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Making of… Aspirin Main Picture (Part 1)

So things have been really busy here at Picture It… Chemistry HQ with grant proposals, marking, viva preparations, final year reports etc. and we have failed to release a post last week. While we dig ourselves out from under the backlog generated by these other activities, we wanted to send at least a quick sign that we are still out there (just REALLY busy), and thought we could start a new, occasional series of posts about what goes on to generate the main images of a new post. This can be as easy as picking out a few spent flowers from a sprig of lilac, the topic of a forthcoming post, but it can also be a whole lot more complicated, as was the case for our Aspirin post.

A molecule of acetyl salicylic acid (aspirin) in front of a willow, with a beaker and tablets on the side.

A molecule of acetyl salicylic acid (aspirin) in front of a willow, with a beaker and tablets on the side.

For a start, this post was different, not just because it was drafted by Anya Appoo, a student at The Ridings’ Federation, Winterbourne International Academy, but also because it was not strictly focussed on one of the plants supplying us with acetyl salicylic acid, but rather on the compound itself. It came under a new heading (Molecules of Medicine), and, quite frankly, neither Jenny nor I particularly liked the photos of willow (Salix) and Spiraea that we had taken a while ago.

aspirin-picture1With our self-imposed deadline of one post every fortnight looming rather large and the day jobs needing attention as well, drastic action was needed, and I started my lunch break by walking through the nearest University of Bristol garden at Royal Fort House on the hunt for a willow (and any kind of willow would have done at this stage). Alas, no joy! So I wandered on around the University Precinct and eventually found some willows growing on the side of the Applied Social Science library, albeit about a good 8 foot above street level with no easy access. Slightly stumped for what to do, I went back to Chemistry, had lunch and dragged Jenny, with some laboratory glassware and some other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory tablets that had gone out of date, along for a site inspection.

Difficult sites call for some good balancing...

Difficult sites call for some good balancing…

Although Jenny likes to climb much more challenging places in her spare time, we felt that two members of the University’s academic staff should perhaps not be found scaling walls and photographing willows in the middle of formal planting, nor was pruning for shape an option. Eventually, we relied on the camera’s zoom, perspective and my holding a beaker with the tablets balanced near the edge (to keep my hand out of the picture). As you can see from the pictures, Jenny actually had to balance on her toes to get the right angle, and I had to hold the beaker above all of this without dropping the tablets – my lack of fine motor skills made me a computational chemist, and things haven’t improved since then. Fortunately, there are no photos showing both of us trying to compose this shot together, nobody we knew came past, and we got a couple of decent photos in the end. Back to the computer and the actual molecule of acetyl salicylic acid only took a few minutes to add, concluding an unusual lunch break and blogging session.


Contributors: Natalie Fey (writing and photos), Jenny Slaughter (main photo and reluctant model in other photos).