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Archive → May, 2008

What's In A Name?

Washington, D.C.’s Union Station isn’t usually a part of my commute. I went there after work yesterday on a random errand, and as I rode the escalator up from the Metro, I noticed the person in front of me was wearing a t-shirt with an intriguing design (the one in the picture). We here at C&ENtral Science love chemistry t-shirts, so I had to ask her– are you a chemist? Why are you wearing that shirt?

My escalator companion, Linda Churchill (“Like Winston,” she said proudly), doesn’t call herself a chemist. She referred to herself as “a retired science teacher.” But she’s spent the last several months training middle school and high school students to do titrations, chromatography, and fiber analysis. Sounds like a chemist to me, at least in spirit.

Churchill is helping to coach the state of Alaska’s team of 17 middle and high school students for the 2008 Science Olympiad, which is taking place in Washington, D.C., this weekend. Science Olympiad aims to boost the quality of science education year-round, but the real fun for the students comes in the trip to the nationwide tournament, where this year, 46 out of 50 states will be represented.

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Art You Want To Eat

So I was recently checking out some art at a small gallery in East Berlin. It was a pretty cool installation of gray insulation foam that had been sliced and diced with a machete into what appeared to be very sharp, jagged rock.

After looking at it awhile, I admitted to the guy standing next to me (incidentally, a chemist) that I was having a hard time resisting the urge to squeeze the squishy, yet hard-seeming, piece of art. The artist, Sonja Vordermaier, who happened to be in earshot, wandered over and kindly gave me the go-ahead to indulge my impulse.

Then she told me that my urge was actually pretty pedestrian compared to what had happened the day she installed the piece in the gallery.

Apparently, she had gotten a little thirsty amid all the setting up and had gone to the back room of the small gallery to make some tea. When she came back to the sculpture, something was missing.

During her absence, somebody had taken a big bite out of the foam.

Yes. They took a bite out of the sculpture and then left the gallery. Stifling a laugh, I looked a little closer, and there it was: an unmistakably clear outline of somebody’s chops. The person had even left with part of her art in their mouth.

I wasn’t quite sure if having someone eat your sculpture was a traumatic experience, so I asked, “Um, how did that make you feel?” Sonja quipped that she considered the bite to be one of the biggest compliments she had received for her work. Right answer.

The whole thing got me thinking about how old-school chemists used to sample their creations as part of the characterization process. (Some current-day chemists probably sample, too.) It also got me thinking that I don’t capitalize on all available senses when experiencing daily life. I mean, I have never tasted a piece of art, except perhaps on a plate at a good restaurant here and there. And I typically don’t lean in for a whiff at galleries. But now I may be tempted.

One more thing, about our own literary art

. For the record, I don’t condone rampant destruction of C&EN back issues. But if you simply can’t resist the urge to take a nibble or a not-so-delicate chomp on a particularly well-written article, so you can really chew on the content, just don’t swallow the paper, okay?

Beer-Fueled Politics In Denver

Denver, Colo., is the host of this year’s Democratic National Convention, and it is also the home of the Coors Brewing Company. And because politics makes for some strange bedfellows, Democratic Party bigwigs and pooh-bahs will be shuttled around during the convention in flex-fuel cars powered by beer–waste beer, that is.

“Molson Coors, along with its U.S. subsidiary, Coors Brewing Company, will be the Official E85 Ethanol Producer for the convention,” the Environmental News Service reported recently. Molson Coors is donating all the ethanol fuel for 400 General Motors flex-fuel vehicles to be used for the convention’s transportation needs.

Coors produces about 3 million gal of beer per year. It has been recycling waste beer since 1996 and is the first U.S. brewer to convert waste beer into ethanol. Waste beer is beer that is lost during packaging or is considered to be below quality standards. The company claims that producing ethanol from beer helps it eliminate about 70 tons of volatile organic compounds from air emissions annually.

Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper adds that the initiative highlights “Colorado’s historic status as an energy and beer capital, as well as its reputation for environmental and economic innovation.”

Photo: john_luther/Flickr

Chemistry Newsbytes

Radiocarbon dating shows Stonehenge was a royal family’s burial site. LA Times

Are stem cells driving tumor growth? A new theory on cancer. Forbes

Not sure what to get Dad for Father’s Day? How about a suit made from recycled plastic bottles? Treehugger

Career advice for chemists who want to work with food. New Scientist

Ecohacking: Geoengineers have big ideas about averting climate change. Guardian

A little history on the discovery of Krypton. Wired News

Driving could get greener in an unexpected way: environmentally-friendly asphalt. CNET

Swimming pools minus the chlorine. (Someone should tell the reporter that ozone, silver, and copper are chemicals too.) NY Times

Journal Metrics

In this week’s issue of C&EN, Senior Editor Sophie Rovner explores the world of journal metrics. The traditional impact factor clearly has limitations, and several potential alternatives either exist or are in development. Which metric do you favor? What wild ideas do you have for measuring the significance of a journal?

Bush And The Environment

From this week’s editorial:

What’s with the Bush Administration and environmental regulation? What is it about President George W. Bush and his closest advisers that has led to an almost complete rejection of the 30-plus-year consensus in the U.S. that legislative and regulatory means are required to ensure a healthy environment for us and for future generations?

I’m not talking here about efforts to prevent global climate change. We now know that President Bush’s 2000 campaign promise to regulate greenhouse gases was as bogus as his claim to be a “uniter, not a divider.”

No, I’m talking about the more mundane, but still vitally important, control of mercury from coal-fired power plants, ozone in urban environments, air quality in national parks, and reporting toxic releases from industrial plants, to name just a few examples. In every one of these cases, and in many others, the Bush Administration has worked for seven years to undermine coherent regulation on these issues and the agencies, especially the Environmental Protection Agency, responsible for that regulation.

Read on, then share your thoughts here.

Chemistry Newsbytes

Mosquito repellents that beat DEET. NPR

CSI: Grocery Store. The scientists who get the call when something is amiss with your food. LA Times

Keeping man’s best friend forever. Biotech company plans to clone dogs. NY Times

How aluminum give vaccines a boost. ScienceNOW

Is it a good idea to drink urine when water is scarce? Slate

Canadian student discovers a microbe that chows down on plastic bags. The Record

Chemistry Newsbytes

Just in time for Memorial Day cookouts: Heparin and hot dogs. WSJ

Where have all the chemistry sets gone? SciGuy

Just how many of your kids’ science teachers are creationists? Kind of a lot. New Scientist

Abbott tries to attract students to medical sciences through a scholarship contest on Facebook. Wired

Frugality in the lab: a waste of time or a veritable challenge? Chemistry Blog

Chemistry in the kitchen: a hydrocolloid recipe collection. Khymos

Ten ways to fuel the future: cutting-edge clean energy solutions. Forbes