When Marcia first approached me about the Bead Love Blog project, I knew exactly what I wanted to talk about: love chemistry! As a trained chemist and a geeky beader, I decided that I wanted to talk about beaded jewelry depicting oxytocin, AKA "the love molecule."
Oxytocin is involved in many biological processes. It's a peptide hormone that's made in the brain, and when it acts on the brain, some studies have shown that it's involved in bonding, intimacy, and stress reduction. However, like love itself, oxytocin's role in social behaviors is likely quite complicated, as it's just one of many brain chemicals involved in these complex emotions.
Oxytocin's physiological effects are more well-understood, especially when it comes to reproduction. It's released into the bloodstream during sex in both men in women. It's also released during breastfeeding, where it causes the milk "let down" reflex. During labor and childbirth, oxytocin causes uterine contractions which help to move the baby down the birth canal. Interestingly, while oxytocin is involved in so many processes, this is one of the few areas where it's used as a medicine; a synthetic version (called Pitocin) is given via IV during labor induction.
(While I'm on the subject, shortly after I committed to this love chemistry project it took on a dual, personal meaning for me, as I soon learned that I was pregnant with my first child. We're due next month and we couldn't be more excited!)
To make a beaded version of oxytocin, I decided to use a technique that I've used to make other beaded molecules in the past; it's a combination of the fringe and netting stitches, with a portion that's sort of a variation on CRAW. During this process, we work up and down the entire length of the molecule, adding beads to each atom as we work. For a molecule like oxytocin this can get quite complicated, but the important part is that we end up with a chemically-accurate 3D version of the molecule that looks and moves just like the real version.
I used a combination of color-coded bicone crystals and Japanese seed beads to depict the carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, and sulfur atoms in the molecule, while just Japanese seed beads depict the smaller hydrogen atoms. Japanese bugle beads depict the bonds that connect the atoms together.
My first version of beaded oxytocin uses IUPAC coloring, which is a standard colorway that chemists use to depict beaded molecules. We use black for the carbon atoms, red for oxygen atoms, blue for nitrogen atoms, yellow for sulfur atoms, and white for hydrogen atoms and the bonds in between the atoms. The type of molecule will determine how the colors look in the finished piece. Since oxytocin is a "peptide," many of its atoms are carbon atoms, but it also has several nitrogen and oxygen atoms that sit evenly along the length of the molecule. Therefore, its colors are evenly distributed throughout the piece, and its two sulfur atoms provide just a dash of yellow.
By following all these guidelines, we get a piece of beadwork measuring approximately 8 inches long which contains a couple of ring structures, several branches, and both sulfur atoms just near the center of the molecule.
I was pleased to see that the structure of oxytocin lends itself nicely to a necklace form. So, for my second version, I centered the three long branches in the middle of the necklace, and I attached a drop crystal off of each one for a nice artistic accent. I wanted to choose colors that would represent the themes of love and birth without necessarily being exclusive to either theme (I'd like to wear this necklace long after I'm done being pregnant!), so I went with a palette of jewel tones and metals; purple for carbon and siam AB2X for oxygen to represent love, emerald for nitrogen to represent birth and growth, the elegant gold aurum 2X for sulfur, and sterling silver for hydrogen and the bonds.
Since beaded oxytocin isn't long enough for a complete necklace, I wove a finishing chain with simple beaded water molecules. Jump rings connect the water molecules to each other and to the oxytocin molecule.
I'm happy with how this piece turned out, and every time I wear it I'll think about what Bead Love means to me. In addition to my love of chemistry, geeky jewelry, and my growing family, I love how beading as an art form allows for such a diverse range of expression. From Marcia's versatile LOVE letters to Tracy's whimsical beaded dolls to Nancy's artistic beaded stones, we've had the pleasure of seeing a wide variety of bead love styles in the six months since this blog launched. I'm honored to contribute a love chemistry perspective to such fine company.
To see more of Cindy's work including patterns for other beaded molecules, please visit her website at www.beadorigami.com.