WIRED Science

Season 2007 Episode 10.09.07

What's Inside: Miracle Grow

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What's Inside: Miracle Grow
AIRED:
Ever read the ingredients on the labels of your favorite household products? If you have, you know that lots of the stuff we buy every day is just two or three degrees removed from some strange, unexpected or downright gross chemicals. This week: Chris Hardwick walks us through how a half-dozen chemicals add up to brighter roses and tastier tomatoes. The salt you'll find on most dining room tables is sodium chloride. We're interested in its chemical cousin potassium chloride, which is also salty and a little bit bitter. At high concentrations it's also what puts the "lethal" in "lethal injection." Then we'll throw in one of the most effective cockroach killers known to humanity - boric acid. The key ingredient is the element boron, also found in such products as borax bleach and the control rods that regulate your local nuclear reactor. Of course, we'll also want a little urea. Yep, just like it sounds, this is the major constituent in urine. Urea is what you get when a mammal metabolizes protein. It's full of nitrogen, and it was the first chemical to be synthesized inorganically. It's a component in tooth whiteners, foot creams, and some cigarettes, to add flavor. Mm-mm. Rust remover and Coca Cola - no wonder they can both strip the enamel off your teeth. Both contain orthophosphoric acid. React orthophosphoric acid with urea and you get urea phosphate, which helps plants with photosynthesis. Dry-powder fire extinguishers use fire-retarding ammonia phosphate - so we might as well, too. You can find ethylene diamine tetracetic acid in detergents and cosmetics. It's also handy for helping living organisms absorb inorganic materials. Mix it all together and you get...Miracle Gro Plant Food. The potassium makes leaves green and stalks tall. The nitrogen's a necessary component of chlorophyll, and the boron shores up cell walls. This stuff was invented by Horace Hagedorn in 1950. He wasn't a chemist, or even much of a gardener--he was a New York ad man.moreless

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Trivia, Notes, Quotes and Allusions

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