A vile-smelling but versatile class of compounds may find a role in more chemistry laboratories with the introduction of easily made, inoffensive versions.
Isonitriles, chemicals characterized by a triple bond between a carbon and a nitrogen atom, are useful in many reactions. But many chemists have shunned them because of their pungency, says Michael C. Pirrung of the University of California, Riverside. "It makes your nose burn," he says. Moreover, the primary way to make the chemicals is difficult and uses highly toxic gas.
Pirrung frequently uses isonitriles in his research, and he wanted to simplify the production method. So, he and Subir Ghorai developed a one-pot reaction using materials found in most chemistry laboratories.