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Chemistry Day at Scientific American Blog Network

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This year is the International Year of Chemistry.

This week, many chemists are gathered in Puerto Rico for the World Chemistry Congress.

And here, at the Scientific American Blog Network, today is the Chemistry Day. Many of our bloggers, as well as six people invited to our Guest Blog, have posted something related to chemistry today. I hope you enjoy their contributions:

Caleb A. Scharf at Life, UnboundedThe molecules that made the universe:

“We are starstuff”, it’s a well-used phrase in popular astronomy (yes, we are. The nuclei of most heavy atoms in your body were forged long before our solar system existed, a million kilometers down inside the cores of long-since-gone massive stars). “We contain matter as old as the universe” (absolutely. Pretty much all the hydrogen nuclei – and even a few sneaky deuteriums – in your fleshy vessel are 13.7 billion years old, the leftovers of primordial nucleosynthesis). But what you probably haven’t heard before is “We all began with molecular hydrogen”. It doesn’t sound as dramatic but it’s correct, with a few minor caveats, and here’s why…

Carin Bondar at PsiVidChemistry meets Hollywood…:

Some scientific disciplines lend themselves towards being showcased on the cyberscreen a little more than others. There is no shortage of excellent opportunity for folks in various disciplines of biology, physiology, astronomy and geosciences to showcase their work cinematically through footage of macro or micro organisms, vivid experimentataion or sweeping telescopic views of space. However, those in other disciplines like physics, math and chemistry need to be a little more creative in order to draw and keep an audience. Lucky for us, there are some excellent examples of folks who have done this extremely well. May I present: ‘Chemistry meets Hollywood’ – some fantastic chemistry-themed productions, and the secrets to their success…

Jennifer Ouellette at Cocktail Party PhysicsTeetering on the Edge of Chaos:

John Connor​ is in mortal danger again, this time from a new, improved Terminator machine known as the T-1000. The original killing machine (played by Arnold Schwarzenegger​) is now the “good guy,” having been reprogrammed to act as Connor’s protector. Unfortunately, the reprogrammed Terminator is Old and Busted, built with outdated technology. The T-1000 is the New Hotness, and well-nigh indestructible thanks to the material from which it is made: a weird kind of metallic substance that shifts back and forth between and liquid and a solid state, enabling it to pass through metal bars and take on the appearance of anyone (or anything) it touches…

Glendon Mellow at SymbiarticThe Chemistry of Oil Painting:

What chemical properties give oil paintings their luminous glow and deep darkness?
Why do they crack?
What kind of oil is used?
Is it safe to use the oil painting medium on a fresh dandelion salad?
As an oil painter for the past 17 years who used to manage at a fine art supply store and notably not a chemist, I’ll do my best to explain. Don’t slip on the floor, and remember to soak your cleaning rags in water before disposing of them in the metal bin. They can spontaneously combust, you see…

Ashutosh Jogalekar at Guest BlogChemistry: The Human Science:

A tiny molecule harvested from a soil bacterium on Easter Island​ that evolved billions of years ago for no obvious purposes should have nothing to do with human beings. Yet it turns out miraculously to have potent immunosuppressive properties that allow doctors to successfully perform a liver transplant in a young girl…

Cassie Rodenberg at The White NoiseAddiction: a Fault of Chemistry:

Chemistry is at the brunt of it all, isn’t it? Addiction, the sinuous, stealthy disease is controlled by neurochemicals. Simple as that. You’re an addict or you’re not. Sounds easy and breezy, doesn’t it? The trouble and truth is, it could take years to figure out if you’re an addict. The truth is, you may never find out…

Michelle Clement at Crude MatterChemistry Day at #sciamblogs: Bridging the gap between chemistry and biology. #sciamchem:

I’d like to start the day off with a discussion about the common misconception that chemistry is all about test tubes filled with colorful liquids (and sometimes it is; as a grad student I worked with cupric acetate, which in solution turns a beautiful and brilliant blue) and boring stuff like p-orbitals (sorry to anyone out there who actually gets jazzed by orbitals), and it can’t possibly have anything to do with . I think this might be a big reason why outsiders don’t really notice how ubiquitous chemistry blogging really is…

Antony Williams at Guest BlogAll that glisters is not gold: Quality of Public Domain Chemistry Databases:

Shakespeare wrote “All that glisters is not gold” and how right he was. Whether it’s the before and after shots of models who have lost an incredible 10 pounds in just two days on a particular pill, or the couch potato who showed a six pack of abs in just 2 weeks after drinking some particular concoction, the truth is most of us know we are being manipulated by marketers in these cases. When applied to the contents of the internet, as powerful and enabling as it is, the internet hosts everything from one person’s country-toppling agendas to another’s staggering amounts of dross and drivel…

Hannah Waters at Culturing ScienceDMS(P): the amazing story of a pervasive indicator molecule in the marine food web:

Dimethylsulfide. Does that word mean anything to you? “Why yes,” you organic chemistry nerds may say, “It clearly is a molecule of sulfur with two methyl groups attached.” That’s as far as I could have gotten – until this past week (July 19, 2010), when I inundated myself with information on dimethylsulfide (DMS), inspired by a paper published in Science. Now I’m enlightened – what a wonderful molecule! Let me spoil it for you: it is a chemical cue pervasive throughout the marine food web that also affects the earth’s climate. (See illustration at bottom of post for summary.) That’s right. Just a sulfur molecule with two methyl groups attached. Now let’s back up a bit…

Scicurious at The Scicurious BrainSciAm Chemistry Day! LSD: A drug only as good as its receptor(s).:

Today is chemistry day at SciAm blogs!!! Fun times. And of course if Sci was going to participate, of course I MUST participate with NEUROchemistry! It’s the best kind! And today, to really mess with your neurochemistry, we’re going to talk about LSD. For some of my other posts on neurochemistry, head over to my other blog, where I’ve got primers on cocaine (and some of the history thereof), amphetamines, Ritalin, the neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine, as well as some primers of addiction theories like opponent-process theory. But today it’s going to be LSD. This one will BLOW YOUR MIND, man. And not because of the hallucinations, but because, deep down, we really aren’t sure what’s going on…

Matthew Hartings at Guest BlogCooking up some chemistry inside a cell:

Think back to your last chemistry class. (This might have been some time ago.) For most of you, you were likely 16 or 17 years old. When I was 16 or 17, I was thinking about some girl, or football, or a party, or … some girl. I certainly wasn’t focused on chemistry. And, chances are pretty good that my teacher knew this about me and my classmates. And your teacher knew this about you. Experiments during lab sections were simplistic for a reason….

Janet D. Stemwedel at Doing Good Science - Building knowledge (and stuff) ethically: the principles of “Green Chemistry”.:

Like other scientific disciplines, chemistry is in the business of building knowledge. In addition to knowledge, chemistry sometimes also builds stuff — molecules which didn’t exist until people figured out ways to make them. Scientists (among others) tend to assume that knowledge is a good thing. There are instances where you might question this assumption — maybe when the knowledge is being used for some evil purpose, or when the knowledge has been built on your dime without giving you much practical benefit, or when the knowledge could give you practical benefit except that it’s priced out of your reach…

Jennifer Frazer at The Artful AmoebaBombardier Beetles, Bee Purple, and the Sirens of the Night:

If I read my notes correctly, Thomas Eisner once had a pet thrush named Sybil who rejected only five insects out of the hundreds the entomologist offered her. They were all beetles. And one of them was a firefly.For any other bird owner, this observation would have simply limited their pet’s meal options. But this was Thomas Eisner — one of the great entomologists and chemical ecologists of the 20th century. To him, it was a tantalizing clue, and he decided to find out what made the fireflies have all the thrush plate-appeal of haggis. What he stumbled onto was one of the great new natural history stories of the 20th century — and the latest in a string of Eisner’s greatest hits…

Carmen Drahl at Guest BlogWhat’s In A Name? For Chemists, Their Field’s Soul:

By 1992, the Soviet Union was formally dissolved, and the entire world’s political, economic, and military alliances were in the throes of transformation. But you could forgive officials at the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC) if they didn’t notice much of a difference. At the time, they were still embroiled in a very Cold War-era standoff. At issue was one of the biggest prizes in the field of chemistry– naming rights for new elements in the periodic table…

S.E. Gould at Lab RatHydrogen bonds: why life needs water:

Water is everywhere on our planet. In the air, in our bodies, in our food and in our breath. Without it life as we know it would not be possible. Water is vital for the survival of all living things, yet as a molecule it has some pretty odd behaviour. Water molecules stick to each other, forming the ‘skin’ on ponds and droplets. The solid form floats on the liquid form. At room temperature water is a liquid, when most of the molecules closely related to it are gasses…

Kelly Oakes at Basic SpaceOn the origin of chemical elements:

We take it for granted that there exists a periodic table with numerous elements (at last count, 118) from which we can construct the world around us. But when the universe began with a big bang, it started out with no elements at all. Many of the elements that make up Earth and the people on it had to be created in the nuclear furnaces inside stars and were only released once the star reached the end of its life. In fact, only light elements, like hydrogen and helium, were created at the start of the universe. We can use our knowledge of how particles react to work out how these elements formed just a few minutes after the big bang…

James Byrne at Disease ProneAntibiotics are good for more than killing:

As a community here @sciamblogs we decided to each cover something chemistry related on each of our individual blogs to coincide with the World Chemistry Congress taking place in Puerto Rico. This scared the bejeezus out of me as I’m a biologist, not a chemist, and I’ve never been brilliant at the textbook chemistry stuff from my undergraduate classes. Also, a wise biology teacher once told me that all chemistry is boring until it starts moving, then its biology. Working in the molecular side of biology however, requires some interest and ability in chemistry which is fine, as long as I don’t make anything accidentally explode. So in fitting with this chemistry theme I went looking for a more bio-chemistry type topic to write about and found a cool paper entitled “Antibiotics as probes of biological complexity” in the appropriately named Nature Chemical Biology. Note the ‘Chemical’ in Nature Chemical Biology, it still counts…

David Kroll at Guest BlogDrugs from the crucible of nature:

The skinned knee is a hallmark of childhood summers. After the tears are kissed away, a time-honored ritual follows: a few squirts of a pain killing spray, a good slather of antibiotic ointment, an adhesive bandage, and then back to the neighborhood for more rites of passage. The venerable tools of this healing ceremony may take the form of commercial consumer products but they are rooted deeply in the chemistry and pharmacy of nature…

Christina Agapakis at OscillatorSigns of Life:

Each scientific discipline has it’s own practices, it’s own language, it’s own body of literature, it’s own snooty opinion of neighboring disciplines and it’s own notion of where it stands along perceived intellectual hierarchies, so perfectly illustrated by this typically excellent XKCD comic. At the fuzzy boundaries between disciplines there are blended fields—physical chemistry, chemical biology, biological anthropology—and emerging disciplines like my own field of synthetic biology (a different kind of applied biology). It’s often difficult to know exactly when you’ve crossed the boundary from one discipline into the next, but from the inside looking out it’s much easier to draw the boundaries of your own field…

David Bressan at History of GeologyHydrochemistry on the Rocks:

It is considered one of the oldest foods and most appreciated beverages of the world – chemical remains were found on fragments of a more than 4.000 old jar, the Mesopotamians guaranteed its purity by death penalty and the old Egyptian considered it an essential part of the afterlife – the preferred drink of the gods of the Vikings – and today of geologist, known also as beer…

Eric Michael Johnson at The Primate DiariesChemical Romance: The Loves of Dmitri Mendeleev, Part 1:

The scientist who systematized all the known elements in the universe was about to throw everything away for love. In April, 1881 Dmitri Ivanovich Mendeleev was internationally renowned for his creation of the periodic table that revealed the simple, yet elegant structure underlying all matter, but he was prepared to kill himself unless the woman he loved agreed to marry him…

Kate Clancy at Context and VariationSciAmChem: Don’t douche, she declares acidly:

In high school, I enjoyed participating in the science fair. I chose fairly random topics each year, but I do remember the year I studied the pH of soil and its impact on the color of flower petals. I grew a small set of African violets for a few weeks, then ground up their petals and subjected them to a spectrophotometer. Of course, with the small changes I made to the soil and short amount of time I changed the soil pH, I found no differences in petal color, but I felt like a Real Scientist…

Kalliopi Monoyios at SymbiarticWe Blew a Bubble for a Man Named Edison:

When you think of chemistry, no doubt images of scientists in white lab coats swirling beakers and test tubes come to mind. Ever wonder where those beakers and test tubes originated? If your answer is a big science catalog like Fisher Scientific or Chemglass or the like, you’re probably right… some percentage of the time. The rest of the time chemists, and increasingly scientists in other disciplines like physics, engineering, geology etc. employ the skills of scientific glass blowers to make custom designed glassware to fit any specifications they can dream up…

Deborah Blum at Guest BlogA view to a kill in the morning: Carbon dioxide:

In 1940, inspired by a tragic accident, a New York pathologist came up with the scenario for a perfect murder. His idea was based on the deaths of five longshoremen, their bodies found in the cargo hold of a steamer docked on the East River. The boat had been carrying cherries from Michigan. The men had been bunking in the room where the fruit was stored and to the shock of their co-workers, as work started to unload the cherries, all five were found lifeless in their beds.

Charles Q. Choi at Assignment: ImpossibleToo Hard For Science? Are There Drugs That Kill Love?:

Love seems to have three key components, according to Fisher’s renowned studies on the matter — sex, romantic love and feelings of deep attachments. “We’re studying the brain circuits for each of these now,” she explains. “My feeling is that when you take selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs, which are common antidepressants, you might be jeopardizing your ability to fall in love or stay in love or both,” Fisher says. “When you drive up the neurotransmitter serotonin in the brain, you are highly likely to suppress the dopamine system, and my colleagues and I have clearly found that elevated activity in the dopamine system is linked to one’s romantic feeling.”

DNLee at The Urban ScientistNational Chemistry Day: Profile of Chemist Dr. Rubye Torrey:

I met Dr. Rubye Torrey (yes, with an e) as an undergraduate student at Tennessee Technological University. I had seen in the University Center, walking along the Quad, in the Administration building and at football games. She was the Assistant Vice-President of Research at the University, but that meant nothing to me, although I was studying science and doing research with live animals. At the time I had absolutely no appreciation of research administration, research protocols, policies, animal care (IACUC), review boards ( IRB), or the role of administrators like Dr. Torrey – that would eventually occupy my days and nights as a graduate student. No, I officially met her for the first time on a blustery winter’s evening in 1994. I was attending an interest tea and she was the sorority advisor. She struck me as a very formal woman. She had a sweet face, but I immediately sensed she was no nonsense. I was quite right.

Janet D. Stemwedel at Doing Good ScienceDoing fun chemistry.:

You may have noticed by now that the Scientific American Blog Network is having something of a Chemistry Day. Reading about chemistry is fun, but I reckon it’s even more fun to do some chemistry. So, if you find yourself with a few moments and the need to fill them with chemical fun, here are a few ideas:

Also check out a couple of older posts that are related:

Melissa C. Lott at Plugged InMolecular-Level Energy Storage:

When the sun dips below the horizon for the night, most solar panels become interesting roofing tiles, instead of valuable generation resources. During the day, a single cloud can quickly send residential solar power generators back to a fossil fuel-based grid for their electricity. This intermittency in fuel resource availability, combined with the current lack of economic energy storage, impedes the ability of renewable energy technologies to compete with the existing fossil-fuel fleet. This provides a great opportunity area in research and development to find innovative solutions for storing energy. And, according to MIT researchers, one path to solving this competitiveness problem might be found at the molecular level – through their new understanding of fulvalene diruthenium.

David Ropeik at Guest BlogDear chemists:

Happy International Year of Chemistry. We hope things go well with your effort to increase public appreciation of chemistry and increase the interest of young people in chemistry and generate enthusiasm for the creative future of chemistry. Fat chance that’s going to get us to relax, though. Sure we know that chemistry has produced some pretty cool stuff, like DVDs and DNA, and when you mix vinegar and baking soda you can make a volcano, which is really cool. But let’s face it. Maybe when you hear “chemicals”, you think of the Periodic Table or how hydrogen bonds work. When we hear “chemicals” we think death, harm, cancer, birth defects, danger, pain, poison, pollution, hazardous waste, Love Canal, Bhopal. Oh, joy! So, happy IYC and all. But forgive us if hearing a word like “chemicals” doesn’t get us in the mood to celebrate or appreciate or enthuse. We know everything is made of chemicals and that without chemicals, life would be impossible. But just keep that stuff away from us, okay? It’s dangerous.

You can follow the buzz by searching for the hashtag #SciAmChem on Twitter (and other networks, e.g., Facebook, FriendFeed and Google Plus).

Perhaps the chemistry blogosphere will like this so much, they’ll start a regular monthly blog carnival.

And I’m sure SciAm bloggers will continue blogging about chemistry in the future, so make sure to grab the feeds and keep checking back.

(Image: Flickr user Horia Varlan via Michelle Clement)



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  1. 1. MichelleClement 3:19 pm 08/2/2011

    I think a chemistry blog carnival is an awesome idea.

    Link to this

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