I always wanted to make some kind of discovery in chemistry that was so fundamental that it would be in first year chemistry books.  I didn’t even really care if my name as attached to it, I just really wanted to make an advance to very fundamental chemistry.  So much chemical research is on such high-end systems that the only people who would find it enlightening would be other chemists studying the same thing.  Don’t get me wrong; this is also very important research, but I wanted to discover something very fundamental.  Certainly, if I could discover the process of hydrogen bonding, this would fall into that category.  Although further analysis and testing has to be done, what I figured out yesterday would be that advancement, and chances are, nobody will ever know.

Well, I wanted to learn something fundamental to chemistry, and didn’t necessarily want credit, and if my work is never published in a scientific journal, well, God knows, I’ll never get credit for it.  See, I’m kind of retired now (certainly retired from academia).  This means that I don’t have access to research journals.  The American Chemical Society has priced these academic journals so out of reach that only high budget research institutions can afford them, but I am not affiliated with such an institution.  Publication in these journals always requires an up-to-date bibliography of research in the field.  Without such a bibliography, no journal would even consider publishing work such as this regardless of how fundamental it is, and without access to journals, this bibliography is impossible.  My friend refers to this as a form of “elitism”, and she’s right.  Here’s a finding that is very important, but because I don’t have a name or access to journals, it will never get published, and will never be known.  It seems (and you don’t have to agree) as though God held me off from this advance until after my retirement, and only gave me the spark of enlightenment when it will never be taken seriously or seen.  Good one, God.

Honestly, though, I do so love Her sense of humor!

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