science events

What Really Happens in a Second

As the 25th leap second approaches (If you haven’t heard the news), there’s been a myriad of tweets and Facebook statuses joking about how to spend that extra moment when the clocks hit 11:59:60 UT. What many people don’t realize though is that a lot can happen in a second.

Let’s start with the basics. The SI definition of a second is 9,192,631,770 periods of the radiation produced by a particular transition in a cesium-133 atom. In the same second, this radiation (or any other form of light in a vacuum) would travel 299,792,458 meters, or approximately 7 times around the earth.

Speaking of light, our sun consumes around 500 billion kilograms of hydrogen every second to produce around 10^27 joules of energy. Although we receive only about a billionth of the total energy (10^18 joules), it’s still enough energy to power all of humanity for a year.

The amazing rate of natural events isn’t only in outer space. The earth experiences over 100 lightning strikes every second, amounting to more than 8.5 million strikes every day. The Amazon river discharges 175,000 cubic meters of water per second into the Atlantic, enough to fill seventy 10-lane Olympic swimming pools.

Finally, let’s not forget human accomplishments. I could not have written this post without help from Google, which is performing over 30000 searches every second. Sequoia, the IBM BlueGene supercomputer at Lawrence Livemore National Lab, can perform over 16 quadrillion operations (that’s 1.6 * 10^15!). However, even with these super computers, we can only simulate simple biological systems (ie: basic protein folding) for a few microseconds, much smaller than the actual time scale of cellular events. Each of the tens of trillions of cells in our body, for example, have proteins capable of replicating 50 nucleotides of DNA every second.

The things cited here barely scratch the surface of all the events happening every second of every day. It’s truly wonderful to appreciate everything that is going on around us without our knowing. I hope you enjoy the extra second and have a little new perspective whenever someone says “Seize the moment”.

****A word of caution to readers: Most of the values in this article, other than the exact definitions like the second or the speed of light, are meant to be order of magnitude approximations. You are likely to find different values if you use different sources.

By June 30, 2012 1 comment fun, science events

A guide for reporters on the 2010 Nobel Prize in Chemistry

(cross-posted with Chemjobber)

Somewhere in the good ol’ US of A, USA (DON’T HAVE TO CREDIT CHEMJOBBER):

3 chemistry professors, Richard Heck (formerly of the University of Delaware), Ei-ichi Negishi (Japanese descent, of Purdue University) and Akira Suzuki (Japanese descent, of Hokkaido University) were awarded the 2010 Nobel Prize in Chemistryfor palladium-catalyzed cross couplings in organic synthesis” by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. These are techniques for bonding (or connecting) smaller carbon-based molecules together to make larger carbon-based molecules.

Creating carbon-carbon bonds can be difficult and can sometimes involve using dangerous, impractical or environmentally unfriendly reaction chemistry; the techniques pioneered by Suzuki, Heck, and Negishi make these reactions simple enough for novice chemists to perform and practical enough that they can be run on multi-ton scale. Since their introduction in the late 1970’s, palladium-catalyzed chemical reactions have touched every part of the field of chemistry, including life-saving drugs, plastics and organic LEDs. The modern pharmaceutical industry would not be able to produce many of their products without palladium-catalyzed reactions.

The prize has been long-awaited by many chemists. “It’s about damn time”, said Chemjobber, a very junior synthetic organic chemist. “I don’t know what it took to get those Swedes to finally get their thumb out.” It is believed that part of the reason is the rules of the Nobel Prize: there can be no more than 3 awardees at one time, and they all must be living. Many chemists contributed to the field of palladium-catalyzed reactions. Professors Sonogashira, Tsuji, and Kumada could have all been part of this award, and the chemistry Nobel committee is notoriously controversy-shy.

Professor Heck has retired and currently lives with his wife in the Philippines. Professor Negishi is still teaching and research at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana. Professor Suzuki is still teaching and researching at Hokkaido University in Sapporo, Japan.

(CJ here: Man, this is harder than you would think.)

Maker Faire NYC 2010 was Awesome!

The Maker Faire is a “World Science Fair” event conceived and organized by those who produce Make magazine, which is described as “a do-it-yourself technology magazine written by makers.”  It was held in three cities this year – NYC, Detroit, and the Bay Area.  The Faire happened in NYC at the New York Hall of Science in Queens last weekend and was a fantastic, energetic composite of things going on.  Well worth the trek to get out that far into Queens!

The event embodied the “do-it-yourself technology” theme, featuring exhibits with a heavy focus on science, cool demonstrations, and lots of do-it-yourself booths where “makers” hosted hands-on activities for children and adults alike.   Naturally, something like this was irresistible to me, and I was able to attend for free since I was volunteering at a booth (unrelated to science or technology – I was with a group of a different kind of maker).  I didn’t get too much of a chance to spend time at many of the huge number of booths and exhibits, unfortunately, which was a huge bummer.

The schedule was overwhelmingly packed – definitely intended for people to spend an entire day there.  There was a demonstration stage, multiple craft tents, a huge food area, a beer tent tucked in there (which seemed to result in me getting security to throw out one guy who was harassing one of the women I was working with), and a large handmade craft sale section hosted by BUST magazine called BUST Craftacular.

Activities included “Cardboard Music,” where instruments were made from cardboard and found objects, a live presentation called “Thinking Like a Scientist” (some demonstrations of which are 200 years old) given by Wizard IV (Steve Jacobs), who also happens to be the science consultant for MythBusters.   MakerBot Industries was there – they create 3D printers that you assemble and then can then function as a little factory to make things for you (see the company website for more awesomeness).  One of the biggest pulls for visitors was the “Reverse Geocache (TM) Puzzle” – unlike using GPS to locate boxes around the country/world, you are given the box, but it won’t open unless you are at particular coordinates that’ve been programmed into it, and you have a limited number of clues to find that exact location.   Add this fun kind of intellectually stimulating product, activities and ideas, to children’s rides, music shows, tasty paella, and handmade crafts, and you’ve got one heck of a good sciencey time.

Check out images of the event on their own website, as well as those on CNET, guaranteed to be focused on the super techie stuff.

By October 2, 2010 0 comments fun, science events