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Archive → December, 2008

Beaker's Ode To Joy

We’ll be a little quiet around here the rest of the week, but in the spirit of the season, enjoy:

Redefining Natural

I was home one day last week with a cold. The best course of treatment for me was an empty house and quality couch time with my cat and HGTV. I noticed several commercials for the new natural zero-calorie sweetener, Truvia, which is derived from the stevia plant. What caught my attention in one of the spots, though, was the phrase, “from a miracle of nature, not chemistry.” I readily admit that I am not a chemist, but I do know it takes chemistry to get from leaf to crystal.

Now, I realize the ad was likely targeting the artificial sweeteners, such as aspartame, and maybe I’m a little sensitive to the recent uses of chemistry in ads (like Burt’s Bees, HFCS, and soup wars), but perhaps the Truvia ad makers should take a lesson from the Splenda folk and call things as they are before trouble comes a steepin’. And, more importantly, chemistry is not a bad thing, people.

Another Trip Around The Sun

Today is the last issue of C&EN in 2008 as we do not publish an issue on the last Monday of the year.

It is hard to believe that we have completed another year—another trip around the sun, in the parlance of the R.E.M. song. It has been an eventful year, for our nation and for the chemistry enterprise.

We reflect on some of the significant events of the year in three stories in this issue. The cover story is our annual “Chemical Year in Review,” which has appeared in the last issue of the year since 2002. This year’s review was written by Senior Editor Stephen Ritter, who took over responsibility for the feature from Deputy Assistant Managing Editor Stu Borman.

Ritter took a somewhat different approach to the “Chemical Year in Review” than Borman. Out of the several hundred articles published in C&EN in 2008 on important research advances, Ritter chose 12 items to focus on and presents them in roughly chronological order. As he writes in his introduction to the feature, “These choices … are necessarily subjective, and we do not pretend that they are comprehensive. Indeed, these studies represent only a few examples of the many ways in which chemists are pushing the boundaries of what we know and what we can do.”

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Student Sentenced for Making Meth

For those who’ve been following the Jason West story: West was sentenced Friday to more than five years in prison, after he pled guilty in September to charges of embezzlement and conspiracy to manufacture methamphetamine. West admitted that, while he was a graduate student at the University of California, Merced, he stole laboratory equipment and supplies from the university and intended to use them to make meth.

The Merced Sun-Star has a video that shows one of the meth labs stocked by West. The video appears to have been made in August and some of the information presented was contradicted by Merced County Deputy District attorney Steven Slocum when I spoke with him in September. For example, laboratory tests of material prepared by West showed neither methamphetamine nor the precursor P2P.

Digital Chemistry Dictionary

cs_dictionary.jpgAre the chemistry-related documents you type in your word-processing program overwhelmed by a thicket of squiggly red “spelling error” lines? Then the newly updated Chemistry Dictionary for Word Processors is for you. The free program teaches word processing software to recognize roughly 104,000 chemistry-related terms. That ought to lead to fewer false alarms during a spell check.

At Mitch’s Chemistry Blog, azmanam (the dictionary’s developer) has posted a more detailed description, including compatibility information, downloading instructions, and a form to submit words that will be considered for inclusion in the next update.

Azmanam, thanks for making science writers’ days a bit brighter.

Thanks to you and everyone behind the dictionary, our prolines will no longer be converted to pralines, our dimers will no longer automatically become dimmers, and our silyls will no longer be mistaken for something silly.

Image: Shutterstock

Santa As A Chemist?

Last year, Janet Stemwedel of Adventures in Ethics and Science laid out Santa’s science credentials in response to David Ng’s query of what kind of scientist would Santa be. Ng nixed the idea that Santa is an inorganic chemist. I suspect some of you might have a different opinion. So, dear readers, what kind of chemist might Santa be in the offseason?

Your Thesis In Haiku Form

If Ph.D. Comics, the Dance Your Ph.D. contest, and the chemical blogosphere aren’t enough to satisfy your worktime website-trolling itch, allow me to humbly present Dissertation Haiku.

The administrator at this gem of a blog posts haikus about theses that she or he receives from readers. The offerings currently range from biochemistry (which gets its own category) to population genetics to music.

Since there’s a severe shortage of chemistry haikus on the site, I’m calling on you, gentle readers, to contribute your own. Here, I’ll even start us off.

Forging rings in flasks
Could the deep ocean harbor
The next germ killer?

During part of my Ph.D., I was on a team that finished a total synthesis of abyssomicin C, a marine natural product that has potential antibiotic activity.

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Help For Universities

During the presidential campaign, Barack Obama promised that if elected he would work to double over 10 years the budgets of the agencies primarily responsible for basic research in the physical sciences—NSF, NIST, and DOE’s Office of Science. Despite the extraordinarily bad economic conditions the U.S. now faces, many observers believe that Obama will work to make good on that pledge once he becomes president.

With the U.S. economy now in what appears to be free fall, President-Elect Obama has begun to unveil his plans for a massive economic stimulus package. His plans, outlined in very general terms in a radio address on Dec. 5, should be of considerable interest to the chemistry enterprise because they focus on energy efficiency, infrastructure, schools, and information technology.

Obama promised to focus spending on four main areas. One would be a “massive effort to make public buildings more energy efficient,” he said. Another would be “the single largest new investment in our national infrastructure since the creation of the federal highway system in the 1950s.” It would also include a “sweeping effort to modernize and upgrade school buildings” across the nation.

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