Holistic properties

There are a few things that truly irritate me. When I go to McDonald’s (which happens about once a year), there is always that sheet of paper that sticks to my tray when I try to clean it at the end of the meal. It takes that extra second or two to get rid of the annoying sheet, yet it is enough to make me regret the whole experience. I can also mention the scarcity of holistic properties in our day-to-day science endeavors as something I am not happy about. When it comes to measurable properties that characterize a given molecule as a standalone entity (this is why I call them “holistic”), we do not have a lot to brag about. A melting point is holistic, although it is a bit low-tech. Really, there is not much a melting point offers by way of insights that can be translated into structural terms. A melting point is still an immensely important parameter that enables us to evaluate compound purity, but it is a bit primitive. As far as holistic properties that provide structural insights of some detail, I can only think of circular dichroism (CD) right now. If you have a peptide, its CD signature will quickly allow you to judge the relative amount of alpha-helix or beta-sheet contribution to the overall structure. Don’t get me wrong, “non-holistic” properties can be exceptionally important and useful. Techniques such as NMR allow us to view a given molecule as a collection of functional groups, which is a powerful abstraction. Having said that, I wish we had more holistic properties in our disposal, the ones that provide a snapshot of a molecule as a whole, preferably with a nice and teachable curve.


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