Monday, 3 September 2012

Breaking Bad Crazy Blue Meth

I am a huge fan of the series Breaking Bad (some spoilers).   I love the Brian Cranston's acting as well as the other characters in the show.  The main characters tragic demise into a world of making crystal meth is astonishing from the first show until the fifth season.  Besides the characters and the plot, I also love the science.  There are several science scenes that would put McGuiver to shame since they help the bad guys (Mr. White and Jesse) get out of situations from making a rudimentary battery, making ricin from beans, building a powerful electromagnet to making better quality methamphetamine. 

Although I do not condone making illicit drugs, the process behind making them and the effects of these drugs is quite interesting..One scene in the episode where Jesse and Mr. White are making meth under the tent in the house that is being fumigated (in Hazard Pay).  It was a beautiful scene where the reactions happening are visualized with sparks and you can see the flow of the reaction.  It makes me want to do more chemistry.

Artists illustration of what chemical reactions look like.  Probably just ink in water.

 It got me thinking of what the surface tension of this blue meth is and how it can help to make better drugs. The surface tension does help in forming the crystalline solids. Crystalline solids are formed by cooling and solidification from the molten (or liquid) state. If you made chocolate this property can be seen easily when the chocolate cools it forms small cocoa butter crystals on the surface after you cook a molten chocolate. This is a first order phase transition. The crystal and melt have an interfacial discontinuity due to a surface tension with a positive surface energy. A metastable parent phase is stable with respect to the nucleation of small embryos or droplets from a daughter phase if their is a positive surface tension. Positive surface tension in this case means the surface of the meth between that of the molten liquid. The surface tension is not a property of the liquid alone but a property of the liquid's interface with another medium. Also the walls of the containers are part of this interface. Where the three surfaces meet (the container wall, the molten meth and the surface) gives a certain contact angle which is the angle the tangent of the surface makes with the solid surface. This surface tension between the liquid-solid surface needs to be positive in order to make crystals.

If one were to make any kind of crystals of a pure substance you would see crystals form at this boundary between the container wall, molten liquid the liquid surface. In you have a smooth surface you can always take a glass stirring rod and scratch this surface. This would allow you to start the nucleation process. Perfect crystals as in Walter White's blue meth would likely grow exceeding slowly. Unlike, Jesse's chilipepper meth (in the first season) he does not add any impurities to the process.  This allows Jesse and Walter to make Heisenberg's Blue stuff.  

Psychonaught Wikicommons

(Surface tension described here would also be good for crystallizing proteins in a better way.  In fact protein crystallographers can use surface tension devices to make better looking crystals).