Chemistry Blog

Nov 16

Close up Pictures of Stir Bars (with a Wide Angle Lens!)

A while ago, we had an offer from ASPEX, a microanalysis company, to provide a free SEM scan of an object of our choosing (that post being a follow up to our M&M mystery post).  The stir bar won and was sent away, never to return.

The results are in, and they are as cool as expected.  Analyst Ben Abraham captured several images of our very, very old stir bar, with corresponding chemical composition analysis.  The stir bar contains several elements, some expected, some not.  At various sampling points around the stir bar, carbon, oxygen, aluminum, silicon, iron, sodium, magnesium, sulfur, chlorine, calcium, zinc, fluorine, and chromium (!)  were identified.  Clearly, after several good years of wear and tear, the surface of the stir bar becomes irregular and several impurities remain on the stir bar.

As a follow up, it would be interesting to see what a brand new stir bar looks like.  Also, it would be interesting to see what two old stir bars look like after a lifetime of cleaning by only soap and water, versus one cleaned regularly with aqua regia or piranha mix or some such cleaning solution.  I don’t know how this analyzed stir bar was cleaned.  Most likely soap and water.

Make sure you click over to the ASPEX site to see the rest of the images and results.  You can also check out the rest of the site, including their desktop SEM.

PS, if you don’t get the joke in the title, watch this.


Nov 15

TheChemBlog Closes Shop

Kyle Finchsigmate
Kyle Finchsigmate

One of the pioneering chemistry blogs closed their doors earlier this month. As a brethren to the class of 2006 [1], I feel the need to pay homage to the great Kyle Finchsigmate’s influential chemical blog. TheChemBlog came online in June of ’06 and with his anonymity still intact he was able to get away with his potty-mouth antics in a way to be informative, cutting, and always entertaining.

All good chemistry blogs have a mix of literature reviews, opinion, and funny life as chemists posts. If you examine his early writing they focused mainly on dissecting the chemical literature. The blog served as a vehicle for his wry sense of humor and to develop his capacity to analyze literature and communicate his insights to the chemical community. I mention this only because an examination of his final posts at the blog reveals a complete lack of the literature reviews, and I think this switch is telling for why he closed the doors.

All that being said, I am sure we will hear from Kyle again. As Web 2.0 platforms continue to expand and evolve everywhere in our lives, it will only be a matter of time until Kyle finds a new one to his liking. With the recent very promising blogs Chemical Crystallinity and Chiral Jones he leaves a chemical blogosphere that I believe is in good hands.


[1] In 2006 this blog was started and known as the ChemicalForums Blog; it was January 2008 when we moved to this domain.

Nov 14

Never Marry a Chemist


A recent comic from SMBC, one of my favorite web comics.


Nov 12

Chemistry YouTube Videos

  • Hitler Tries To Learn Organic Chemistry. A funny chemical take on an old meme.
  • An other awesome video from the Periodic Table of Videos guys, this time for chlorine. I’ve always enjoyed their informative and entertaining videos. However, I will have to lightheartedly take Pete Licence to task. Pete says at ~1:15, “Chlorine wants an other electron to get that noble gas configuration and it will move heaven and Earth to get that electron.” But, chlorine gas already has a filled octet and that is the chemical used in the experiment. It probably isn’t the best idea to infer a discussion from the electron affinity for a single chlorine atom in the gas-phase and use it as a simplification, with a smile and a wink, when explaining the reactivity of chlorine gas.
  • Paulina Mason thought you guys might like her attempt at singing the Periodic Table.

    I study at Carleton University in Canada. The video shows a very cool way how our chemistry professor encouraged memorizing all 117 elements of the periodic table. We had to make up a melody, and sing them in front of 500 people class, for an extra mark. That was hilarious:)


Nov 10

On the subject of safety goggles


As azmanam pointed out, Chemjobber’s post about Lab Essentials made it onto the most recent issue of Nature Chemistry–hooray! Well, kind of. One of my comments about comfy eyewears somehow got a mention as well. Now, I didn’t imagine my debut in the Nature publications quite this way. But if I have to be known as the Asian girl with the flat nose, I might as well use this chance to elaborate on the cause that is dear to my heart.

I’ve worn glasses for as long as I could remembered, but my journey to finding a pair to wear in lab has been a rocky one. I must not be alone in this: it’s so hard to find a pair of safety glasses that fits well! My problems are:

  1. The plastic part that is supposed to sit on the bridge of my nose isn’t really long enough to touch it; instead, the goggles sit suspended above my face. I have a flat nose; I’ve learned there are more important things in life to be upset about.
  2. Since the goggles can’t sit on my nose, the bottom edge of the lenses digs into my cheeks for support. I get the most awful imprint on my face and it starts to hurt after a couple hours
  3. Because they are ill-fitted, they fall off all the time when I’m in the middle of doing something

Do I get your attention now, PPE manufacturer? (hint)

When I first started taking chemistry as an undergrad, I was told to fish out a pair of safety goggles from the big box my TA provided. Over the next few years, I had tried on my fair share of safety goggles. Some of them were rocking the retro vibe like this, some others were the more simple style like this, and the others were the nice adjustable length like the one shown above.

The variety was nice. But I never liked any of them. I hated wearing safety goggles/glasses because none of them actually fits me. I don’t know how long it would take PPE companies to figure out that chemistry students with flat nose everywhere (including, but not exclusively, the Asian kids) are resenting wearing goggles!

I think we can agree that safety goggles are among the most important part of personal protection equipments. It’s a must for novice and experienced chemists alike. I would think that fit and comfort are significant factors in designing these because of their proximity to your face. As an undergrad, I didn’t have much of a choice of the types of goggles I could wear, so I just went with whatever that was provided to me. Let me assure you the fun of my chemistry experience was greatly diminished because of the discomfort of wearing one of these.

We’ve always had problems with freshmen (even older students) not wearing their goggles in teaching lab. Aside from laziness and carelessness, I think a big factor of it is comfort. We can promote better safety habit simply by showing students that in the same way we select glove sizes that fit us, it is possible and important to do the same for safety goggles.

And really, we have nitiles gloves in 5 sizes and like 20 different colors; I think it’s possible to add supportive nosepiece to safety goggles.


Note: I currently use a pair of AOS goggles with rubber nosepiece that I am reasonably happy with. It still falls my cheeks sometimes (as the rubber nosepiece is still quite shallow) but is a significant improvement from previous experience.

Note #2:  Nature Chemistry–if you need guest writers, you know where to find me. :P

Nov 09

Hot dogs and group meeting

We had our group meeting an hour early today to accommodate a make-up lecture my prof/boss wanted to do before he leaves on a business trip. Instead of doing the reasonable thing and get dinner before group meeting (@5:30 PM), he reviewed his lecture notes instead.

In the middle of group meeting, his wife (also the NMR director) cracked the conference room door open, threw two hot dogs wrapped in foil at him, and left. It made my day.

Hi people! I’m almost done with my first semester of grad school. I’m still alive… kind of. Is there anything that you wish someone had told you during your first year? I’d love to hear it. :)


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