Guest post by Dr Simon Norris a Chemistry teacher at a school in the UK. As his alter ego The Cycling Scientist he has visited primary schools with his science road show. His current interests are using IT to enhance teaching and learning and using social media to create personal CPD for teaching colleagues.
It’s a simple idea. Have 100 plus T-shirts printed in various colours, each with one of the chemical elements on the front. Distribute them to chemists around the world, who get a photo of themselves wearing it, send it to me and I compile the Periodic Table of T Shirts. Advertise the project via Twitter, have the chemists of the world tweet and retweet about it, and the orders would flood in. Another great idea of mine which I would mull over for a few days, perhaps tell a few friends about, do nothing and the opportunity is lost. Except this time, I actually gave it a go and it‘s been a really enlightening experience. Here’s how it happened.
I happen to have three students in my house whose names are also the symbols of chemical elements. I thought it would be fun to get one of them a T-shirt with his name on in the style of a periodic table entry as he had been particularly helpful to others in the house. My students are quite used to my chemistry geekiness so they would not have found this particularly odd. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find anywhere that sold them, despite enquiring to the #RealTimeChem community on Twitter. How difficult would it be to design...
Here’s a late entry of the chemistry movie carnival. I hope there are a few people left in the theatre.
I’ve been running a ‘Science on the Screen’ course with a local college. Over the last few weeks we’ve been dissecting the science on the big and small screens. The home work was tough, but after a reasonable amount of popcorn and cough potatoing we’ve pulled apart Dexter‘s blood spatter (it doesn’t seem to take gravity into account), Breaking Bad (it was fun upsetting Reddit), Spiderman (Peter Parker is going to need a very high protein diet to make all that web), James May’s Things you need to know about chemistry (remember that?) and Star Wars (how come lasers make a sound in space and why do storm troopers fly backwards when hit by a laser?).
After all that we thought it was time to see if we could do better and maybe “fix a film” (an idea blatantly nicked from Nonfisci (thanks guys)).
The students decided that Underworld needed some attention. I’ve not seen it, but apparently its an action horror with vampires, werewolves and the like. The werewolves are regularly killed using bullets laced with silver nitrate. Upon impact the bullets release their contents and the silver (at this point the Ag+ has somehow been miraculously reduced) proves fatal to the riddled lycanthrope.
So how to fix the film? Simple really, you just need to perform Tollen’s reaction before the werewolf gets...
I can’t believe no one else has grabbed Breaking Bad for the Chemmoviecarnival.
In case you don’t know its a show about a high school chemistry teacher, called Walter White, who turns his talents to the production of methamphetamine in an attempt to subliment his measly teacher’s income. In the course of the show Walt deploys his encyclopaedic chemistry knowledge to get him and his dopey (in more ways than one) sidekick out of a few sticky scrapes. They make a battery to jump start a RV, dissolve bodies with HF, prepare ricin to dispose of his enemies and so on.
There’s plenty of neat, and reasonably accurate, chemistry in the show. But do Walt’s various solutions (pun intended) really hold up to scrutiny? I thought I’d have a go at putting some of them to the test . Fear not, I haven’t started a meth lab in my garage. Instead I tested the scene where our (anti) heros use thermite to melt through a lock.
Here’s my set up. A nice tube of thermite sitting on top of a locked padlock.
Fire in the hole!
And its not looking good for the padlock. All that molten iron can’t have done it much good.
But after everything has cooled down….
One intact padlock! It won’t open, because I think the locking mechanism has melted, but it would certainly keep a door locked.
So I guess that’s a chemistry fail for Walt and Breaking Bad.
p.s. I think you folks over at Reddit might have taken me a whole...
Chembark and Seearroh have been indulging themselves in a bit of chemical nostalgia and so I thought I’d pitch in.
My story doesn’t revolve around a conference or lab experiences, but instead its a tale of how my grandfather’s pipettes found their way into a pot of odds and ends that sits on my desk. The story involves a legacy that had the potential to kill me, much of my family and probably a good few neighbours, but despite that I can’t help feeling respect and nostalgia for my grandfather every time I pull a pencil out of the mug that it shares with his old lab tools.
My grandfather was one my greatest scientific influences. He was a horticulturist who believed in organic food production decades before it became a mainstream movement. And he shared his love for plants and all things natural with me. When I was a kid he’d show me the edible plants in the woods or we’d lay down on our bellies gazing at the pond life which we’d then catch and examine under his microscope. But it was his laboratory (where he analysed chemical compositions of soils) that he built in a old building on his small-holding that really grabbed my attention. To my 10 year old self it was a fascinating Alladin’s cave of strange instruments, bottles and weird muddy mixtures.
Jump forward a few years and my grandfather could no longer keep on top of his small-holding, but despite his failing health and advancing years his fascination for the natural world...
I’ve recently been preparing some new courses which have given me the opportunity to browse through the literature from the dawn of molecular biology. And in the process I came across a 43 year old paper entitled “Studies of Polynucleotides XCVI. Repair replication of short synthetic DNA’s as catalyzed by DNA polymerase.” by Kleppe and Khorana in the Journal of Molecular Biology. Its an elegant manuscript that describes how DNA polymerase can replicate a DNA strand but only if there is a section of duplex DNA, known a as primer, from which it can start.
So Klepper et.al. started off with a bit of DNA that looked like this:
and after incubating with DNA polymerase ended up with a DNA sequence with the gaps filled in, like so.
Well isn’t that nice?
But the really intriguing bit is the last paragraph of the discussion.
.. the DNA duplex would be denatured to form single strands. This denaturation step would be carried out in the presence of a sufficiently large excess of the two appropriate primers. Upon cooling, one would hope to obtain two structures, each containing the full length of the template strand appropriately complexed with the primer. DNA polymerase will be added to complete the process of repair replication. Two molecules of the original duplex should result. The whole cycle could be repeated, there being added every time a fresh dose of the enzyme. … After every cycle of repair replication, the process of strand separation...
The following is a guest post from Matthew Goyette an associate with Timpview Analytical Labs. He is passionate about innovative approaches to clean energy production and an aspiring science geek.
What most people know about coal is that when they flip a switch the light goes on, and then they get a bill. Oil is to blame when gas prices go up or air quality goes down. But for a chemist or engineer, the location, age, and chemical composition of the fuel deposit have great importance. Much like a fine wine, oil and coal take on the properties of their surroundings and are greatly influenced by process, storage, and time.
Chemists are the wine tasters of the fossil fuel world. Chemical analysis of coal and oil is how the big companies determine the best conditions for combustion, the particulates that will be released, and of course the fuel’s heat value.
Heat value, a measure of energy potential by weight, in large part determines the fuel’s market value. Indian Coal, for example, has roughly 4,000 kcal/kg while South African Coal has about 6,000. It’s also a good rule of thumb that the deeper underground coal lies, the more heat value it has because it’s most likely an older deposit with a higher concentration of carbon. As we all know, the older the vintage the better.
Some experienced chemists and miners can determine the qualities of coal by sight and by rubbing it in their hands, similar to how a wine connoisseur evaluates a fine wine. But for the...
Back in 2008 the UK’s Advertising Standards Agency (ASA) ruled that an advertisement for an organic fertilizer claiming to be “100% chemical free” was not misleading because:
“When there is a colloquial understanding of a word, we can take this into account when reaching our decision. In this case, we believe that most viewers are likely to understand the term ‘organic’ as meaning no man-made chemicals have been used to manufacture, or are present in this product. For this reason, we believe that most viewers are unlikely to be misled by the claim.”
To many this seemed like a largely illogical statement, including the Royal Society of Chemsitry. Their response was to offer a £1 million bounty for anyone who could present them with a truly 100% chemical free material.
Five years later and needless to say the RSC has not had to cough up. Meanwhile the term ‘chemical-free’ is still being banded about (including articles in mainstream media(chached page) , eliciting periodic complaints and some highly amusing satire from bloggers (and not just the chemistry crowd, a Mum’s blogs have joined in as well). In short not much has changed.
I figured it might be time to see if the ASA might reconsider it’s position. And a brand of ‘chemical-free’ deodorant that’s stocked in Holland and Barrett (a health food shop in the UK) seemed like the perfect test bed. I completed the ASA complaints...
Capsaicin necklace anyone?
Anyone fancy some quality, tasteful geeky jewellery? I don’t think you could do much better than this. Its accurate, sterling silver and subtly nerdy, which means I might just about be able to get away with buying some for the other half.
There’s a whole range of your favourite molecules in wearable form, from capsaicin necklaces to nucleotide earrings and serotonin cuff links.
All available from madewithmolecules.com.
Hat tip to @DrBWahab for the link.
Prof. George Gray
Today is the 40th anniversary of an innovation in chemistry that has had, arguably, a greater impact on our society than any of the Chemistry Nobel Prize winning achievements in the past 40 year. But the man responsible, George Gray, is only known in select chemistry circles (apart from maybe a few travellers boarding a train traveling between London and Hull that bears his name). Yet you are almost certainly reading this blog on a device that owes its existence to Gray. For he and his small team, of just two post-docs, developed the first liquid crystals that were viable in liquid-crystal displays (LCDs). Forty years ago today his work was published, triggering a multi-billion dollar industry and making today’s abundance of flat screen devices possible.
The breakthrough that emerged from Gray’s small group was the synthesis of 4-Cyano-4′-pentylbiphenyl (5CB). It had a nematic liquid crystalline phase between 22C and 35C which made it the first material that could form the bases of viable LCDs.*
Just like so many great innovations getting to this point had been far from easy, largely because there was little appetite for funding research on molecules that, at the time, had no clear applications. Turning liquid-crystals from curiosities into the ubiquitous technologies that they are today required both a burning need for new displays and the foresight of one of the more colourful government ministers.
This advert just popped up whilst I was reading something on the Guardian science pages. I clicked on it and it took me to the UK’s Department of Education who, in conjunction with the Royal Society of Chemistry are offering chemistry graduates a £20,000 bursary to start teacher training. Good news.
So what’s wrong with this picture? Take a look at the model molecule sitting on the bench behind the teacher? Its a bit fuzzy but it looks rather unlikely to me. I’d sort of hope that someone might have come up with something better to stick on an advert for chemistry teachers. Or maybe it’s part of some cunning plan to select just the most pedantic chemistry graduates.
UPDATE: I just spotted the same picture in a magazine with the Royal Society of Chemistry logo on it!
I bet there is an interesting back story to this little episode. In January a neat communication appeared in JACS describing “Small-Molecule Inducer of Beta Cell Proliferation Identified by High-Throughput Screening“. Basically the authors have induced the growth of cells that produce insulin, so opening up a possible route to cure Type 1 diabetes. Intersting enough, but not the subject of this post. I’m more concerned with the correction published last week. It seems that 20 authors wasn’t quite enough. Eric C. Peters probably wasn’t happy about being left languishing in the acknowledgements and having to be content with a thank you for experimental support. So come March he got promoted to the author list, leaving John Walker left all alone in the acknowledgements. You’ve got to feel sorry for him (unless the authors are referring to a whisky at the end of the day), how come he’s the only one left with a hat tip and no place on the front page? Especially given that its difficult to imagine what sort of contribution would warrant an acknowledgement on a communication’s worth of work (although granted that in this case there is and additional 12 pages of supporting info) as opposed to less than a 5% share of the author list.
Anyway this rather unusual correction got me thinking. What do you have to contribute to a study before you are entitled to a place on the paper’s author list? Or when does an acknowledgment suffice?...
The 60th anniversary of Watson and Crick’s DNA structure paper is fast approaching (25th April). So I’ve been hunting for nice DNA demos. My favourite so far is a replication of Rosalind Franklin and Raymond Gosling’s diffraction experiment (which appeared in the same issue of Nature). Franklin and Gosling’s paper featured the now famous photo 51, which contained the tell-tale information that led Watson and Crick to build their double helical model.
The neat thing is you can demonstrate the relationship between the patterns seen in photo 51 and diffraction off a helix using a laser pointer and a spring from a retractable ball point pen.
Just shine the laser through the spring, onto a wall about 3 meters away and you end up with pattern that is strikingly similar to photo 51.
It makes for a great lecture demo or a full lab class, were students can work out the structure of a spring from the diffraction patter. You can find full details in a really nice paper published in The Physics Teacher.
Diffraction pattern from a spring