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DBL%20Hendrix%20small.png College chemistry, 1983

Derek Lowe The 2002 Model

Dbl%20new%20portrait%20B%26W.png After 10 years of blogging. . .

Derek Lowe, an Arkansan by birth, got his BA from Hendrix College and his PhD in organic chemistry from Duke before spending time in Germany on a Humboldt Fellowship on his post-doc. He's worked for several major pharmaceutical companies since 1989 on drug discovery projects against schizophrenia, Alzheimer's, diabetes, osteoporosis and other diseases. To contact Derek email him directly: Twitter: Dereklowe

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« The Loss of the Middle (Drugs and the People Who Find Them) | Main | Drugs, Airplanes, and Radios »

December 9, 2011

Uranium, Eh?

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Posted by Derek

For those of you keeping count of how many elements you've used in your chemical careers, you now have another possibility. This paper suggests that uranyl anions are good for epoxide polymerization, so who knows, they may be good for something else as well. I don't anticipate adding this one to my life list, but there's at least a chance of it now. . .

Comments (29) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Life in the Drug Labs


1. barry on December 9, 2011 10:07 AM writes...

If you get tired of DessMartin and Swern and Chromium, you'll eventually find the paper reporting that secondary alcohols can be oxidized to ketones with UF6. I just can't imagine why that would be better.

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2. bad wolf on December 9, 2011 10:57 AM writes...

Pretty sure you can't get any U through Aldrich anymore. Are there any sources for non-radioactive actinides?

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3. David P on December 9, 2011 11:04 AM writes...

Are there time effects if you spin it up to 88 rpm?

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4. Jon on December 9, 2011 11:22 AM writes...

A non-radioactive actinide is a contradiction in terms. The best you could do would be the longest half-life possible in the highest abundance available.

We had some uranium compounds in grad school. Used them for actually testing chelators after proving them on the thorium model.

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5. milkshake on December 9, 2011 11:26 AM writes...

for azide-initiated polymerization of epoxides on large scale, it would be nice to employ uranyl-polyazide complex. I always wanted a reagent that is 1) explosive 2) highly toxic 3) radioactive 4) bright yellow with a greenish fluorescence. I think in this combination we have a winner

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6. RB Woodweird on December 9, 2011 11:36 AM writes...

One afternoon back in the '70s, Boston fire trucks, cop cars, and the bomb squad descended on Beacon Street just off Mass Ave and shut the whole place down for hours. Turned out one of the guys in an MIT frat there had scrounged an old bottle of a uranium salt out of the trash across the river and brought it home as a conversation piece. His mother showed up to visit while he was at class or something, took one look at the word uranium, and thought to herself BOMB!!! - because what the hell else is it good for?

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7. SP on December 9, 2011 11:50 AM writes...

We kept a piece of uranium ore (pitchblende) in our hot hood- good for checking if the Geiger counter is working.

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8. andrewD on December 9, 2011 11:54 AM writes...

If I remember correctly, there was an analytical use for Uranyl salts but I do not remember what.

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9. milkshake on December 9, 2011 12:04 PM writes...

@8: our biologists use uranyl acetate staining for something

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10. basudin on December 9, 2011 12:17 PM writes...

@8: I think it was used in inorganic analysis to precipitate sodium?

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11. lynn on December 9, 2011 12:27 PM writes...

@9 - We [biologists] used it [uranyl acetate]for shadowing in electron microscopy.

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12. Morten G on December 9, 2011 12:53 PM writes...

Heavy atom derivatization to solve phase problem. Don't know where it came from. I much prefer hard ions to soft ions for that kind of thing.

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13. Lu on December 9, 2011 1:21 PM writes...

I always wanted a reagent that is 1) explosive 2) highly toxic 3) radioactive 4) bright yellow with a greenish fluorescence.

And I thought my friend had it bad... He used to work with radioactive sulfur on some biohazard level 3 stuff. He couldn't autoclave the waste because this produced volatile sulfur compounds but he couldn't gave it away "as is" because it was infectious. Radiation and biohazard safety officers surely spent a lot of quality time together.

By the way, I always wondered what they put in Mountain Dew and Red Bull drinks. Their yellow-greenish color looks so radioactive....

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14. Honclbrif on December 9, 2011 2:24 PM writes...

@8, 10

Its either zinc or magnesium uranyl acetate that does indeed precipitate sodium cations. Actually did it in inorganic qual lab too.

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15. Demon Pit on December 9, 2011 3:21 PM writes...


I don't know about Aldrich, but you can buy metallic Uranium from United Nuclear. You can only get it in small amounts, and it is the metal, not a compound. It is nearly all U-238, so not that radioactive, and non-fissile. Uranyl acetate is a good stain, and still available in a few places, like 2spi. Pretty cheap at $153.00 for 25 grams. Made from DU, so again, not too radioactive.

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16. Paul on December 9, 2011 4:37 PM writes...

I understand the lab scale version of the Haber process for ammonia production used a uranium-based catalyst. Bosch's team doing the scale up found less expensive iron-based catalysts.

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17. gippgig on December 9, 2011 5:01 PM writes...

Small pieces of uranium-containing minerals were, and I assume still are, available in rock shops. I have some in my old rock collection. There is no significant radiation or toxicity hazard (the primary concern with U is heavy metal poisoning, not radiation) unless you swallow or inhale them (be careful with dust). It is interesting to note that uranium ore typically contains 1 to 10 atoms of plutonium (from stray neutron capture by U) for every trillion U atoms so you theoretically could do tracer chemistry with plutonium if you really wanted to. Also note that ionization smoke detectors contain a very small amount of americium - back when I was a kid I never dreamed I'd have americium in my house.

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18. bad wolf on December 9, 2011 5:44 PM writes...

Thanks Demon Pit! Yes, i assumed anything in a chem lab was DU. I have seen some old bottles of salts in the common lab stocks at my old school but the only chemical uses i saw were some for testing remediation chemistry and uranyl nitrates used as an oxidizing agent in old papers.

Kinda goes against the grain to see relatively nonhazardous things treated as if they are the end of the world, thanks to the "nuclear bogeyman."

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19. Ian Argent on December 10, 2011 9:36 AM writes...

For decidedly off-label uses of the americium in smoke detectors, Google atomic boy scout.

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20. metaphysician on December 10, 2011 11:56 AM writes...

Here's a challenge: conceive of a way to sell the marketing types on a drug containing uranium atoms. ;)

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21. Paul on December 10, 2011 12:13 PM writes...

Here's a challenge: conceive of a way to sell the marketing types on a drug containing uranium atoms. ;)

Hmm... would there be any advantage of 235U over boron for neutron capture therapy?

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22. gippgig on December 10, 2011 5:52 PM writes...

#21: Fission of U-235 etc. releases high energy neutrons which travel large distances and are very harmful. This would probably outweigh any advantages.

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23. Anne on December 11, 2011 6:51 PM writes...

This isn't exactly chemistry, but glassblowers who make art (in pracitce, pot paraphernalia) sometimes use uranium-doped glass because it fluoresces under black light. It's getting hard to get because nobody makes it any more.

If there were really a market for uranium in chemistry, places like Iraq and Afghanistan might have a new industry gathering and reselling spent American ordnance...

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24. Steve on December 12, 2011 3:31 AM writes...

I cant think of a metal that wont initiate some epoxide polymerization in the right form, alkali hydroxides, aluminium alkyls, cobolt porphyrins, grignards, etc the list is endless.

I would not have let that paper through if it came to me to referee

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25. Demon Pit on December 12, 2011 9:00 AM writes...


The Radioactive Boyscout is an amazing story. I have read the book. He is one of the main reasons that thorium is no longer used to make gas mantles for Coleman lanterns.

The kid was actually able to bombard thorium with neutrons to produce U-233, which is fissile. Unfortunately, the same reaction produces U-232, which is an intense gamma emmiter, and highly dangerous. Local cops reported him to the NRC and the EPA. They came and confiscated his "experiment" and hauled it off to a nuclear waste dump. A truly bizarre story.

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26. Harry on December 12, 2011 4:16 PM writes...

I recall reading a paper on a preparing and using a Thoria aerogel catalyst for preparing ketones from carboxylic acids (i.e,. 2 moles acetic acid yields one mole of acetone + water + CO2.

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27. proteus on December 17, 2011 2:41 AM writes...

Well, uranium atoms do act to stimulate estrogen receptors...

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28. Tex on January 7, 2012 2:00 PM writes...

As a graduate student who works exclusively with uranium and thorium, I can tell you from my own experience that these two metals and their complexes (in their depleted form) pose no more risk than any of the other organometallic complexes one may have or work with in a laboratory setting.....just don't eat it!! Also, all my work focuses on catalysis, and while the catalytic behavior of transition metal complexes is typically more active, it is also worth mentioning that actinide catalysis is still a relatively new and underdeveloped field - we study it because who knows what kind of crazy behavior and useful reactions may come of it! :)

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29. zaphraud on January 21, 2012 12:54 AM writes...

So uranium can be used in the product of crown ethers used in the further refinement of uranium?

Good to know.

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