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Benefits of coming top of the class


Passing with 'flaming' colours
Norman Greenwood Scientist
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My main memory of final year, apart from the hard work and the chemistry, was the final Honours practical exam. In those days we had practical examinations which consisted of, in organic chemistry, a preparation which we had to make a derivative of and a spot test, you had to identify a compound.

Well, the preparation went all right. The organic spot tests could be difficult, but fortunately for me, and a stroke of luck, because I was interested in inorganic chemistry, the first thing I did was a flame test. I did a flame test and, as you well know, if barium's in a compound you get a bright green persistent flame. It was barium. So I thought, 'Barium? Organic compound?' There was only one organic compound that I'd heard that had barium: barium hippurate, which is made from horse's urine, as the name suggests, and so I thought, 'Ah, maybe barium hippurate'. And so I did all the tests that would confirm this, got the answer done in half the time and said, 'It's barium hippurate', and Norm said, 'You bugger!' he said, 'we never thought of a flame test'.

Norman Greenwood (1925-2012) was born in Australia and graduated from Melbourne University before going to Cambridge. His wide-ranging research in inorganic and structural chemistry made major advances in the chemistry of boron hydrides and other main-group element compounds. He also pioneered the application of Mössbauer spectroscopy to problems in chemistry. He was a prolific writer and inspirational lecturer on chemical and educational themes, and held numerous visiting professorships throughout the world.

Listeners: Brian Johnson

Professor Brian FG Johnson FRS, FRSE, FRS Chem, FAcad Eu, FAS. Professor of Inorganic Chemistry University of Edinburgh 1991-1995, Professor of Inorganic Chemistry University of Cambridge 1995-2005, Master Fitzwilliam College Cambridge 1999-2005. Research interests include studies of transition metal carbonyls, organometallic chemistry, nano- particles and homogeneous catalysis. Professor Johnson is the author of over 1000 research articles and papers.

Tags: barium, barium hippurate, flame test

Duration: 1 minute, 39 seconds

Date story recorded: May 2011

Date story went live: 25 November 2011