musings on music and life

October 31, 2012

Backtracking through the literature – fluorine in nature?

Filed under: Chemistry — Tags: — sankirnam @ 5:57 pm

I have been very busy lately, which is why the posts have been so sparse. What with election fever (CLEARLY ROMNEY IS THE ONLY MAN WHO CAN SAVE AMERIKA!!!) and my co-PI’s (Prof George Olah) 85th birthday earlier this month, things have been very busy around here.

This paper from Angewandte Chemie has been on the top of my pile for a while. It discusses the occurence of free, elemental fluorine in nature. Fluorine, as I have discussed before, is probably the most chemically reactive element on the periodic table. Compounds of fluorine with other atoms are usually exceedingly stable, and fluorine, when compared with other elements, usually forms the strongest single bonds with other elements. Thus, it was thought for a long time that fluorine could not exist in its free form in nature due to its reactivity. Indeed, almost all of the fluorine found in nature exists in fluorspar (calcium fluoride).

What intrigues me about this paper is two things. One, this paper demonstrates the existence of fluorine in nature before the existence of free chlorine or bromine! If one were to make a case for potentially the most reactive element existing free in nature, it would make sense to have some precedent (such as the existence of Cl2 or Br2 in nature). To the best of my knowledge, chlorine or bromine have not been observed in their elemental forms in nature.

I am not calling the capabilities, knowledge, or experimental methods of the authors into question – this is simply a critical view of the publication. The second thing that intrigues me about the paper is a statement made by the authors: “We compared the smell of crushed “antozonite” directly with authentic F2 gas and unambiguously confirmed that the odor of the mineral corresponds to F2. The smell of F2 is decisively different from that of O3, Cl2, HOF, HF, OF2, and XeF2, which were also smelled in direct comparison”. Now, I consider myself a reasonably courageous and brave man, but these guys definitely take the cake for having balls of steel. I don’t think I can be convinced to directly smell any of the above compounds (and definitely not HF or F2), and I don’t think my respiratory tract would be the same afterwards. Anyway, take from this what you will.

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