Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Beaded Caffeine Molecule Pendants

As a trained chemist, I've long been a fan of Raven's silver molecule jewelry over at Made with Molecules. I like the idea so much that over the years I've made several attempts at creating beaded versions of these fascinating compounds, but all of my attempts up until now never got anywhere close to what I was aiming for. Gwen's recent work with 3D molecules beaded with CSRAW prompted me to try again. I started with the caffeine molecule.
For the uninitiated, it has a couple of notable features: first, it's flat, due to a property of molecular orbital theory of which I'll spare you the details. Next, each point or intersection on this skeletal structure represents a carbon atom, so it has a total of eight carbon, four nitrogen, and two oxygen atoms. It also has several hydrogen atoms, but since the principles of organic chemistry dictate where these hydrogen atoms go in a given skeletal structure, us chemists usually don't draw them in unless they're particularly out of the ordinary. So I'll be ignoring them in my attempts.

My previous attempts went quite awry because I kept trying to use a round bead for each atom, but I couldn't connect them together in this structure because several of the atoms need to connect to (i.e. bond with) two more atoms. To do this in beadwork, while keeping the whole piece flat, is very challenging without bezeling around the round bead. When I did this, the resulting beadwork would be both floppy and too big for jewelry.

So I asked myself, how can I bead a structure that's both small, flat, and self-supporting? Well, fortunately one such structure was sitting on my bead tray:
I realized that the key to keeping these snowflakes flat and self-supporting is multiple layers of beadwork and redundant threadpaths that help reinforce the structure. You'll find this principle at work in my Crystal Ball and Peanut Gallery beaded beads as well as in the work of several other bead artists. With this in mind, I put together a prototype that looked a lot like these snowflakes but without the SuperDuo and drop beads. It was still awkward, but it was definitely an improvement. My next attempt ditched the inner size 15° seed beads and stuck with mostly 11°s and some 8°s. Now I finally have something:
The atoms are color-coded: red luster for carbon, duracoat eggplant for nitrogen, and metallic bronze for oxygen. It measures about an inch and a half tall by two inches wide. The piece is somewhat flexible, but retains its shape if you fold it or press it flat.
To make sure that it worked with other beads, I also made one in coffee flavors. It threw me for a bit of a loop, because at first it wouldn't lay flat at all - it would curve upwards like a bowl. But after substituting several of the 11° seed beads on the back for size 15° beads, it settled down into a flat structure. Ah, the joys of differences in different colors and lots of beads...
In this version, the carbons are silver, the nitrogens are copper, and the oxygens are gold.
Most molecules in organic chemistry aren't flat, so this technique won't work for every compound. But there are several other interesting molecules that are both flat and of a similar size, and I'm excited to try this technique out on those molecules too! I think I will do so with the assistance of this beaded caffeine, alongside a beverage containing the real thing.


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