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The Sciences

Stupid Science Word of the Month: Bi-George

Pressed for time, a chemist goes for a name he knows.

By Jocelyn RiceMay 27, 2008 5:00 AM


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Bi-George, n. Two bonded cagelike molecules composed of 9 carbon atoms and 10 hydrogen atoms each.

When undergraduate James Carnahan synthesized a new molecule in his chemistry lab at Columbia University 42 years ago, he hurried to his adviser, Thomas Katz, to share the good news. The molecule was the result of a new kind of chemical reaction using rhodium—the metallic element that gives expensive jewelry its shine. Katz didn’t have the time or patience just then to work out the molecule’s official name (which turned out to be tetracyclo­[^2,4.0^3,7]non-8-ene), so he suggested “George.” When Katz heated George in the presence of rhodium, two Georges stuck together, forming a new molecule that he named—you guessed it—Bi-George.

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