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Archive → July, 2009

Chemicals To Save The Garden

With the problems a lot of gardeners across the country have had with the wetter and cooler than normal summer, adding diseased tomatoes on top of that could be the straw that breaks many backs.

Late Blight at Red Fire Farm

Late blight, an infection of tomato and potato plants caused by Phytophthora infestans

, gained infamy as the cause of the Irish potato famine. Now, it is rearing its head in one of the worst outbreaks in North America, mostly on the east coast, due to large retailers sourcing possibly infected tomato seedlings from a single nursery, Bonnie Plants, which has since recalled $1 million worth of plants. (C&EN requested comment from Bonnie Plants, and if the company gets back, this post will be updated.)

Such threats to crop production have led to myriad methods by which a grower can determine when to preventatively spray a chemical to protect his or her crops from any number of insects, fungi, or bacteria. For example, a Beaumont Period (during which the temperature is not less than 68 degrees Fahrenheit and the humidity is not less than 75% for 46 of 48 consecutive hours) encourages P. infestans

proliferation, and if such a period occurs or is predicted to occur, fungicide application is recommended.

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"Unscientific America" Comes To DC

Mooney (left) and Kirshenbaum field a question (Drahl/C&EN)

Mooney (left) and Kirshenbaum field a question (Drahl/C&EN)

After work last Tuesday, I visited a DC bookstore, Politics and Prose, for a talk by the authors of the new book “Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future”. I have yet to read the book, though attending this discussion has convinced me to do so- my understanding is that it highlights the divide between scientists and mainstream America (whatever ‘mainstream’ means). The book has been extensively reviewed in the media and in the blogosphere, and reviews are decidedly mixed. Since I can’t form an opinion on the book itself, I’ll provide some highlights from the evening and put forward a question or two.

The book’s co-authors are Chris Mooney, a journalist and author, and Sheril Kirshenbaum, a research associate at Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions, with a background in marine science. They took turns talking about why they wrote the book and gave some teasers on its content. Then they opened the floor up for questions, which is when things got more interesting.
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Spying on competitors through FOIA?

Over the weekend, DrugMonkey posted about a researcher who received a Freedom of Information Act request for his grant application to the National Institutes of Health, apparently from a would-be competitor.

The matter has been resolved, the FOIA target says:

UPDATE: The FOIA request has been rescinded.

According to our Dean of Research (after contacting their Dean of Research), “the requesting individual has been counseled on the proper use of the FOIA.”

But I’m curious–how common is this? Does anyone know of chemistry professors who have received FOIA requests for their grant applications?

Climate-Change Dissent

The letters in this issue of C&EN, all six columns of them, address my editorial “Climate-Change News” that appeared in the June 22 issue. Most of the letters disagree sharply with the editorial. Many more letters on climate change appear in the letters section of this week’s issue of C&EN Online. Most all of the printable letters we received about the June 22 editorial are either printed in this issue or posted on C&EN Online.

I will let the letters speak for themselves. Some chemists do not think human activity is causing Earth’s climate to change. They think the evidence for their point of view is stronger than the evidence that supports the widely accepted idea that burning fossil fuels and discharging other gases and particulates into the atmosphere is causing global warming.

A few points: One is that some writers suggest that ACS should not allow me to express what they consider an extreme view on global warming. They point to the disclaimer on the Editor’s Page—”Views expressed on this page are those of the author and not necessarily those of ACS”—and say that it is insufficient in distancing ACS from me.
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Digital Textbooks: Bane Or Boon?

McMurry_FinalCoverDigital versions of textbooks that can be read on a PC or a dedicated reading device like Amazon’s Kindle are slowly gaining ground in university classrooms. But they’re not yet used much in chemistry courses.

What’s your opinion of these digital textbooks?

As a student or professor, have you used one in your college courses?  In what ways did it help or hinder your educational activities?

And if you haven’t yet tried a digital textbook, what’s holding you back?

ACS Nano Video Contest Redux

Now that we know what nano is, (with the help of a catchy tune and some adorably nerdy puppets, thank you very much), it’s time to think big about the very small. The folks at the ACS Publications community website for nanoscience and nanotechnology, ACS Nanotation, have announced a second video contest, this time with the theme of “How Will Nano Change The World?”

The idea is to create videos that explain how will nano help us address the challenges we face today, in areas ranging from medicine to the environment. How is nano going to impact our daily lives? What can nano do for you?

As before, keep your videos short and sweet (under 3 minutes long). Submit them to ACS Nanotation by August 9. Winners will be determined based on a combination of the highest average video rating with the greatest number of online votes. The winners will be announced at the 238th ACS National Meeting in Washington, DC. Once again, cash prizes are up for grabs, with the winner taking home $500.

Read the full rules and guidelines to learn more, and go to ACS Nanotation to watch the entries. Good luck!

The Chocolate Grail

Swiss company Barry Callebaut has reportedly accomplished what most candy-makers only dream of: creating a melt-resistant chocolate. Copyright Barry Callebaut

While I was visiting a good friend on one very hot and humid weekend in North Carolina, she bypassed a typical lunch in favor of a giant chocolate bar. It was too large for her to eat all in one sitting, so when we stopped in a store to browse, she left the half-eaten bar unattended in the car.

Big mistake. We returned an hour later to find the formerly solid candy bar melted into a half-liquid mess all over her gray leather interior. Considering that the average piece of chocolate starts to melt at 85ºF and that, when parked in direct sunlight, vehicles can quickly reach highs of over 100ºF, that poor little candy bar didn’t stand a chance. Heat 1, chocolate 0.

But Swiss chocolate-maker Barry Callebaut might have stumbled upon a way to even the score: a melt-resistant treat able to withstand temperatures up to 130ºF. Called Vulcano, Barry Callebaut spokeswoman Gaby Tschofen described it as an “aerated chocolate” with a “crunch texture and a light mouth feel” that will melt in your mouth and not in your vehicle.

“The Vulcano chocolate is hygroscopic,” she told C&EN. “Once our chocolate gets in touch with saliva, it starts melting.” Tschofen wouldn’t reveal how the chocolate is made, but did say a “special production step” is what increases the melting point.

That answer, however, just wasn’t good enough for me.
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Facebooking It

If Facebook’s good enough for Steven Chu, well then, it’s just swell by us. Come check out C&EN’s brand new page on Facebook.