Monday, April 4, 2011

Science Mondays--- C is for Chiral Molecules, from Pasteur to Sacks

Chiral comes from the Greek word for hand, χειρ (cheir). Thus humans and chemicals can be left-handed and right-handed.

1848: Louis Pasteur is playing with polarized lights and crystals. Why do some that seem to be identical rotate the light in different directions? Chiral molecules have been discovered. They are as identical as I am to my reflection in a mirror.

1954: Vladimir Prelog begins to delve into the chirality of organic molecules including antibiotics. But Scientists struggle in creating a specific molecule in the chirality they desire. Just because they are mirror images does not mean they do the same thing in our body.

1968: William Knowles finds a catalyst. The problem of creating the biologically active chirality has been solved. His catalyst helps to bind the atoms to the right sides (which could be right or left) of a molecule. The production L-DOPA comes into being.

1969: Dr. Oliver Sacks does his Awakenings.

Oliver Sacks
photo by Wa-J

Chiral comes from the Greek word for hand, χειρ (cheir). Thus humans and chemicals can be left-handed and right-handed.


  1. I didn't know about these. Very illuminating.
    For a more low-brow experience, visit my blog!

  2. Yay, science post! Chirality is such a fascinating thing. It can be the difference between a drug against nausea and malformed babies (true story).

  3. Chemistry!!!! This was always the most fascinating part of organic chemistry for me. I need to watch that TED talk one of these days.

  4. Very interesting and informative post Wayne.

  5. I was happy to hear that the film "Awakenings" is mostly based on fact. I appreciate your post for teaching me new things, and for showing the progression and connections of discovery.

  6. Toby--- and yet you made me think anyway when I went to your blog

    Claudia--- Thanks, so much about chirality I could have added but I try to keep my posts short. Thanks for adding more info.

    Kathryn--- was hoping you would see this!

    Valerie--- you describe science perfectly

    Ruth--- it was fun to make a chronology and was surprised by the connections myself. I chose the word then leaped


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