Sunday, May 1, 2016

X-Files' Freezing Catalyst: Digging Deeper

A random Friday afternoon link at Chemjobber's place clued me into Mitch's post, about a random NMR encountered in an old episode of '90s sci-fi classic The X-Files. By some odd coincidence I, too, was watching the episode sometime in early April, though I didn't get my notes and pictures together in time. Alas.

(Before we get too hung up on the episode's premise - that in 1996 computational chemists at MIT were performing in silico calculations on a "catalyst" intended for rapid body freezing - let's also remember that this episode shows us protagonist Lisa, a wunderkind doctor / chemist / radiologist, strutting out of her lab sans questioning after her patient spontaneously combusts!)

Now, to the structure of "Compound X" - I took a close-up of the computer terminal Lisa's working on, right around 17:00. Yes, folks, that's 1,2-dichloro-1,1,2,2-tetrahelio-ethane. Carbon-helium bonds can't exist, shout the skeptics? Well, 1993 marked production of the first He@C60 clathrate (story here), and friend of the blog Henry Rzepa had a theoretical paper in 2010 discussing charge-shift C-He bonding. True, isolable heliocarbons are still at large, for anyone seeking a high-risk, high-reward tenure project [ducks].

Molecular modeling has always looked best on Macs. There, I said it.
Fox Broadcasting Corp.

In his post, Mitch calls attention to the NMR, though I found the second analytical spectrum more entertaining, since it has an actual reference printed across the top. Turns out the producers did their homework for this one - this spectrum is an example of spectral linear combination to quantify small amounts of metabolites in blood plasma - good call!

Real science! In a sci-fi show! Who knew?
Fox Broadcasting Corp.

Back to the (flimsy) plot: certain details are over-the-top cheesy, like the "hand scanner" Jason uses to access his facility - it looks like it was built from an old dot-matrix calculator screen screwed into a subway post:

State-of-the-art security for the "MIT Biomedical Research Facility"
Alternate caption: I spent a weekend building this prop, and they used it for 4 seconds of footage.
Fox Broadcasting Corp.

The writers have also presaged the warm-liquid-goo-phase meme from Austin Powers, as the antidote to the freezing catalyst seems to be epinephrine, DMSO, electroshock...and complete-body immersion in a human-sized deep fryer:

Warm liquid goo phase - Complete!
Fox Broadcasting Corp.

Spoiler alert - the concluding scene, a conflagration in the "MIT computer mainframe," would likely have set the Schrock and Buchwald groups back quite a number of years.

Finally, I'll leave you with a silly futuristic quote: "The technology to engineer [Compound X] is still 5, 10 years away..." Sorry, Dr. Lisa - it's been 23 years since this episode aired, and to my knowledge, we're still not making per-heliated small molecules. Maybe check back in another three decades.

If you enjoyed this post, try some of the others in the Chemistry Movie Carnival from 2013.


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