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Archive → April, 2008

Rest In Peace, Albert Hofmann

The father of LSD died from a heart attack Tuesday at his home in Basel, Switzerland. He was 102. Who knew a shelved compound could have such an impact on society? Okay, so clearly Hofmann had an inkling. C&EN’s Managing Editor, Ivan Amato, wrote a lovely piece (subscription required) at the time of Hofmann’s 100th birthday. He told me today, “The thing about Hofmann, and particularly his discovery of LSD, that amazes me the most is how it so fantastically links the categories of materialism and psychology.”

Where Chic Geeks Meet To Eat

In the Central Square section of Cambridge, Mass., lies the Miracle of Science Bar & Grill. If you guessed from the name that Massachusetts Institute of Technology is nearby, you’re right, and the decor is distinctly scientific. The menu is displayed periodic table-style on a chalkboard (the prices are where the atomic weights would be) and is organized according to entrée type–appetizers, sandwiches, desserts, etc. Hb is hamburger, Cb is cheeseburger, C1 and C2 are chicken skewers and Br is a dessert brownie. The tables look like lab benches, drinks are served in beakers, and condiments arrive in test tubes.

Overall, it sounds like a place for pub grub and beer. A review in the April 20, 2007, edition of The Tech, MIT’s campus paper, concluded, “Overall the food was pretty good, though nothing really to write home about.” Although the student reviewer thought the food was expensive, the prices he quoted sounded average to me; here in the D.C. area, a $7.50 hamburger is not unusual. Reviews on Yelp.com confirm my impression that this place is a stop, not a destination. Still, it sounds like the kind of place where you go once just so you can say that you’ve been.

A tip of the toque to the Serious Eats blog, where I found this story.

Photo: Scott Beale/Laughing Squid

Chemistry Newsbytes

Reproducing the experiment no one ever seems to tire of, 1,500 poncho-clad Belgian students simultaneously dump Mentos into Diet Coke. Telegraph

Home brew for your car (or how to fill up your tank in your backyard). NY Times

Not enough scientists to go around? Attrition strikes the Indian pharma industry. Hindu Business Line

Element collector turns hobby into a career. Boston Globe

Venemous sea snail spits out powerful anesthetics and pain killers. The Guardian

Oil-based paints are 800 years older than originally thought. LA Times

A peek at K. C. Nicolaou’s new book. San Diego Union-Tribune

Has the Wicked Witch of the West got a bone to pick with Lawrence Livermore? A rare breed of poppies is exploding at the national lab’s Site 300. Contra Costa Times

Well, If It's For Science …

“Wanted: Women to eat chocolate for a year” reads the headline on this story at CNN.com. Scientists at the University of East Anglia in Norwich, England, are looking for 150 women to eat chocolate every day for a year. The objective is to determine whether a natural compound in cocoa could cut the risk of heart disease among women with diabetes.

According to the story, “A Belgian confectionist has created the special chocolate bar containing high levels of flavonoids–a plant compound that has been shown to reduce heart risk factors–to be used in the experiment. Soy, another natural source of flavonoids, has also been added to the bar.”

Researchers are looking for postmenopausal women under the age of 70 to participate in the study. The women will have their risk of heart disease tested five times during the year to see whether change occurs. Aedin Cassidy, who is heading up the research, says the scientists hope to show that adding flavonoids to women’s diets will provide additional protection from heart disease.

Impressions Of China

From Deputy Editor-In-Chief Maureen Rouhi’s editorial this week:

On my first visit to China two weeks ago, fascinating contrasts greeted my arrival. Traveling to the center of Shanghai from Pudong International Airport on a maglev train that reached a peak speed of 430 km per hour, I zoomed past a rural landscape of vegetable fields and simple houses along narrow streets traversed by people on foot or bicycle. Within the premises of the modern headquarters of a pharmaceutical chemical producer, I watched women tending a lawn by hand, removing the stray broadleaf weeds that were marring the uniformity of the tall, straight grass.

A bad experience, however, marked my departure. Air China canceled flight 933 to Beijing. The botched handling of the situation turned what should have been only an inconvenience into mob-behavior-inducing chaos, causing many passengers to resolve never again to fly with Air China. Reputation can be so easily damaged.

Read the rest of the editorial

Where Have All the Periodic Tables Gone?

On a stroll through a flea market in my neighborhood last weekend, I happened upon a tiny treasure in a bin of old books. “Wonders of Science: A Pictorial Story of Science and Invention,” is a guide through the “wonderland of science” that was the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia in the 1930s. There were two rather precious chemistry gems in the mix: Lilliputian Laboratory, a miniature reproduction of a modern chemical laboratory, and The Building Blocks of the Earth, a gigantic spiraling periodic table with actual samples of the elements (pictures of both after the jump). Now, the charm of the Lilliputian Laboratory lay primarily in its, well, Lilliputian-ness; It pretty much looks like a diorama I might have made in the fourth grade. The Building Blocks of the Earth, on the other hand, is truly something special. It raises several questions: Continue reading →

Chemistry Newsbytes

Turning those dirty diapers into roof tiles: Britain gets its first nappy recycling plant. The Guardian

Out: The low-carb diet. In: The low-carbon diet. LA Times

MIT students dig into the controversial theory of concrete pyramids. Boston Globe

Risk of depression dogs antiaddiction meds. Associated Press

Protein study shows that at a T. Rex family reunion, you’d be more likely to find chickens than lizards. Washington Post

University of Michigan picks up a slew of ex-Pfizer scientists. MLive

Bugs use plants as telephones. Live Science

Fun with science mnemonics. Drug Monkey

Take Your Kid To Work Day

Have you noticed today that some of your coworkers are shorter than usual? Today is Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day, and kids all over the country are heading off to work with Mom and Dad.

So what are the children of C&EN and ACS staff up to today? Writing science concentrates? Checking over Rudy’s editorial? Reviewing PRF grant applications?

Of course not. The lucky kids at ACS are doing chemistry experiments. This year, they’re studying acids and bases by testing solutions of citric acid and sodium carbonate with a universal indicator called “Rainbow Acid.” (Anybody know what this stuff is? The MSDS sheet just says it’s “a proprietary mixture of acid-base indicators.”)

Ten-year-old Sabrina Carrillo, daughter of C&EN Online’s Luis Carrillo (that’s them on the left in the picture below), tells C&ENtral Science, “It was awesome doing all the experiments. It’s fun to learn about science.” Sabrina says she’s even thinking about becoming a scientist when she grows up. Or a lawyer.

So, what are the kids up to at your workplace?