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Archive → December, 2009

Caroling Beaker

Last year Beaker offered up “Ode to Joy.” This year we get “Ringing of the Bells.” Happy holidays, everyone!

More Holiday-Related Chemistry Fun

In November, I wrote a Newscripts about Diane Bunce’s public lecture and demonstration of the chemical principles of Thanksgiving dinner.

Well, she’s at again. This time, she taught her students a thing or two about making holiday crafts in the lab. Check out this video, also available at the ACS podcast “ByteSizeScience,” for tips on making your own snow globe, bouncy “snow balls,” and marbled Christmas cards. Follow it up by making some chemical Christmas ornaments, and you’ve got yourself a holiday schedule full of geeky goodness.

Thanks again to the wizards in the ACS Office of Public Affairs for sharing their footage.

Happy Holidays, everyone!

Farewell 2009

This is C&EN’s last issue of the year. In years past, the cover story in this issue has been our “Chemical Year in Review,” a look at some of the seminal research advances in chemistry and related disciplines covered in C&EN during the year. This issue does contain the “Chemical Year in Review” for 2009, but it is the lead Science & Technology Department story.

The cover story focuses on the science behind the debate on global warming and climate change by Senior Correspondent Stephen K. Ritter. The image on the cover, from NASA, shows the Arctic ice conditions at the end of the melt season in 2007. It was the lowest extent of Arctic sea ice on record; an open Northwest Passage is visible. The image was produced from sea ice observations collected by the Advanced Microwave Scanning Radiometer on NASA’s Aqua

satellite overlaid on the NASA Blue Marble, the most detailed and accurate series of color images of Earth.

“Global Warming and Climate Change” is a major story, more than 8,000 words over nine pages, that Ritter has been working on for several months. Regular readers of C&EN know my opinions about global warming. However, in late summer I asked Ritter, one of C&EN’s most rigorous, objective, and experienced science reporters, to look carefully at the criticisms leveled against the idea that human activities are causing Earth’s climate to change. I asked him to talk to scientists on both sides of the debate and prepare a fair assessment of where the science is today. I believe he has accomplished that assignment admirably. I hope you find the story useful in the evolution of your understanding of this great problem facing the world.

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It’s chemical Christmas trees galore! This week’s Newscripts covers chemical decorations for Christmas trees, and the Periodic Table of Videos folks have visions of glucose molecules (and ethanol and ibuprofen and iron tetracarbonyl) dancing in their heads:

As an aside, Professor Poliakoff was featured on CBS News the other night.

Happy Holidays!

It's Not CGI…

It is, in a word: awesome. Scientists have for the first time captured on video a deep undersea volcano in mid-eruption:

Magma explosions video
Closeup of magma explosions

Nearly 4000 feet below the ocean’s surface, the volcano West Mata, located in the Pacific Ocean near Tonga and Fiji, has rocked scientists and public alike with its spectacular display of fire bursts, molten lava, and billowing sulfur “smoke.”

Credit: NOAA and NSF

Credit: NOAA and NSF

Scientists have spent decades in a fruitless pursuit of these oceanic fireworks—rushing to likely sites only to find that the event had already happened—but last May, they got lucky.

“This is historic,” said Joseph Resing, a chemical oceanographer with the University of Washington, said December 17 at the American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco, where the video was unveiled. “We haven’t seen new ocean crust being made before.”

In a joint project with National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration and the National Science Foundation, scientists have been monitoring the area. When they detected plumes of hydrogen impregnated water, laden with bits of volcanic class, near the site, they knew an eruption was imminent. They deployed Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution’s undersea robotic craft JASON to film the eruption. “We saw red hot molten lava being blown like bubble gum,” Resing described.

More than just a visual stunner, however, the event is also a scientific boon for ocean scientists. The eruption produced fresh samples of the water-laden mineral boninite—a substance that until now, had only been found in ancient rock samples. “Knowing the date of the eruptions gives us the ability to study aspects of the chemistry of the rock, such as radioactive tracers,” said Kenneth H. Rubin, geology professor at the University of Hawaii.

The group is also studying thermophilic microbes and shrimp found thriving near the eruptions.

Global Warming and Global Whining

COP15 ended today with a political agreement to cap temperature rise to 2°C, reduce GHG emissions and raise financial assistance to developing countries (to $30 billion over the next three years) to adapt and mitigate against climate change. Many stake holders were disappointed that the meeting ended without reaching a legally binding agreement to reduce GHG emissions, as most experts had predicted. Many criticized this agreement as low in ambitions, poor on targets and vague on money. However, it represents a small but important step to move in the right direction, where countries recognize joint and differential responsibilities tailored to their economic and geopolitical capabilities and constraints.

Overall, I was left with a sense of frustration about the UN negotiating process, which is in urgent need of reform. Too much time was wasted in repetitive and digressive speeches, especially by countries who are neither particularly highly susceptible to climate change nor bring significant solutions to the table. Many breakout groups looked like procrastinating children that leave their homework until the last minute. At this level of negotiation, no time should be wasted to address global warming, so we should restrict the time devoted to global whining.

It is very difficult to make progress when there are so many people negotiating, often giving more importance to political considerations than to a scientific reality that demands our urgent attention. On the other hand, the current agreement reflects a compromise between the two major emitters – the USA and China, which is too few parties at the decision table. Considering that ten countries are responsible for 2/3 of the global CO2 emissions (i.e., China, USA, Russia, India, Japan, Germany, Canada, United Kingdom, South Korea and Iran- ranked from higher to lower emitters), I think they should form a smaller group that includes a few representative of the G77 to continue the negotiations throughout the year, and commit early on to a transparent and accountable process that is essential to earn trust and build a common shared vision. If there is one thing that quickly makes us put aside differences is the threat of a common enemy, and we are facing an enemy created by our own actions- an enemy of devastating consequences on food security, global health, natural disasters and the economy. There is plenty of blame to share, but it is more important to find solutions that culprits and start preparing for next year, COP16 in Mexico.

Hmmm … What To Watch?

movie_nightWith a huge snowstorm about to hit the Washington, D.C. area, I am pondering how to spend this weekend trapped in my studio apartment.

I can’t do my last minute Christmas shopping for fear of driving. I can’t go out and take pictures for fear of frostbite. And I can’t call a friend to come visit for fear of rejection. One thing I can do, however, is pop in a DVD (which I’ll grab from Blockbuster tonight) and sink into my big comfy blue couch.

I just finished reviewing “Whiz Kids” (stay tuned for that) and am in the mood for something sciency. Let’s see, what to watch?

I visited Reel Science for some inspiration. I’m not a big Sci-Fi fan, so I’ll skip “Surrogates.” If I want to lose my appetite, “Food, Inc.” may be my answer. Truth is, I’m a sucker for a good drama, so I’ll probably rent “Adam.”

Head over to Reel Science yourself; there are dozens of reviews and recommendations worth checking out.

Image: Shutterstock

COP15 Proletariats

Posted on behalf of Anthony Berger, a student at the University of Iowa:

Stepping off the metro into the brisk Copenhagen air, seeing the Bella Center’s wind turbine circling ominously in the distance, and the sensing the invigorated buzz of conference participants mentally-preparing for the second week of COP15 to commence, I optimistically descended the steps from the metro platform.

After gazing excitedly at the facade of the conference venue, I began my search for the point at which the registration queue terminated. Continuing my walk to the end of the line, I denied admitting that this was indeed a very long line. Though initially worried I wouldn’t make a 9:00am meeting with my accrediting NGO (Mediators Beyond Borders), I convinced myself that the line would move steadily, and that I’d eventually make it to the meeting a few minutes late, at worst. I mean, the line had nearly quintupled in length, and my naivete precluded that most of these people would eventually be registered and admitted.

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