A UCSD chemistry lab shocked the scientific community when Erick Menten, a third-year chemistry major, synthesized a compound with unusual physiological effects. Menten first believed the finding to be a fluke, because none of his classmates had ever heard of a compound with such unique traits. While other non-acidic molecules contain lone pairs, Menten’s base contains “non-lonely electrons.”
While other substances can be readily deprotonated in water, Menten’s molecule is actually capable of deprotonating other compounds. He believes that this property is what triggers the dopamine rush in the brain that the base is hypothesized to induce.
Menten tested the first base by eating a small amount of the indicator phenolphthalein, then consuming some of his compound. He observed that above a pH of 9.0, the base dissociates, causing his cheeks to turn slightly pink and his heart rate to accelerate.
The compound is difficult to purify due to Menten’s unorthodox research methods. “My mentor told me to use a separatory funnel to collect my solution,” he said, “but I can’t, because I refuse to use the stopcock. I don’t think cock should be stopped.”