What molecule am I?
Isobutyronitrile, often called isopropyl cyanide, is a highly toxic liquid with the aroma of almonds. An early synthesis of the compound from isobutyl alcohol and ammonia was reported by Tohoru Hara and Shigeru Komatsu at Kyoto Imperial University in 1925. Today, isobutyronitrile is generally made by passing isobutyl alcohol or isobutyraldehyde and ammonia over a suitable catalyst at high temperatures.
Isobutyronitrile has only a few uses. It is an industrial solvent and a starting material for producing insecticides such as diazinon. Recently, several patents mention isobutyronitrile as a cosolvent in battery electrolytes.
Despite its relative obscurity, isobutyronitrile made big news in 2014, when astronomers detected it in the interstellar medium. Hundreds of other molecules have been found in space, but isobutyronitrile was unique in that its carbon chain is branched, as opposed to linear. Using the then-new Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array telescope in Chile, Arnaud Belloche and colleagues at the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy (Bonn, Germany) found the molecule in a massive star-forming region called Sagittarius B2.
This finding was especially significant because it may be a clue that branched-chain amino acids are also present in star-forming regions.
Learn more about this molecule from CAS, the most authoritative and comprehensive source for chemical information.