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Sci.chem FAQ - Part 2 of 7
Section - 9. Traditional General Chemistry Information Sources

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Top Document: Sci.chem FAQ - Part 2 of 7
Previous Document: 8. Laboratory and Chemical Safety Information on the Internet
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9.1  When can I find Chemical Abstracts? 

Chemical Abstracts is produced by the ACS and is available either in 
hardcopy or CD-ROM form in most institution libraries that have a chemistry 
department. It is expensive, and is also available commercially from several 
online database suppliers ( refer to Section 7.1 ). It is not legally 
available free over the Internet. Some libraries have accidentally enabled 
limited search access for anonymous users, but this is usually soon 
curtailed, so enjoy them while you can :-).

If your school does not have access, the librarian should be able to 
ascertain the nearest library that holds the hardcopy CA and also permits 
public access. CA volumes are not available for interloan. All chemicals are 
given an arbitrary Registry Number as they are encountered by the Chemical 
Abstracts Service ( Section 12.1 ). Many information sources now also use 
the CAS RN to overcome potential nomenclature confusion.  
9.2  Where can I obtain chemical patent information? 
Most governments have a patent office, and there are usually branches in main
centres. If you are able to obtain access to the patents at the patent office, 
and are familiar with patent codes, or know the patent number, the cost will 
be lower than using a patent attorney. If you do not know how to search for 
patents, and your time is valuable, you will find that using a patent 
attorney will be very cost effective. An excellent guide to the general 
concepts of patents and what you can expect to find, along with the 
advantages and disadvantages, is " What Every Engineer Should Know About 
Patents" [1]. 

9.3  Where can I purchase chemicals? 

The chemicals usually found in home chemistry sets can usually be purchased
at the shop where the set was obtained, or the local hardware shop or
pharmacist, provided the chemical is not subject to government or state
restrictions. Many chemicals are only available to approved purchasers. 
If the chemical is used for a hobby, then it is very likely the FAQ for that 
Usenet group ( eg rec.pyrotechnics ), will contain information on suppliers. 
Most national chemical societies publish an annual listing of suppliers with 
their journals. Standard trade directories ( eg  Chem Sources [2,3] and OPD
Chemical Buyers Directory [4] ) list companies who specialise in chemicals,
however few will be interested in small purchases. 

Smaller specialist and boutique suppliers are usually more likely to sell 
small quantities of chemicals to individuals.  Most larger suppliers of high 
purity laboratory and industrial chemicals ( eg Aldrich-Sigma [5], J.T.Baker 
[6] ) will only sell a limited range of chemicals to individuals , and 
usually do not provide any discounts for individuals - unless they have an 
account with the company. I'm not sure about the US, but here in NZ discounts
can halve the price of most chemicals.
If you are intending to acquire a wide range of chemicals over time, an 
account may be a good idea, however remember that you may then be subject to 
inspection visits by regulators if you purchase certain chemicals. Most 
government and corporate organisations and laboratories also have policies 
of not supplying unknown individuals with *any* chemical.  Some chemical 
suppliers are also accessible via the Internet ( refer Section 7.10 )

9.4  Where can I purchase laboratory equipment? 

As with chemicals, simple laboratory equipment can be purchased from the
suppliers of home chemistry sets. Some government and state authorities
require certain equipment ( eg stills ) to be registered, especially if it
can be used to produce illegal substances. Most larger suppliers may 
require an account, but often specialist supplies can be purchased from
hobby shops such as home brew kit suppliers. Once again the FAQ of
relevant newsgroups ( such as alt.drugs and rec.pyrotechnics ) may provide
the names of suppliers, as can trade directories and the Yellow Pages.
Cole Palmer and Fisher offer free comprehensive catalogues that identify 
what is available. Some equipment suppliers are accessible via the Internet 
( refer Section 7.11 ).

9.5  What reference texts should I search first? 

If you require basic physical information about a chemical then many 
chemical suppliers catalogues also include common properties - such as 
boiling point, melting point, density, and flash point. Aldrich, Merck, 
and Lancaster provide information on organic chemicals, and Sigma covers 
biochemicals. Chemical catalogues also often provide cross references to the 
Chemical Abstracts Registry Numbers, the Merck Index, spectral libraries, 
safety, and preparation information. The actual product purity may limit the
accuracy of the data, and more accurate information could be available
in the Rubber Handbook or Merck Index. As catalogues are usually free on 
request ( Aldrich catalogue is also available on disk as a searchable 
database for $25 ), they are an excellent initial information source that 
will often direct you to appropriate reference texts. You may be able to
acquire an older edition by asking your chemistry teacher or chemical
storeroom supervisor.

Depending on the type of chemical information required, some specialist
reference texts may be required, but there are several texts that are common 
to most fields of chemistry. These are usually found in the reference 
section of most public and technical libraries and, because they are often 
heavily discounted for students, many chemists have copies of several of 
them. If your library does not have them, ask some of your teachers for 
access to their personal copy. 

Many of these texts are now also available on CD-ROM, usually at a slightly 
lower cost than the hardcopy, however the Merck Index is an exception where 
the CD-ROM version costs significantly more than the hardcopy. The Merck 
Index is an excellent starting point for information on organic chemicals 
used in the agricultural, biochemical, chemical, and pharmaceutical 
industries. It is usually available, along with the Rubber Handbook, in the
reference section of libraries. Don't expect a $7,000 encyclopedia set like 
Kirk Othmer to be freely available over the Internet, or available on 
CD-ROM for $100 :-). I have also marked those that are commercially 
available through online services with an asterisk.

For more detailed aspects of individual compounds, common texts include:- 

CRC Handbook of Chemistry & Physics  ( aka Rubber Handbook ) [7]
  - tabulations of diverse chemical and physical properties.
  - start here for physical data with minimal description.
The Merck Index * [8]
  - brief monographs on most common organic chemicals, especially those 
     used in the chemical, biochemical, and pharmaceutical industries.
  - excellent source for physical and physiological properties, common 
     names, and CAS RN.
  - monographs point to more descriptive sources.
  - available on CD-ROM, but the hardcopy version is much cheaper.
Lange's Handbook of Chemistry [9]
  - tabulations of chemical properties.
Hawley's Condensed Chemical Dictionary  [10]
  - very brief monographs on a wide range of common industrial chemicals.
  - very good starting point to ascertain physical properties of both
     inorganic and organic chemicals used in commerce.
  - Available on CD-ROM
Tables of Physical and Chemical Constants ( aka Kaye and Laby ) [11]
  - tabulations of constants, often not in the Rubber Handbook   
The Chemical Technicians' Ready Reference Handbook [12]
  - tabulations of various common chemicals and materials.
The Matheson Gas Data Book [13]
  - tabulations of properties of a diverse range of gases 
There are several good general "science" texts that provide basic coverage
of aspects of chemistry, eg the concise version of the McGraw Hill 
Encyclopedia of Science and Technology [14] or Van Nostrand's Scientific
Encyclopedia [15]. There are also several single volume chemistry books 
that provide brief monographs covering diverse aspects of chemistry, such as 
the McGraw Hill Encyclopedia of Chemistry [16]. These texts are often found 
in the reference sections of general libraries.

The next source is usually the encyclopedia sets that are also found in the
reference section of general libraries. There are some general ones that 
cover all fields of science, and often have annual updates. An example is 
the 20 volume McGraw Hill Encyclopedia of Science and Technology, available
in hardcopy or CD-ROM versions [17].

For more detailed, but still with general coverage, there are at least two 
popular large multi-volume chemistry encyclopedias. One, or both, of these 
is usually found in the reference sections of technical and large public
libraries. These have become the standard first point of reference for 
information on properties, production, and applications of industrial 

Kirk Othmer Encyclopedia of Chemical Technology - 4th edition * [18]
  - excellent 27 volume set 
  - extensive monographs on chemical families and processes.
  - start here if you wish to obtain up-to-date, easy-to-read, comprehensive 
    technical information on an amazingly diverse range of chemistry. 
  ( available in hardcopy ($324/volume, around $7,000/set), online, on 
    CD-ROM, and as a greatly-abridged concise volume (3rd Edition = $110)

Ullmann's Encyclopedia of Industrial Chemistry - 5th edition [19]
  - excellent translation from the original German edition. 
  - extensive monographs on common industrial processes 
  - the style is different to Kirk Othmer in that information is not so well
    integrated into the monograph, but often contains more hard information
    and good reviews of specific topics.
  ( In 1997 the fifth edition was made available on CD-ROM, with the sixth
    edition was started in 1998, with each CD holding the equivalent of
    three printed volumes. The full book/CD-ROM sixth edition will cost 
    around $14,000 )

There are also the very large multi-volume sets of specialised chemical
information that are mainly only found in institutions that have a strong 
chemistry or chemical engineering component, such as: 

Beilstein * [20] 
  - provides detailed monographs of most organic chemicals, covering
    preparation, properties and structure.
Gmelin [21]
  - provides detailed information on most elements and inorganic chemicals
Heilbron * [22]
  - provides short monographs of many organic compounds, mainly listing
    properties and references to preparations. An excellent way to 
    quickly find information on chemicals.
McKetta - Encyclopedia of Chemical Processing and Design [23]
  - extensive monographs containing technical data on chemical processes.
Encyclopedia of Polymer Science and Engineering - 2nd edition * [24]
  ( available in hardcopy, online, and in a greatly-abridged concise volume )
  - detailed monographs on common polymers and processes
Thorpe's Dictionary of Applied Chemistry [25]
  - getting old, but *still* contains lots of excellent information on the
    properties and industrial applications of chemicals 
  - is very useful for historical information on how a product developed.

For more specialised references, refer to the appropriate section of this
FAQ, however I will list a few texts covering general laboratory techniques
not mentioned elsewhere. If your local bookshop does not carry specialist
technical books, many are also available from appropriate chemical and 
equipment suppliers, such as Aldrich-Sigma and Supelco.
Vacuum = High Vacuum Techniques for Chemical Syntheses and Measurements [26].
       = High Vacuum Techniques [27]
Pipework = Swagelok Tube Fitting and Installation Manual [28]
Thermocouples = Thermocouples: Theory and Practice [29]
( The Omega catalogues are also a good source of practical information
  on a wide range of temperature, flow and pressure sensors ) 
Many of the laboratory safety texts also include sections on design and
management of laboratories.

9.6  Where can I find physical and spectral properties of chemicals?

Some chemical suppliers catalogues ( eg Aldrich [5] ), also include common
properties such as boiling point, melting point, density, flash point.
Most will provide a catalogue free on request, but it is often easier to 
obtain an obsolete edition from your institution, as they usually just throw 
them out. The most information is often in catalogues from international 
laboratory chemical suppliers ( eg J.T.Baker [6], Merck [30], Rhone-Poulenc 
[31] ), and specialist organic chemical suppliers ( eg Aldrich [5], 
Sigma [32], Janssen [33], Lancaster [34] ), however it should be remembered
that the product purity will affect the value reported, and that more
accurate values may be available in references such as the Merck Index or
Rubber Handbook. 

Once you have checked the catalogues, and checked the standard texts above, 
then more specialised compilations should be checked. For spectral 
properties, there are several large compilations of detailed spectral
properties, including infra-red [35-37], NMR [38-40], and mass-spec [41,42]. 
These are usually located near the instruments, rather than in the library,
however the NIST IR and mass spectral libraries are accessible via the WWW 
( refer Section 7.2 ).

Most transportation safety compilations and MSDS also list common physical
properties, as do the most of the encyclopedia sets ( refer Section 9.5 ).
More specialised information is usually found in specialist books or
journals, such as the Journal of Chemical and Engineering Data.

9.7  Where can I find production data for commercial chemicals 

Both Kirk Othmer and Ullmann tabulate production data, and identify
major manufacturers, and more recent information is found in monographs 
in CMR. C&EN also tabulates production data for the major industrial 
chemicals and publishes an annual listing of the top 50 chemicals. Lists of 
manufacturers of chemicals are found in compilations such as Chemical 
Sources [2,3] and trade directories. There are also industry organisations
such as the Chemical Manufacturers Association that maintain records of
production. Specialist industry journals usually provide annual surveys
of production and capacity. Government departments ( often the Dept. of
"Trade & Industry" or "Commerce" ) also compile national production

9.8  Where can I find the composition of a proprietary chemical?

If it has been patented, the composition will be detailed in the patent,
and any local patent agent should be able to locate and obtain a copy. 
Transportation regulations usually require manufacturers to list components,
consequently examination of the MSDS often provides an indication of major
components, some of which are likely to just be the solvent. There are also
compilations of chemical tradenames that may also indicate what the major
components in a proprietary chemical. Hawley, Gardner, Industrial 
Chemical Thesaurus [43], Encyclopedia of Industrial Chemical Additives [44],
and the Chemical Tradenames Dictionary [45] are good starting points. 

In some countries only the "active" or "toxic" ingredients have to be 
disclosed, consequently chemical analysis would have to be undertaken. 
Another technique is to look for equivalent formulations - to ascertain what 
ingredients are typically used, and the multi-volume Chemical Formulary [46] 
is one of the best sources if you can not justify a patent search. 

9.9  Where can I find out about the history of Chemistry? 

There is a Usenet group that is very knowledgeable and
active, and includes individual events in the history of chemistry. There
are usually several overview books on the history of chemistry in most school 
and public libraries, and example is "The History of Chemistry" by J.Hudson
[47]. There are also several outstanding biographies of famous chemists, and 
many chemical societies and chemical firms have commissioned books on 
specific aspects of chemistry history. The Journal of Chemical Education 
often has articles on specific historical aspects of chemistry.   

9.10 Where can I find out about the discovery of an element?

The Rubber Handbook has a monograph on each element, including a brief
discussion of the discovery. "Chemistry of the Elements" by Greenwood and 
Earnshaw [48], and "The Elements" by Emsley [49], also provide good 
discussions, and Gmelin provides a fairly comprehensive discussion of 
discovery of each element. In each of the above, the discovery of each 
element is taken in isolation. The best general overview that provides a 
cohesive framework explaining the overall progression of discoveries, is 
"Discovery of the Elements" by Weeks [50], and it should be available in most 
libraries. For the more recent elements, there usually are brief reports and 
discussions in C&EN and the Journal of Chemical Education.  

9.11 What inspirational books about chemistry should I read?

Do they exist :-)?. You could try "The Chemical Bond: Structure and Dynamics"
edited by A.Zewail [51]. It contains articles by several Nobel Laureates.

If you want to be entertained, and only have time for a short read, try the
"Chemistry in the Next Century" [52] article in Industrial and Engineering
Chemistry written in May 1935 by Thomas Midgley, Jr.. He was responsible for 
the discovery and development of CFCs and alkyl lead octane enhancers for 
gasoline - two chemical developments that became so pervasive and useful 
that their use resulted in unintentional environmental pollution. 
For a brief story about their discovery, try "Midgley - Saint or Serpent" 
[53] in Chemtech. It confirms that old saying " Luck is when preparation
meets opportunity ". 

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