It turned out too lengthy for one post, so here is the first half of the answers to the Renaissance people trivia quiz:
1. Which British composer invented a “sulphuretted hydrogen machine” in his home laboratory?
Sir Edward Elgar used to carry out chemistry experiments in the basement of his home, but later moved his home lab to a converted shed. On one occasion he caused a huge explosion in his lab, ruining part of the yard and shaking up the village, but minutes later he strolled into town pretending he had nothing to do with it. (This story is even funnier if you imagine it to the tune of “Pomp and Circumstance”)
In 1908 Elgar patented a device that could be used to produce hydrogen sulfide (H2S). He referred to it as a “Sulphuretted Hydrogen Machine”, but the manufacturer called it the “Elgar S.H. Apparatus”.
2. Which fictional character holds an honorary fellowship at the Royal Society of Chemistry?
The Royal Society of Chemistry awarded an honorary fellowship to Sherlock Holmes for being the first detective to use chemical experimentation in solving forensic mysteries. The term “posthumous” doesn’t apply to fictitious recipients, but he received this honour in 2002, over a century after he was first introduced as the main character of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories.
3. Which rock guitarist recently defended his PhD in astrophysics?
In 1969 Brian May was in the final stages of his PhD program in astrophysics at Imperial College London, when his gig as guitarist for Queen began to take up so much time that he abandoned his thesis. A few years ago he returned to astrophysics, and co-wrote the book “Bang! The complete history of the universe“. After that, he picked up his PhD project again, and finally defended his thesis in the summer of 2007.
4. What is “Galacidalacidesoxyribonucleicacid “?
Galacidalacidesoxyribonucleicacid is a 1963 painting by Salvador Dali, inspired by the double helix structure of DNA. The title combines the full name of DNA with that of Dali himself and his wife Gala. It wasn’t the first DNA-inspired artwork Dali did. He also painted a double helix in the 1958 work “Butterfly Landscape, the Great Masturbator in Surrealist Landscape with DNA” . Before the Watson-Crick paper came out in 1953, Dali had been influenced by Max Planck for a few years.
5. Which chemist described himself as a “Sunday composer”?
Alexander Borodin, although best known as a composer, was a full-time professional chemist who only composed in his spare time. He has received accolades in both science and music: He has been credited with discovering the aldol condensation, an important chemical reaction, and in 1953 he posthumously received a Tony Award for the musical Kismet, based on adaptations of his works. (As an extra trivial sidenote: In the 1860s Borodin did a few years of postdoctoral work in the lab of Emil Erlenmeyer, who invented the erlenmeyer flask during that same period, suggesting that Borodin was one of the first people in the world to use the famous conical flask!)