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MARGINALIA

Bonding to Hydrogen

The simplest molecule, made for connection

Roald Hoffmann

My first encounter with H2 was typical for a boy in the age of chemistry sets that had some zing to them. My set, made by A. C. Gilbert Co., contained some powdered zinc. It had no acids, but it taught you to generate them from chemicals it included (for instance HCl from NaHSO4 and NH4Cl), or—the manual said—you could buy a small quantity from your local apothecary. Perhaps I got it there, asking politely for the acid in my best accented English a year or so after coming to Brooklyn from Europe. I poured some of the dilute acid on the zinc in a test tube, watched it bubble away, lit (with some fear) a match and heard that distinct pop.








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