I was watching the X-Files last night — because bing-watching 1990’s television is how I opt to spend my free time — when the show mentioned a particular analytical technique readers will be well familiar with: NMR.
One of the reasons I love this show so much is because the blatant pseudo-science presented has a glimmer of real science somewhere embedded in it. Sure it’s fiction; but I’ve never seen them put up a structure containing a Texas carbon (and I’ve been looking!).
In last night’s episode, Special Agent Dana Scully shows her partner, Special Agent Fox Mulder, a “nuclear magnetic resonance spectra [sic].” This then comes on screen for a couple seconds (click to embiggen):
A Proton NMR spectrum indeed! The protagonist explains the analyte in question is a drop of blood from a murder victim; that’s an awfully clean spectrum from such a complex source. The compound we are looking at is an experimental super toxin which “catalytically” induces freezing — and subsequent death — in it victims.
Obviously, no such catalyst exists, but this is a real NMR spectrum of something. The solvent appears to be deutero-chloroform spiked with TMS. There’s an aromatic signal almost directly on top of the chloroform singlet. It gets complicated in the 6.5-5.5 region with olefins aplenty. A singlet at ~4.1 could belong to some kind of substituted anisole, or a chloromethyl group? The doublet at 3.3 has me stumped. My first guess would be methylene adjacent to NH, but alas, no NH proton visible. Down around 2-1 ppm we have a mess of methyl groups and what looks like a t-butyl at 1.2 ppm.
I am awarding a bounty of 10 internet points to the commenter who can propose the most plausible structure for this spectrum. For historical context, the episode was filmed in 1996-97 in Cambridge, MA using MIT for some of the shots. So it’s a possibility that the spectrum was pulled from an MIT lab.