The science of Breaking Bad: Say My Name

Breaking Bad | Season 5 | Episode 7 | “Say My Name”

Walt and Mike part ways, forever.

Walt and Mike part ways, forever.

I’m going to stop watching Breaking Bad when it’s broadcast, as I can rarely get to sleep easily afterwards. This week’s showdown between Walt and Mike was only going to end one way when we saw the gun in Mike’s go-bag, and it’s doubtful that Skyler, Jesse and Hank are going to let things sit the way they are.

This episode is reviewed at Emilia Jordan and the A.V. Club, and you can read more about it at AMC and IMDb.

Random thoughts

Antoine Lavoisier
was a French chemist, who made wide contributions to the field. He was executed during the Revolution due to his associations with tax collectors, and is probably interred somewhere in the Catacombs.

You can just about hear Walt saying, “the aluminum helps speed up the recovery of…” through his mask. This is unusual, as the aluminium is there to form an amalgam with mercury and act as a reducing agent. It’s possible that we didn’t get enough context and Walt is talking about why the aluminium is ground into fine pieces.

“The CO2 freezes the liquid, crystallising it.” It looks like Walt is trying to rapidly cool or freeze-dry his methamphetamine solution, which would prevent the formation of large water ice crystals. It’s a bit of an unusual way to do it (especially if his product is 99.1 % pure already), but it might be suitable for a small portable lab set-up.

Elements in the credits

Breaking Bromine
Bad Barium
Created Chromium
Bryan Cranston Bromine
AnNa Gunn Sodium
AAron Paul Argon
DeaN Norris Nitrogen
Betsy Brandt Beryllium
RJ MitTe Tellurium
BOb Odenkirk Oxygen
JonAthan Banks Astatine
JesSe Plemons Selenium
Steven MicHael Quezada Hydrogen
Louis FerReira Rhenium
Skip MAcdonald Actinium
Mark FreeboRn Radon
MiChael Slovis Carbon
Dave Porter Polonium
Sharon Bialy Sulfur
Sherry Thomas Thorium
BrYan Cranston Yttrium
Diane MerCer Cerium
Moira Walley-Beckett Molybdenum
Thomas SchnAuz Gold
George Mastras Germanium
PeTer Gould Tellurium
Sam Catlin Calcium
Melissa Bernstein Beryllium
MicHelle MacLaren Helium
Mark JOhnson Oxygen
StewArt A. Lyons Argon
THomas Schnauz Holmium
Vince Gilligan Vanadium

7 Responses to The science of Breaking Bad: Say My Name

  1. G.C says:

    Are you really sure they use mercury? I thought the aluminium was to liberate hydrogen as i can see something like a pressure vessel, and in the other season they put tons of sodium hydroxide.

    What he says is “the aluminum helps speed up the recovery of hydrogen choride”. Weird.

    The CO2 i thought was in fact HCl to salt the base.

    • John says:

      As far as I’ve been able to work out, Walt’s “blue” cook uses an aluminium-mercury amalgam to perform a reductive amination of an imine intermediate (the product of the phenyl-2-propanone and methylamine reaction) to the desired amine (methamphetamine). Of course, I may be wrong about this – it’s entirely possible to perform the reduction step with hydrogen gas and a catalyst.

      However, if Walt mentioned HCl (and I will defer to your superior speakers) then he is probably using the Hg-Al method in a variation on the Clemmensen reduction. Hydrogen should not be evolved if this is the case, but they may be using hydrogen and aluminium to regenerate HCl and maintain the strongly acidic conditions needed for the reaction to work.

    • Ellis D. Tripp says:

      I have been assuming they use an Al/Hg amalgam reduction, as that would explain why they had mercuric oxide on hand to use in their makeshift battery in “4 Days Out”.

      We have never actually seen the mercury compound being used in the cook, AFAIK. But dumping in the strips of Al foil has been shown many times.

  2. […] Weak Interactions – The Science of Breaking Bad […]

  3. mr.big says:

    Would someone care to elaborate more on the CO2 set up. Releasing the pressure vessels containing the CO2 gas will obviously drop the temperature of the sealed compartment of trays where he is crystalising the product. But my questions are:

    1) is the liquid in those trays in base form, or with a meth.hcl
    2) is he using the CO2 gas to form methamphetamine carbonate?, a much healthier form of smoking the product as no hcl(aq) will form in the mucous of the respitory tract.
    3) Is the liquid in those trays been acidified and thus he is just freeze drying the solution to rid the water?

    • Ellis D. Tripp says:

      If you look at Gales “lab notes”, he shows the CO2 being used as part of the phenylacetone synthesis, maybe as a carrier gas to sweep the phenylacetic acid through the tube furnace?

  4. John says:

    1. I don’t think we’ve ever heard (in the show, at least – I’ll get round to watching the extras sometime this decade) exactly what Walt is shipping. Given that Walt is producing crystals though, we can assume that it’s pure methamphetamine (the HCl salt is a powder, and the freebase form is an oil).

    2. Unlikely. This salt would probably also be a powder (or small crystals) rather than the large crystals that we’ve seen. Walt also wouldn’t be able to react trays of methamphetamine-containing liquid like that either – the CO2 would have to be bubbled through a stirred solution or a CO32- ion introduced via another salt.

    3. This is my supposition, but I’m open to other suggestions.

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