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About Dr Mark Foreman

I am a chemist trained in both organic and inorganic chemistry who works in Sweden at Chalmers University of Technology. I live with my wife, step-daughter, two cats, a tropical fish tank and a west highland white terrier dog in Sweden. Sadly my female westie passed away on midsummer’s day. Here I am in the lab.

Mark in the basement lab

If you have any questions about anything I blog about then please ask me by adding a comment onto a blog entry, if you do not know which blog entry relates best to your question then just pick one randomly. I will try to answer all questions to the best of my ability.* 

I have docent status (My docent is in organic chemistry), my chemical interests include both nuclear and recycling topics. I am involved in the chemistry of serious nuclear accidents, at Chalmers we have a research lab named SNARL (Serious Nuclear Accident Research Lab) in which students do research on the behaviour of radioactive iodine and radioactive ruthenium under the conditions of a serious nuclear power plant accident. Questions such as “Will the paint on the walls of the plant make the accident worse or less bad” are being considered in this lab.

I also have an interest in the chemistry of nuclear waste, it so happens that intermediate level waste stores have a special problem. If cellulose (cotton, wood or paper) is exposed to calcium hydroxide (from cement) then (2S,4S)-2,4,5-Trihydroxy-2-(hydroxymethyl)pentanoic acid (α-Isosaccharinic acid) will form. The α-isosaccharinic acid has the potential to alter the way that some of the metals in a nuclear waste store will behave. I also have an interest in the design and creation of new chemistry for advanced nuclear reprocessing.

I have an interest in nonradioactive / nonnuclear chemistry as well, I am supervising and assisting with the supervision of students working on the recycling of plastics, solar cell production scrap (CuInSe2), nickel and other substances.

I hope to bring you through my blog interesting short articles about chemistry, university life and anything else which take my fancy. I am glad that you have taken the time to read what I have wrote. Please do feel free to comment and remark on the blogs, but I would rather that your comments are of a “family friendly” nature as I have no wish to read insulting, lewd, crude or rude things. I also doubt if my other readers want crude or rude things to read.

If you find something interesting in society which you think might relate to chemistry then please do bring it to my attention using a comment on this page. I hold the view that for many things in chemistry the best teaching examples relate to everyday life.

I would like to remind my readers that the production or modification of fireworks / explosives in the home (or other non-licensed facility) is both strictly against the law and very dangerous. To put it another way, the penalty for fooling with fireworks or explosives can be either death or dismemberment where the offender has no right of appeal.

I also may mention some chemistry experiments, please note that while I may issue the occasional warning about the experiment I can not accept any responsibility for your physical, mental or social wellbeing. Nor can I accept any responsibility for any damage to property or the environment which you might cause. To give an example, if I mention an experiment and you do it at home. If during the experiment you cut your hand, drive yourself insane, feel a sense of self disgust, incur the wrath of your parents, a school teacher, police officer / (insert some other authority figure), offend your wife/husband/mum/dad or burn a hole in the rug then please do not complain to me. You choose to try the experiment.

Public safety announcement is over, now I will get back to me.

I got my BSc + ARCS at Imperial College in London. I did my PhD in Prof J. Derek Woollins’s group at Loughborough, I post doced in Scotland (Aberdeen), the Czech Republic (Brno), London (Imperial College) and at the University of Reading. Just after getting back from Brno I became a chartered chemist (CChem).

I do both research and teaching work at Chalmers, one of the things I teach is organic chemistry to the chem eng students. Please do not confuse me with a man called Mark Morrison Foreman, I do not do research with rats

PS. For the spivs, bad lads and criminally minded out there I have a special message. Please save me the effort of having to refuse to tell the world about some bits of chemistry which have clear misuse potential, I will not consider or answer some questions in this blog for what I call social responsibility. Examples of topics which I never give detailed advice on include the synthesis of street drugs, fireworks, explosives and some poisons. While I might write about some topics like this there are always some questions which I view as being off limits.

For example do not bother asking me questions like

“How can I make a bomb ?”

“How can I make vodka in my shed”

“How can I make crack cocaine in my kitchen ?”


18 Responses

  1. I enjoyed very much finding your video on the reaction of methyl iodide with triphenylphosphine and subsequently your web site.

    I have proposed the use of methyl iodide as a preplant soil fumigant because it is photo reactive and would not affect the ozone layer as does methly bromide.

    Your blog is fun for an old chemist. Thanks. JIM

    emeritus professor
    University of California Riverside

    • Dear Jim,

      I am glad to hear that a fellow chemist finds what I have to say is interesting. I am trying to use the blog site as a new channel of communication with my students and also as a way to try to teach and educate the general public.

      I will try to keep up the good work.

      Best wishes, Mark

      • I hold the view that while breathing in methyl iodide is not good for you, it is not impossible to work with methyl iodide. I am quite happy to work with it and I allow (more like encourage) my graduate students to work with it.

        The PAN web site is wrong it is scaremongering, methyl iodide is not “one of the most toxic chemicals on earth”. Methyl iodide is a natural product produced by some marine life forms, it is a part of the natural iodine cycle.

        Rather than a blanket attitude of “chemicals are bad”, I would suggest that people who wish to improve worker safety and/or reduce exposure of the general public to harmful substances should make the effort to improve working methods and materials to reduce human exposure.

        An example from yeasteryear (early days of the radium paint industry) was that French workers tended to be able to work more safely with radium paint becuase they used a thing like a rubber stamp to apply it to objects while in the US workers used brushs (which they licked to get a sharp point) which resulted in internal contamination with radium. While I do not want to be known as a man who defends radium paint, this is a good example of how a modification of a work system can reduce the harm it does to the workers.

      • Please do not try to cheerlead at my blog by just posting a URL to something else.

        If you feel that the use of methyl iodide in Strawberry fields is wrong then that is your point of view, but while you are entitled to your point of view please if you want to express your displease at methyl iodide as a soil fumigant then please use type words to explain why you think methyl iodide should not be used in strawberry fields.

        As I take the time to type words rather than just random links, I think it is reasonable for me to expect those who want to comment to use words also.

  2. Good Day Mark,

    I am no chemist or anything close. My company sent me out for Radiation Officer’s Training, and now am bringing in Dosimetery badges on our site. I read your info on TLD badges and gained lots of knowledge.

    Thank You

  3. Mark, Thanks again for reading my blog post on Lise Meitner. Chemistry is probably my weakest area of science, so I look forward to reading your blog. I promise not to ask about off limit topics 🙂 Oh and my blog partner Susan Abernethy has west highland terriers as well. Thanks again for reading!

    • Dear Susan,

      Thanks for the comment, it is interesting to note that there are plenty of women in chemistry. When I did my undergrad I was at Imperial College which was a very male dominated university. It was interesting to note that that the chemistry department was one of the departments at Imperial which was closest to a 1:1 ratio of male and female undergraduates. My PhD supervisor’s wife is a chemist who is in the top 500 women in chemistry as judged by citation number. Her chemical interests are very different to her husband and she is very much her own woman in chemistry.

      Do not worry if you think that chemistry is your weakest area of science, chemistry may be more straightforward and fun than you think it is. I tend to blog about fun chemistry which interests me, but after the Fukushima event I went into overdrive explaining the chemistry of what was happening.

      What happened was a student came to my door with a “stupid question”, I hold the view that very few questions are stupid and most “stupid questions” are in fact good questions which allow us to explore the world around us.

      While some of the antinuclear activists claim that nuclear and radioactivity is run by a bunch of men without the involvement of women, I can tell you at my department (nuclear chemistry) that female PhD students seem to outnumber the male students. One day I hope that some of them might feature on a blog like yours after they do something important.

      By the way I am neither a antinuclear or pronuclear activist, I am just a pro-truth, pro-reason and pro-common sense blogger. In one month I got a hot reception from both the pronuclear and antinuclear camps.

  4. Mark:

    Glad to see your comment on the PAN propaganda. I am one of the patent authors on the use of methyl iodide as a soil fumigant. In my opinion, PAN fearmongered the use of methyl iodide until the company that licensed its use withdrew it from the market. A loss for strawberry growers and consumers!

  5. Hi Dr Mark Foreman,
    You seem to be the person to ask this question. Can you envision a way in which prussian blue could be used to clean up the water at the Fukushima site, and possibly also hot spots in the ocean.
    Do you know of anyone investigating this?
    I know that prussian blue binds with cescium 137 and other radioactive particles. So, if what was pumped into huge industrial filters that had chambers of prussian blue, is it not conceivable then, that the larger particles once bonc tightly, could be trapped in carbon and reverse omosis filters. The filters could be designed to store radioactive waste, and then changed when they reach their capacity for trapping the particles. The amount of purssian blue per filter would and the filter capcity would have to be worked out.
    Also, could the same thing be achieved using zeolite with bentonite clay. Or maybe layers of both of these in one filter to catch a wider range of radioactive and toxic waster.
    Thanks for your reply.
    Lynne Sink

    • Thanks Lynne for your well thought out comment.

      I can tell you that it has already been done at a different accident site, years ago in Czechoslovakia back in the days of communism they had a reactor accident at the A1 site, the damaged fuel was poorly stored in a water filled pond. The radioactivity levels in the pond skyrocketed to hair raising levels, but the pond water was cleaned using something similar to purssian blue. They used a mixed nickel / iron cyanide solid supported on plastic (PAN, polyacrylonitrile). This did remove cesium very well from the pond water. The thing about the pond water is that the volume is rather small compared with the volume of water which exists at the Fukushima site if you include the water with low levels of radioactivity. The A1 pond was a nightmare it had over 1000 Ci of Cs-137 in it.

      See Czech. J. Phys. 49/S1 (1999) for details

      I think that the cleanup process at Fukushima is based on zeolite or another absorbant solid, this is used to clean the high and medium active water which comes from the reactor buildings. If you want to see a diagram of how the Fukushima water treatment is working currently then look at http://www.tepco.co.jp/en/press/corp-com/release/betu13_e/images/131225e0101.pdf



      The water which is leaking out of the tank farm is passing through soil, so I think that the vast majority of the cesium will be absorbed onto the clay minerals in the soil. Simple filtration through soil does tend to remove cesium from water.

      Out of interest why are you interested in cesium removal from water at the Fukushima site ?

      • Shouldn’t that be “hair falling out levels”?

      • It is a rather odd comment, I know that a lot of people have what I would describe as “strong views” on radioactivity and radiation but that does not justify trying to political points here. This blog is almost totally about the about the science and technology of a range of things. If you want to join the debate and discussion please feel free BUT you must write something which makes a contribution. Hair loss can occur after a radiation dose of about 1 Gy, but I would like to ask if and how one can go from the leakage rate at Fukushima to being able to work out if it will make the hair of people fall out. For more reading see http://www.aboutcancer.com/brain_side_effects.htm

  6. Hello!
    I am 32 and have learning difficulties. I really enjoy reading your site! It is so much more user-friendly than other science sites I have visited.
    Although I am not a clever person I enjoy reading about chemistry. Well you inspired me to build a little webpage of my own to showcase a children’s book I wrote and published about the chemical elements, so thanks for being such an inspiration!

    Kind regards and happy new year!

  7. Hi, Mark,

    I am interested in the crystalline structure of Zirconium phosphate you have posted. Could you mentor me on how to draw this 3D crystal image? or share the cif file which I can open in diamond?

  8. Hello, I have an interest in disposal of radioactive waste but haven’t researched much over the years as life changes directions.. Then I saw the machines at Fukushima, the robot they are using to “clean up” is breaking and it can handle around 10,000 measures which I forget.. but this should be very alarming right? Should we be taking iodine pills and do you think the mass die offs are related to radiation? What happens to cause a machine to break from radiation? How can the leaks be controlled and what is going now to fix the Fukushima problem? Thank you!

  9. 90zo6vjpo8411md4db97

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