I like to say “furan.”

Furans are pentagonal molecules made up of four carbon atoms and one oxygen atom. They look like this:


Hold on. That’s a diagram. Furans actually look like this:


That’s a bottle of tetrahydrofuran, which is like the molecule in the diagram, but without the double bonds.

But I’m not a chemist. What this whole post comes down to is that I really like the way “furan” sounds. It doesn’t matter how you say it. “Fyur-an.” “Fur-an.” “Few-ran.” “Few-ron.” (I’m partial to “fyur-an” myself.)

Aside from the fact that it’s fun to say (Seriously: say it right now. Say it many times. Pay no mind to those people giving you funny looks. Say it. You know you want to. Furan. Furan. Furan. Furan.), furan is useful in the chemical industry, and furan’s chemical derivatives are also useful. Useful means the same thing as “able to cause excruciating burns” right?

You see, there’s a class of chemicals called furanocoumarins, most often found in plants like celery, parsnip, and, worryingly, lime peels, which, when they get on your skin, don’t do anything. Until, that is, your skin is exposed to ultraviolet light, which the sun produces in inconveniently large quantities. When struck by UV, the furanocoumarins generate oxygen radicals that cause inflammation and HORRIFYING BLISTERS, pictures of which I will not show here because I know not everybody shares my morbid fascination with pathology. Here’s one of the culprits:


This nasty little skin-sensitizing bastard is bergapten. See the pentagon on the left side? That’s a furan.

Actually, I’m starting to get worried about furans. They seem to hang around in bad company. Like, for instance, the company of carbofuran:


It’s always the spiky-looking molecules that cause trouble, isn’t it? (That is a well-informed scientific opinion, I’ll have you know.) Carbofuran is a pesticide. Carbofuran is a nasty pesticide. In terms of its toxicity to humans, carbofuran is the third most toxic pesticide. That’s not horrifying at all. If you get exposed to enough of it, your heart rate drops dangerously low, you stop breathing, various bowel muscles open up, and you stagger around until you fall down and die. So that’s nice.

But in the end, I don’t care about all these toxic chemicals and industrial molecules. This entire article was an excuse for me to read the word “furan” over and over again. I am, in essence, an infant.


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