Articles by: noel

Irradiation to enhance food safety

Does anyone remember the E. Coli breakout back in 2006? I do. There has never been a quicker way to convince a 19-year-old to eat vegetables until you take lettuce out of their sandwiches for a couple of months.

According to the LA Times report[1], these greens are washed in potent chlorine bath, often up to three times, before they are bagged and shipped to the retailer. This standard procedure has a reported 90% effectiveness in killing the microorganisms that may cause harmful effects to the human body.

I don’t know about you, but I would rather not take that 10% chance to get sick. In the single breakout of E. Coli due to cross contamination with the cattle back in 2006, 200 people became ill and three lost their lives. That’s the 10% chance that nobody should have to take.

This past month at the ACS National Meeting in New Orleans, researchers from the USDA presented their findings and results of radiation treatment of fresh produces. Irradiation of high energy beams of photons or electrons, said the scientist, can disrupt the DNA of these pathogens. While the chlorine rinse offers a 90% effectiveness in killing bacterias on the surface of the leaves, it is not able to penetrate beneath the surface. Irradiation method has a reported >99.9% effectiveness in wiping out pathogens such as E. coli, salmonella and listeria, and the high energy beams allows penetrating power that works inside and outside the leaves.

Some members of the scientific community are calling irradiation one of the “few intervention steps that indeed can penetrate the leaf surface and kill microorganisms.”

Irradiation for enhancement of food safety is permitted for some hamburger meat, poultry and spices, but not for fruits and vegetables. However, there has not been any health problems associated with eating irradiated food. So why is FDA steering away from adopting an improved method that could potentially save lives?

Consumer experts and food safety researchers offer some of their speculations:

1. Irradiation may damage the apparence of the product, which may not be as appealing to the customers
2. Nobody would buy lettuce from a bag with a radiation sticker
3. The treatment could shorten shelf lives of the products
4. Technically, irradiated produces cannot be certified organic

Though reasonable, it is hard to believe that the above mentioned points would stop either FDA or independent research institutes from further investigating in a method that could possibly be so much more potent in eradicating pathogens than the existing practice. Perhaps these novel ideas would not suffer as much if we could deliver more transparent and correct ideas regarding the applications of radiation.

Using innovative ideas to improve the quality of our everyday lives, isn’t that what science is all about?


[1] USDA scientists say irradiation could be key to food safety

P.S. True to scientific spirit and for the benefit of the minorities out there, I will summarize and translate my discussion in lolcat. I can has radeashuns: on ur vegitablez, keelin ur baktiriaz.

Edit: Originally mentioned by Bethany Halford and Lisa Jarvis in Chemistry Newsbytes.

By April 22, 2008 9 comments nuclear chemistry, science news

Mitch on TV

Tune in to cheer on for our beloved blogger, Mitch, for his television debut this weekend. He will be featured on American Latino TV as an outstanding member of the cultural community. In this interview, he will be talking about how he chose the path as a nuclear chemist, and his aspiration to educate today’s youth on chemistry using the internet.

A complete listing of available channel can be found on this page:

By April 17, 2008 7 comments science news

Time Machine Possible in New Particle Accelerator

In recent years, time traveling has been not only a scenario in science fictions and Hollywood blockbusters, but also a scientific possibility due to the rapid developments of quantum theory. Tidbits on the possibility of achieving time traveling has sprouted up in news in the past couple of weeks.


The soon to be available Large Hadron Collider (LHC, pictured above) of CERN utilizes several superconducting magnets (kept at just 1.9 K) to guide charged particles to a desired projectile. Scheduled to be in operation by May of this year, it is the largest and highest energy particle accelerator in the world.[1] Using the LHC, a special run is scheduled for April 2008 in attempt to recreate the Big Bang.

By colliding charged particles at high velocity, researchers hope to reproduce the first billionth second after the Big Bang. By successfully doing so, this exercise would further validate the theory–some claim as the origin of life–since the Nobel win of Professor George Smoot in 2007.

However, the public hype of the launch of LHC isn’t all for the recreation of the mysterious Big Bang. Much of its attention is the possibility of creating a time machine as a side product of this exercise. As mathematicians Irina Aref’eva and Igor Volovich of Moscow’s Steklov Mathematical Institute pointed out, Einstein’s theory of general relativity suggests that particle collisions at such high energy level would distort the space-time fabric surrounding it. This distortion can create a wormhole, or “time tunnel,” allowing time traveling.[2] A related interview with Irina Aref’eva is available on YouTube.

Such claim sounds little more than a scene out of some scifi movie; and many in the scientific community agrees. Most remains skeptical of the production and application of the man-made wormhole. Surely, arguments like the lack of “time travelers” from the future still echo every time machine idea is brought up. Since what will happen inside the particle accelerator is still largely unknown, its secondary consequences also remain unpredictable.


[1] Large Hadron Collider, Wikipedia

[2] The world’s first time machine? Tunnel to the past could open door to future within three months, say Russians

By February 19, 2008 9 comments nuclear chemistry, science news

Metalloids, acids, pencils and pens — AP Chem Rap

Hello hello, awesome readers of the Chemistry Blog. My name is Noel, and I’ve been on the Make-Mitch-Finish-His-PhD task force at LBL since August 2007. After being a loyal reader of the site, it finally came time for me to make my first blog post. For your entertainment, here we present the AP Chem rap by The Kemistry Kidz.

Not so bad for high schoolers, eh? After watching this one too many time in lab, Mitch and I decided that it’s important to share joy and another reason to procrastinate with the rest of you lovely readers. Cheers!


P.S. If I give you the mole, can you find the mass?

By February 7, 2008 3 comments Uncategorized