Make a merry molecule mug!

The grocery store magazine covers all say that home made gifts are big this year. So I thought, some of you might like to channel your inner Martha Stewart and make gifts with a science theme.

i-279383f2290486dd918584a6e0c70a95-caff3.gifI'm here to help to you make a merry mug with one of our favorite molecules. Yep, we're talking caffeine.

1. First, we'll go to PubChem at the NCBI. It's not an exclusive (or even last) resort but there are lots of fancy molecules hanging around, just waiting to be discovered and put onto drinking containers.

2. Now, we'll look for a molecule. I'm going to use caffeine for this example since I drink it religiously and many of the science instructors, that I know, are seriously addicted. What could be better than a mug shot of your favorite drug?

Type the word "caffeine" into the search box at the top of the page and click "Go".
I found 84 listings. It looks like caffeine is popular with NIH researchers, too.


If caffeine is too tame, you always search with the names of other drugs or small molecules. If you can't think of any drugs that you'd like to see on a coffee cup, Molecule of the Day has lots of ideas.

3.I clicked the link to the first reference to get the PubChem record that you see below.


At this point, I use my mouse to drag the image onto my desktop and now I have a picture like the one at the beginning that I can put on a mug. Since I use a Mac, I also like to crop the image with Preview and remove some of the grey background.

Getting a 3D structure image
If I really want to be fancy, I like to use a different kind of structure drawing. The PubMed record for caffeine (above) shows that there are five structures of proteins that also contain caffeine.

4. If I click a link to the top record, 2A3B, I get a structure from the Molecular Modeling Database that contains caffeine.

5.From there, I can click the structure image to download the structure to my computer. You will also have to download Cn3D (from the same page) to view the structure. Cn3D works on Windows, Macs, and Unix-based computers.

6.Now, you'll want to hide everything else so that caffeine is the only structure you see. First, I have to find the caffeine molecule in the structure and select it by clicking it.

7. Then, I open the Cn3D Show/Hide menu and choose "Show Selected Structures." Now, the only visible structure will be the caffeine.

8. I also like to open the Style menu, select Edit Global Style, and change the background color to white instead of black.

Now, I have a caffeine image that I can use for making a mug.

9.Last, I need to open the Cn3D File menu and choose Export PNG.

i-6c01261f7419c1104a5f5959a1202e0a-caff_mug.gifThe last thing that I need to do is find a printing service and have my image printed on the mug. I often use the "Make your own stuff" service at CafePress, but there are many different places where you can get pictures printed on all kinds of items and shipped to your friends and family.

And, if you have truly crafty people on your gift list, you can always give them a fantastic book called "A Beginner's Guide to Molecular Structures" (yes, I wrote it!). The book shows all kinds of things you can do with structures of molecules.

Happy gifting!

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I'm not selling mugs, or mouse-mats, or anything else - except my ideas :)

But if you click through my initials then you'll see that just yesterday I wrote on how every blog has its very own "molecular structure".

I have a blank white coffee mug which is great for doodling molecular structures on using whiteboard markers. You can just rub it off afterwards. Hours of fun. So you could probably put a blank, glossy white mug and some whiteboard markers together as a gift for a synthetic organic chemist.

By Alex Whiteside (not verified) on 03 Dec 2007 #permalink