Tag archive for news

First images of atomic orbitals

images of the atomic orbitals of a carbon atom

This comes soon after IBM researchers imaged a single molecule using AFM.

To create these images, the researchers used a field-emission electron microscope, or FEEM. They placed a rigid chain of carbon atoms, just tens of atoms long, in a vacuum chamber and streamed 425 volts through the sample. The atom at the tip of the chain emitted electrons onto a surrounding phosphor screen, rendering an image of the electron cloud around the nucleus.

[insidescience via slashdot]

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Prisoners Making Solar Panels instead of License Plates

solar panelSpire Corporation invested millions of dollars in a solar cell module factory at the prison in Otisville, NY. The company made this decision after they received a letter from Nasdaq saying they would be delisted if they did not increase their revenues to $50 million by the end of the 2008. Better solar cells than license plates, in my opinion. The inmates can receive training for emerging renewable technologies that can give them a fresh start once they have been released. Some people may complain, however, saying that this training gives them a job that lets them into people’s homes. The article also said that environmental groups may have a problem with it, but I’m not sure why. Renewable energy is the step we have to take after oil, and investments like these in training and manufacturing of these technologies is necessary if we are to make the switch.

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The “war on science” is over. Now what?

A nice piece at Slate about what’s next.

Scientists, with the support of the administration, should now be setting out to win over the hearts and minds of the American public, creating a stronger edifice of trust and understanding to help ensure that conflict doesn’t come raging back again. [slate]

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A fashionable type of medicine

spidersilknwebA recent CNN.com article describes new and unusual ways of re-growing broken bones and fixing holes in human hearts.  The novel methods involve molecules found in spider silk and the popular waterproof apparel material, Gore-Tex.  At Tufts University, scientists are researching new ways to use spider silk to genetically engineer new bone tissue.  The Department of Biomedical Engineering is trying to utilize the silk’s building-block proteins to create a scaffold material on which new bones or teeth can be grown.  Silk has six times the tensile strength of a steel fiber of equal diameter, but is biocompatible with the human body.  The desired scaffolding material would be used to fill a hole or a break in a tooth or bone.  Tufts scientists plan to take stem cells from elsewhere in the patient’s body to initiate replacement tissue growth.  Silk’s biodegradable nature would allow the scaffold to dissolve over time, much like the soluble stitches used in today’s dentistry.

At Rush University in Indiana, Gore-Tex is being investigated as a viable material to repair holes in the human heart.  Cardiologist Dr. Ziyad Hijazi has shaped the Gore-Tex material into a small umbrella and proposes that it be used to cover a common hole in the upper chamber of the human heart called the Patent Foramen Ovale (PFO).  The PFO is not usually dangerous, but can be for stroke victims.  The Gore-Tex umbrella device, named the Gore-Helex Septal Occluder, has seen success in plugging another type of heart hole.  The PFO hole is suspected to contribute to 40% of strokes in the U.S., so if the device proves successful in coming trials, the new technology could make a big difference in the treatment of stroke patients.

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Appetite Supression Using Hormones

An article I saw recently on Yahoo! News, discusses the discovery of a new appetite supressing hormone found in mice.  The study focuses on a molecule known as N-acylphosphatidylethanolamine or NAPE for short.  The compound was found by examining the blood of mice using LCMS after the ingestion of large amounts of lipids.  It was found that the levels of NAPE increased dramatically and the physiological effects of NAPE had never previously been studied.  The hormone is released by the small intestine after the ingestion of fat.

It was found that the food intake of mice could be controlled though injections of NAPE.  In large doses (1000 mg/kg body weight), the mice would almost completely stop eating.  The effects of the NAPE injection was found to last for 12 hrs for this high dose of NAPE.  It was found that the NAPE acumulates in the hypothalamus, and it is believed that this direct interaction with the central nervous system is how the NAPE reduces appetite.  It was determined that NAPE treatment supresses the neurotransmitter neuropeptide y, which is involved in stimulating the desire to eat.  It was also found that a high fat diet reduced the ability of the mice’s body to produce NAPE.

This research could lead to a new insight into reasons for obesity in humans.  It also may lead to a novel treatment for obesity using injections of NAPE and related compounds.  However, the research is still years away from human application.

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CNN cuts science team…

CNN cut its science and technology news staff last week and The Weather Channel canceled their climate change program Forecast Earth during NBC’s ‘Green Week.’ (NBC purchased TWC this summer.) I honestly don’t know what to think, but the cynic in me isn’t surprised.

Science coverage is already nonexistent in mainstream media; do these moves give other media outlets the precedence they need to drop science coverage altogether? Maybe the “important” assignments will go to the celebreporters when they aren’t trying to figure out what Speidi* is doing. In a society so deeply rooted and dependent on science and technology, concerned and responsible science reporting should be a priority rather than being summarily flushed.

It is clear that if ‘news’ cannot be sensationalized, politicized, or monetized, it must not have worth so why report it. It’s also clear that the mainstream media is not going to take responsibility for accurately reporting on science and technology issues that affect our lives every day. What hope is there for mom and dad, the grade school teacher, or the local government official to make informed and responsible decisions rather than instinctually reacting to an overhyped media blitz?

(*Spencer & Heidi – thanks to the Soup!)

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Genetically Modified Foods

A recent article reports that countries in Europe, Africa and Asia, specifically China, are relaxing previous restrictions on the importation and research of genetically modified crops.   This is because of the increasing demand for food from growing populations, which often results in hunger epidemics.  Genetic engineering has focused on producing plants which thrive in cold weather, droughts, nitrogen poor soils, among other desirable characteristics like herbicide and insect resistance.  On the one hand, genetic engineering does (more efficiently) what farmers have been doing for centuries-artificial selection through crossbreeding.  These developed traits allow for less fertilization (less chemical sprays in the environment and chemical residue on the foods) and higher yields to feed the public.  On the other hand, the public has voiced concern about the health effects of GM crops, or “Fraken-foods.”

GM crops are already in widespread use, especially in the US.  According to this article from C&EN,

In 2007 GM crops were planted in 23 countries across 281 million acres, a larger area than all the farmland in Europe.

Rice, corn, cotton, and soybeans are the major targets.  There is talk about requiring products made with GM crops to be labeled, and some companies are voluntarily labeling already.  Companies like Silk who use soybeans (the most GM crop) gladly label that they do not use GM beans.

I think the question here as in many of our debates is how much science should interfere with nature.  I’m actually not sure where I stand on the issue:  I see both sides.  It is the purpose of science to find a way to keep up with the growing needs of the world, and food is the most basic of these demands.  But at the same time, it is often difficult for scientists to accurately predict the full repercussions of their developments.  Are the risks worth it?  Both for our bodies and the environment?

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£1,000,000 for 100% chemical free material

Have at it!

If, as the ASA says, the public believes materials can be “100% chemical free,” the RSC will soon be inundated with examples from people wishing to claim the £1 million pound bounty announced today by the RSC. [RSC]

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Your tax dollars at work, naming rights to the new Mets ballpark

Citigroup is keeping their $400 million naming rights deal for the new Mets ballpark, Citi Field. 

You might have missed the news because it came on Friday, but Citigroup announced it was not planning to back out of the naming rights deal for the Mets’ new stadium, Citi Field. That’s the 20-year, $400-million naming rights deal. [newsday.com]

This is after announcing they are cutting an additional 52,000 jobs. Oh, and they are receiving around $326 BILLION, yes, that’s a B folks, in the government bailout. While only $20 billion is cash, the remainder amounts to the forgiveness of close to $306 billion in “toxic mortgages and related securities” (i.e., gambling debts). Unconscionable…

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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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Assignment update

A table of completed assignments is available on the wiki. Please don’t wait until the last minute to complete your assignments. Nicole and I are available for help both subject wise and in getting your assignments published.

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Environmental (and Human Health) Protection vs. Industry Interests – Who Will Prevail?

Last Thursday the EPA strengthened its standards on lead pollution, updating the law that was 30 years old. “The new standards set the limits for exposure at 0.15 micrograms per cubic meter of air, down from 1.5 micrograms, and well within the outer limit of 0.2 micrograms recommended by the advisers.” For me this was great news, as I am concerned about particulate pollution and industry standards for what they are allowed to dump, how much, and where. However, two days after this article was published, the NY Times printed another article stating that the Interior Department wants to relax the laws on mine waste dumping. Two government positions that are in complete conflict with each other, not a surprise.

The Union of Concerned Scientists states that in an average year, a coal plant burns 114 pounds of lead and other toxic heavy metals. If all of that goes into the air when the coal is burned, who knows how much drifts into nearby streams and valleys near the mountains where the coal is actually mined? The liquid waste generated by mountain top removal is dumped into a nearby valley, where the current law is that it must be at least 100 feet away from any stream (the new law states that this requirement can be skirted if “compliance is determined to be impossible” — how is that determined?). The solid waste is carted away into nearby valleys, usually in unlined and unmonitored landfills. How can the industries ask for a relaxation that would impede them from following the new, stricter lead concentration allowed in air? The qualification may be that the sources of pollution are different (water vs. air particulates), but once the waste has been dumped, some of it will be buried and some of the mine tailings can be kicked up into the air.

From this another problem arises – how far ahead are the companies required to plan to keep the dumping sites safe from leaching? This article states that mining pollution and the waste at the dumping sites stick around for quite awhile, affecting wildlife in the are. This means once the companies have stripped all the mountains, they have no long-term abandonment plan and instead leave the mess for the communities to clean up. If we are at all concerned about the quality of our streams or our air, the government cannot have double standards and pander to industries like surface mining.

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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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From Handle Bars to Energy Storage?

I’m all for wind and solar power, but the main obstacle to moving away from fossil fuels and toward these renewable energies is the ability to store the energy when the sun isn’t shining or the wind isn’t blowing. There are two ways to store energy: rechargeable batteries and ultracapacitors. Research is being done at the University of Texas at Austin on the possibility of using graphene as an ultracapacitor. Graphene’s high surface area and high number of ions allow a very high level of charge to be stored.

The amount of electrical charge stored per weight of the graphene material has already rivaled the values available in existing ultracapacitors, and modeling suggests the possibility of doubling the capacity.

The pros of using ultracapacitors include longer life, higher energy storage, and lower maintenance. This new technology can be applied to the electrical grid of cities so that renewable technologies can begin to be installed nearby, as well as the powering of electric and hybrid cars.

The question, however, is which should be implemented or invested in first – the technology that will supply the clean power, or the ability of a city to incorporate the new flow of energy through its grid? The problem of energy transmission also arises, as wind farms are usually located far away from cities. It’s interesting how a string of molecules can have so many uses, from harmful gas sensors, to mountain bike handle bars, and now a way to store renewable energy.

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add your comment.jpg

If you read/follow any weblogs, you’ll find that reader comments can be one of the more interesting aspects of a given post. Comments can add a level of participation and ‘conversation’ that extends beyond the post’s author and content. Among other things, these ‘discussions’ often add detail or point of view not reflected in the original post. Lifehacker has a good post on commenting that is worth reading. FYI, you will have to login to add a comment.

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Help me find a new header image…

The header image for this website is a simple mod of the default image that comes with the theme. While I appreciate the elegance of its simplicity, I’d like to find something that better reflects the content and am asking for your help. Of course the image has to be appropriate and copyright free. Don’t assume that if image is online that it lacks copyright. Check out Creative Commons (CC) for more info or do an advanced search on flickr for CC licensed images. I’ll post the the 4 to 6 I think are best before opening it up for discussion.

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Welcome back!


I hope you all had a wonderful summer full of rest, relaxation, and other quality time away from good old VU! I know I’m well rested and absolutely ready to go! OK, maybe not, but I’d like to think I am…

I spent part of my summer thinking about how to integrate some of the better aspects of social networking and collaborative web tools into this course (CHM3311). I settled on this website and associated wiki, which will serve as the collective home for CHM3311 and other course related items. Most assignments will be available on the wiki, while announcements, general articles, and such will be posted here.

As a big part of being a chemist, or a scientist for that matter, involves writing for different audiences, we (well, you mostly) will be writing short science pieces ranging from the technical (i.e., intended for a practicing chemist) to the general (i.e., for your aunt Ginny), which will be posted here or on the wiki. These assignments will require you to use many different sources including the primary literature (journals), mass media (newspaper/magazines/radio/TV), and new media (blogs/wikis). Some of these will be collaborative, while others will be individual writing projects. There will be opportunities to try other different things as well; I am open to suggestions, and hope to learn a lot in the process. I’m genuinely excited to see what you create!

Again, welcome back! I hope you have a great semester!

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