Author nharmuth

Should the government get involved?

cerealCheck out this video from ABC news concerning the present state of affairs of cereal boxes.

Cereal companies are claiming that their products are healthy options, despite the fact that they contain tons of sugar and dyes. How far can companies go with misleading information before the government should get involved?
I find this fascinating 1) because people don’t stop and think, “Wow that’s a lot of sugar maybe it’s not so healthy” and 2) that it’s actually taken this long for the FDA to purpose a new method for labeling food… these labels have been around as far back as I can remember reading cereal boxes as a child.
It’s outrageous that companies can make scientific claims with really no scientific data to back it up, or rather with contradictory data and yet consumers continue to buy into it.

It all sounds a bit too familiar to the tobacco product ads that originally claimed cigarettes were a “healthy option.”

[via abcnews]

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Lithium-Ion Car Batteries

LiIonBattA current worry amongst environmentalists is that the Lithium-Ion batteries that are being integrated into newer car models (specifically hybrids) won’t be recycled. This is an interesting thought, considering:

Car batteries actually have the highest recycling rate of any waste product in the world.

But traditional car batteries have a reason to be recycled: even though they don’t hold a charge anymore they still contain lead and nickel, which can be re-used. Lithium-Ion batteries essentially don’t cost a lot to make and it would cost more in the end to recover the lithium.

I found this article interesting for two reasons.

  1. I cannot believe car batteries are the most recycled waste product! Think of all the plastic products that we use on a daily basis. We use our cars on a daily basis too, but I’m certainly not buying a new car battery every day. A relatively recent statistic says that 80% of water bottles end up in the trash! (The Gazette). This just seems absurd to me, and it’s indicative that our recycling recycling habits seem not to rely on improving our environment, but rather on the value of the recyclable product.
  2. Secondly, I think it’s fascinating that we’re slowly switching our cars over to Lithium-Ion batteries. This was a battery that, I believe, originally started in digital cameras as an alternative to AA batteries. Although initially expensive, their longer battery life and “rechargeability” were luring to customers.

Clearly there will be an interesting debate over the “environmentally friendly” aspect of Lithium-Ion batteries in the future, especially if they don’t believe consumers/manufacturers will place the dead batteries in the proper recycle bin. It’s a major concern if they make it into our landfills and the chemicals contained in the batteries start leaching into our water…

[via Yahoo! Green]

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World meet Adam

Robot Scientist 'Adam' at Aberystwyth University Adam is a robot designed to carry out scientific experiments from beginning to end… and everything in between – literally. The whole process is run by Adam from

formulating hypotheses, designing and running experiments, analyzing data, and deciding which experiments to run next.

Adam conducted an experiment on yeast enzymes.

Adam sought out gaps in the metabolism model, specifically orphan enzymes, which scientists think exist, but which haven’t been linked to any parent genes. After selecting a desirable orphan, Adam scoured the database for similar enzymes in other organisms, along with the corresponding genes. Using this information, it hypothesized that similar genes in the yeast genome may code for the orphan enzyme.

The project is being led by Ross King at Aberystwyth University in Wales. It seems pretty cool, but should we start worrying about robots taking over scientists’ jobs now, too? []

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The Empire State Building is Going Green

empire state buildingRenovations should start this summer in an effort to reduce the amount of energy being consumed by the skyscraper. Reduction is aimed at 38% a year by 2013. Although costing a bit upfront ($20 million), they will see savings of $4.4 million a year… so the renovations will be sure to pay for themselves in no time. It’s great to see energy guzzlers are making efforts to reduce consumption! [New York Times]

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So mom was right…

broccoli Apparently mom wasn’t trying to torture you with all that broccoli after all. A recent study in Japan stated that

Eating 2.5 ounces a day of broccoli sprouts appeared to reduce the risk of stomach ulcers and probably stomach cancer.

The word “probably” makes me question the validity of their claims. However, they did show that eating broccoli significantly lowered the levels of H. pylori (a bacterium associated with stomach damage and gastric cancer) in those who participated in the study.

So think twice the next time you go to sneak your broccoli under the table for the dog! [Yahoo! Health]

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Don’t count your chickens before they hatch… apparently they can do it for you

chicks A study on chicks has shown that they can also count. Researchers at the University of Padova and University of Trento tested the chicks’ math skills by moving plastic balls behind screens – so as to have three behind one and two behind the other. The researchers had previously found that they prefer to be near groups containing more of the objects.

The chicks still approached the larger of the two groups first, even though they had to rely on memory to work out which screen to choose. –Professor Regolin

So what’s next… algebra? calculus? computational chemistry? Watch out! These cute little guys could be posing a threat to our jobs. [BBC News]

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Welcome Back!

After a much needed winter break, we’re back and ready to start blogging again! Make sure you check in on a regular basis, as we have big plans for the months ahead. Some topics to look forward to seeing in the future:

-Changes in forensic science
-The Wii’s application to the military
-Buckypaper vs Steel
-Tools for the chemistry student
-Measuring CO2
-Prisoners contribution to modern day science
-Science in Politics
-The ongoing debate about Coffee
-And of course Molecules of the Week

Hope you all had a safe and peaceful holiday season, welcome back!

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Are you sure you don’t want to supersize your order?

C&EN had an interesting article yesterday about research that was conducted to determine the amount of corn found in fast food products, specifically french fries, chicken, and beef. The research covered McDonald’s, Burger King, and Wendy’s and approximately 500 servings of chicken, burgers, and french fries were analyzed. A. Hope Jahren examined the foods’ compositions by looking for different isotopes of corn. At the same time, she also tested for nitrogen content which is linked to the use (and consumption) of fertilizers.

They found that 100% of the chicken and 93% of the beef had been fed exclusively a corn-based diet. And the nitrogen analyses indicate that the livestock had been dining on heavily fertilized feed.

I suppose this probably won’t come as much of a surprise to many people, but I found this article particularly interesting because this research is the first to show scientifically that our nation is becoming heavily dependent on corn.

Corn agriculture in the U.S. has been criticized as being environmentally unsustainable, requiring disproportionate amounts of fertilizer and fossil fuels.

I can’t stand the fast food industry. It’s causing serious health problems in our country. I understand that from an economic standpoint this industry is fantastic for us, raking in about $100 billion a year, but really it’s just disgusting and I don’t understand how anyone can eat this food (especially after seeing Fast Food Nation). Cows and chickens are not supposed to eat corn – they’re supposed to graze and eat grass. We’re changing their diets, causing them to get sick, and in turn we’re eating their illness stricken muscles. I’m appalled by the fact that people continue to eat fast food not knowing what exactly is in it, and that the companies are allowed to continue selling these products without ever having to reveal what they’re actually serving.It’s also important to recognize the fact that these cows and chickens in the fast food industry are also coming from the same source that supplies our grocery stores.

If any of you are fast food fans, please enlighten me.

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Bottled “Water”?

A recent article on Yahoo!’s Green page caught my attention when it claimed that another study found that bottled water also contains contaminants. Bottled water has been a hot topic of conversation lately – whether it be about recycling the bottles or the actual product behind the plastic. Although I’m pretty sick of this topic and have resorted to filtering water myself (via Brita/Pur products) I continually find myself interested in any new “findings” in the bottled water world. Perhaps it is the little analytical chemist inside me waiting for an opportunity jump on this never ending bandwagon.

The research included 10 different brands that were tested for purity and two came up with unsatisfactory contamination levels (which were never defined)- Wal*Mart’s brand and Giant Food’s brand.

The study’s lab tests on 10 brands of bottled water detected 38 chemicals including bacteria, caffeine, the pain reliever acetaminophen, fertilizer, solvents, plastic-making chemicals and the radioactive element strontium. Though some probably came from tap water that some companies use for their bottled water, other contaminants probably leached from plastic bottles, the researchers said.

This statement includes the results of all 10 brands of bottled water, however the rest of the article only focuses on the findings in Wal*Mart and Giant Food claiming that the levels in the other brands were not high enough to warrant further testing- and the article all together fails to mention what the other 8 brands studied were! Frankly, if all of these things are showing up in my water – which is supposed to be pure – I think even 1 ppb warrants more tests. And although they say these levels are comparable to the water we’re getting out of our taps, shouldn’t this be saying something about our filtration systems?  Perhaps we shouldn’t just be focusing on bottled water. (Germaphobe – I know) I suppose its the little analytical chemist in me again screaming out for numbers and quantities – this article is lacking in pertinent information! In the end, Wal*Mart basically claimed they were shocked because none of their tests revealed this same information. It made me think of Instrumental Lab – do I see a possible scenario in the works?

So what do you guys think… stay away from bottled water or consider the possibility that the quantities of contaminants are too small to kill anyone?

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…more on the Nobel Prize

Three scientists Osamu Shimomura, Martin Chalfie, and Roger Y. Tsien were award the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for discovering and developing a green fluorescent protein (GFP)

Shimomura originally discovered the GFP in a jellyfish, Aquoria victoria, and found that aequorin (the protein) emitted a blue light. So he continued to research because he knew the fluorescence of the jellyfish was green. Eventually he found GFP, which fluoresces green when it absorbs the blue light emitted by aequorin. Chalfie genetically manipulated GFP to create fusion proteins where GFP becomes linked to other proteins. He found that these proteins can be expressed in other organisms such as E. Coli. Tsien showed that the chromophore of GFP only needs oxygen to fluoresce. He then synthesized other GFPs that fluoresce all different colors, shown above, which allows the simultaneous labeling of multiple proteins inside cells.

Collectively, they were awarded the $1.4million prize.

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Mercury 101

So you’re working on your Molecule of the Week assignment and you’re looking at your molecule in Mercury and thinking Wow this is hideous. How am I going to make this look presentable? If you’re not familiar with Mercury, the program seems a bit complicated with letters and buttons all over the place. Hopefully some of these tips will help clear things up, and you’ll get a pretty picture in the end.

Let’s Start with a before picture:

This was my Molecule of the Week before any editing

This picture is chaotic and extremely confusing. So now what…

  1. You can hide all of the hydrogens on your molecule in one simple click. In the bottom right hand corner (directly below the picture) under options uncheck “Show Hydrogens.”
  2. You can change how the atoms/bonds look. In the upper left hand corner next to “Style” there’s a drop down menu giving you 4 different options. If you have nothing highlighted the entire molecule’s style will change when you select any of these. However, you can change atoms individually or as groups. Just click the center of the atom(s) and then choose which style you like. There’s no need to hold down any keys when selecting multiple atoms, and you may have to rotate the molecule slightly to be able to select the atoms. Don’t worry, your previously selected atoms will not be deselected by this action, rotate away.
  3. You can hide atoms. Select the atoms you don’t want to see. Go to Display > Show/Hide > Atoms > Select Hide > Okay. The atoms magically disappear, it’s fantastic, and gets rid of “floaters” in your image instantly clearing things up. If you made a mistake, you can go to Edit > Undo, or you can go to Display > Show All and start over.
  4. You can rotate the image without having to click and move the cursor. Up at the top right above the actual image there is a set of buttons “a b c a* b* c*” These are comparable to the x,y,z axes and when you click them your molecule is aligned accordingly. To the right of these commands are x- x+ y- etc… These nudge your molecule slightly in either the positive/negative x y or z direction. The last commands rotate the molecule 90 degrees with respect to the axes. You can also translate your molecule to the left, right, up, or down by clicking on the arrows.
  5. You’ll probably want to zoom in to make your molecule as clear as possible. Just click the zoom buttons on the upper right.

After these 5 steps you’ll end up with a beautiful molecule:

These are just a few simple little tricks that should help you create a professional looking picture. Clearly there are many other things Mercury has to offer, however I am not familiar with the program entirely. Therefore, I would like to ask all of you to comment here when you discover new tricks. Good luck, and don’t be afraid to click things. I discovered a lot of tricks simply by trial and error.

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Impressions about Molecule of the Week Assignment

Initally, I was intimidated by this assignment. I don’t read science journals on a daily basis – actually I don’t really read them ever – and I was weary about where to begin. However, I decided to volunteer to do the assignment first with the initial notion of just getting the assignment “over with.” But fortunately, this assignment turned out to be quite a delight.

I believe I’ve never checked out an online chemistry/science journal, nor ever picked one up to read because I’m intimidated by the content. Also, I never really knew where to look – what information is legit? what information pertains to my interests? what are my interests? The list of questions is basically endless and I credit them for my procrastination. But now, thanks to this assignment, I realize that much of what is out there isn’t really intimidating at all. And actually, I felt really awesome when I understood the science that was being discussed in the article (I know 3 years ago not a word of the journal would have made sense to me and it was great to put my education to use). So I encourage you all, do not be intimidated by science journals – there are a lot of neat things amongst the pages that might just spark your interest.

This assignment also opened the door to the wonderful world of Mercury. While working on the assignment, Dr. Kassel showed me a lot of cool things that can be done to manipulate images. So I suggest you all make sure to download a copy of CSD and get acquainted with the program (its available in the Chem Office and it only takes a few minutes).

As far as the actual writing portion of the assignment is concerned, I believe it helped me recognize my weak points. This assignment has showed me the importance of learning to think and read in chemical/scientific terms and then summarize the article in a scientific manner. It’s important to note who your audience is and learn how to adapt your writing accordingly. Also, because of this assignment I was required to think and read chemistry outside the classroom – an important part to developing as a well-rounded Chemistry major.

So all in all this assignment turned out to be quite a developmental project – I didn’t just read about some metal complex and then summarize 8 pages for your personal enjoyment. I learned a lot about my own abilities, using a weblog, using Mercury, and the importance of exploring, reading, and writing about chemistry outisde the context of class.

Embrace the assignment! And if anyone needs help with anything don’t hesitate to ask.

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Molecule of the Week (03)

The fluorescing characteristic of a Xanthene-based Zinc (II) complex chemosensor has been the recent study at Kyoto University (Ojida, Akio; Takashima, Ippei; Kohira, Takahiro; Hamachi, Itaru. J. Am. Chem. Soc., 2008, 10.1021, p12095-12101) A chemosensor provides a means for monitoring the functions of biochemical substances/interactions. In the past, research of fluroescent chemosensors has been conducted to examine cations, anions, sugars, and proteins. The specific chemosensor in this article studied the fluorescence of intracellular ATP stores in living cells. This particular complex is “AWESOME” because if you look at the chemical structure before being treated with ATP you’ll notice that the two Zinc atoms are both bonded to the same oxygen. Upon breaking the Zn-O bonds the molecule opens up and the xanthene ring strongly fluoresces. The article included images of intracellular ATP stores fluorescing using the zinc (II) complex – pretty cool looking images. Honestly, I don’t completely understand the application of fluorescing complexes (I’m not a bio person) but I think it’s neat seeing that they can make things fluoresce in the body (actually – that’s kind of odd/gross).

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