Breaking Bad | Season 4 | Episode 4 | “Bullet Points”
Walt and Skyler conspire to tell their family that they suddenly have millions of dollars (inadvertently leading Walt to discover just how close Hank is to cracking the Heisenberg case), while Jesse finds himself on the wrong side of the ever-cautious Gus. In this post, I’ll be talking about the goodies in Gale’s laboratory notebook.
Hank correctly identifies rhodonite as a manganese inosilicate, while Walt rattles off manganese‘s oxidation states (-3 to +7, with +2 being the most common). The oxidation state indicates the degree of oxidation (number of electrons lost or gained) of an atom, and is determined by applying a set of rules to do with atoms’ electron-attracting properties.
Gale’s lab notes
Gale keeps the cleanest, neatest notebook ever (Hank only has a photocopy, but the original has clearly never been near a working laboratory). Perhaps it’s a hand-copied compendium of his plans and schemes.
Walt Whitman‘s When I heard the Learn’d Astronomer – required reading for most scientists – appears several times in the notebook (at least, in the parts that we are able to see). Gale clearly had a minor obsession with it.
The Chinese characters that we can see look like 滿場飛 (mǎn chǎng fēi), which Google tells me translates as flying over the court (or if you fly less in Japanese). I have no idea as to the accuracy of those translations, nor as to the significance of the characters. Update August 10th: Commenter David points out that this is the name of the song playing when Gale was shot by Jesse. Great catch!
The reaction diagrams we (briefly) see look to be part of a compilation of final steps in a cooking process – Gale was probably working backwards to see what materials could potentially be used to make methamphetamine. First up, we have what appears to be a decarbonylation:
I think that there might be something missing from this reaction – decarbonylations typically involve complex ion catalysts, and it’s usually better to avoid breaking a carbon-carbon bond. Reaction with an acid such as HCl would probably produce an alcohol; with the addition of zinc amalgam (Zn-Hg), we would have a Clemmensen reduction. Next, we have Gale’s version of the red, white and blue process:
The Birch reduction is an extremely fun experiment to carry out, as it involves dissolving a metal such as sodium or lithium in liquid ammonia (to give an intense blue colour, caused by free electrons). Its deployment seems a little excessive given that Gale is only trying to remove an oxygen atom, but scientists should be thorough and the chemicals required are not highly restricted. Finally, we have a chlorination followed by some kind of catalytic reduction:
Thionyl chloride (SOCl2) and phosphoryl chloride (POCl3) are often used to halogenate alcohols to give haloalkanes, which are highly reactive. I’m not sure what the PdAl2 is for, as removing the chlorine should be a relatively simple step and such an expensive catalyst would not be necessary.
Elements in the credits
|StewArt A. Lyons||Argon|