This Month The Mad Chemist

In 1963, the Disney Studio learned just how wide and faithful a readership Barks had. A letter arrived from Joseph B. Lambert of the California Institute of Technology, pointing out a curious reference in "The Spin States of Carbenes," a technical article soon to be published by P.P. Gaspar and G.S. Hammond (in Carbene Chemistry, edited by Wolfgang Kirmse, New York: Academic Press, 1964). "Despite the recent extensive interest in methylene chemistry," read the article's last paragraph, "much additional study is required.... Among experiments which have not, to our knowledge, been carried out as yet is one of a most intriguing nature suggested in the literature of no less than 19 years ago (91)." Footnote 91, in turn, directed readers to issue 44 of Walt Disney's Comics and Stories. It seems Donald's reference to CH2 in panel 2.1 was years ahead of its time: the existence of this elusive chemical intermediate had not been proven in 1944.

"The inclusion of this footnote in a quite scholarly article," Lambert explained, "stemmed from the discovery that Dr. Gaspar ... and I shared a mutual, and independently long-standing esteem for the adventures of Donald Duck. We both had retained copies of some of the classic adventures. It was Dr. Gaspar who rediscovered this early mention of carbene."

Other members of the scientific community sought out the reference. A year later, the Studio received a letter from Richard Greenwald, a scientist at Harvard. "Recent developments in chemistry have focused much attention to species of this sort," Greenwald commented. "Without getting technical let me say that carbenes can be made but not isolated; i.e. they cannot be put into a jar and kept on a shell. They can, however, be made to react with other substances. Donald was using carbene in just such a manner, many years before 'real chemists' thought to do so."

The telltale panel has since been used to illustrate an article by Robert A. Moss ("Carbene Chemistry," Chemical and Engineering News, 16 June 1969) and a textbook by Robert Morrison and Robert Boyd (Organic Chemistry, 3rd Edition, Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1973).

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