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Vol. 31 No. 2
March-April 2009

Stamps International |

See also www.iupac.org/publications/ci/indexes/stamps.html


What’s in a Chemical Name?

The Geneva Conference of 1892, attended by 34 prominent chemists from nine European countries, marked the first international effort to address the dire need for a systematic way of naming organic compounds, the number and complexity of which were rapidly increasing at the time. A set of principles was developed to render the naming of such compounds less capricious, including the use of prefixes derived from the Greek numbers to indicate the length of carbon chains and the application of unique suffixes to denote the presence of specific functional groups. The effort to standardize organic, inorganic, and biochemical nomenclature continued in subsequent years and, although it almost came to a standstill during World War I, eventually contributed to the establishment of the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC) in 1919.

The stamp from Switzerland illustrated in this note was issued on 24 March 1992 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Geneva Conference. It features a structural diagram of 2,2-difluorobutane and a colorful space-filling model of the same molecule. Although several hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) have been investigated in recent years as safer surrogates to ozone-depleting chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and have found applications as refrigerants, foaming agents, and propellants, this particular fluorinated hydrocarbon is not among them. Hence, the stamp designer’s choice, based on a compound that was certainly not known back in 1892, is a mystery that perhaps only the masterminds at Swiss Post may decipher someday.

Written by Daniel Rabinovich <drabinov@uncc.edu>.


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