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Archive → January, 2010

Elements Abound In D.C.

After reading Beth’s elemental town-name Newscripts last week, I spent a bit of time looking through Nicholas C. Thomas’ article trying to find the closest elmental town to Washington, D.C. Of the ones listed, Barium Springs, N.C., is the closest, at just under 400 miles away. (Although Alloy, W.Va., is a bit closer, it’s not an elemental name, so I’m not counting it.)

I thought this area should have tons of elementally named towns, what with all the science that goes on here. Maybe we can convince some towns to change their names for the International Year of Chemistry 2011? I’m thinking “Radon, District of Columbia” has a nice ring to it (especially as we’re ringing out Radon Action Month). Or maybe “Lead,” to go with all the contamination we have in our soil and water.

Anyhow, not finding any towns in the area currently named after elements, I was surprised to stumble upon some graffiti on the trash can across the street from my apartment building.

Chemistry Graffiti

Chemistry Graffiti

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Celebrating ACS Scholars

The American Chemical Society Scholars Program celebrates its 15th anniversary in 2010. The program awards renewable scholarships of up to $5,000 per year to underrepresented minority students who want to enter chemistry or chemical engineering or related fields such as environmental science, toxicology, and chemical technology.

As part of the 15th anniversary celebration, C&EN is launching in this issue a series of profiles of current and former ACS Scholars. The profiles will run in the last issue of each month.

The first profile is of Steven W. Meier, who is a member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, an American Indian tribe with its headquarters in Shawnee, Okla. (see page 41). Meier was an ACS Scholar at Rice University. He received a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering from Rice, went on to receive his Ph.D. in chemical engineering from Northwestern University, and is now at ExxonMobil R&D in Annandale, N.J.

Through the year, C&EN will tell 12 of these inspirational stories. There are many, many more. The ACS Scholars Program, which won the 2001 Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics & Engineering Mentoring and the 1997 American Society of Association Executives Award of Excellence, has aided more than 1,900 students since its inception.

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They Might Be Giants of Science


has a nice video up with interview footage of They Might Be Giants talking about their new album, Here Comes Science . My kids love the album–their current favorite song is The Ballad of Davy Crockett–and if TMBG schedules a family show for SF, we’ll be there!

Cadmium In The Trash

Parents across America are throwing out their kids’ inexpensive costume jewelry because they fear it might contain cadmium.

When the Consumer Product Safety Commission set lower limits on the amount of lead allowed in U.S. toys, some Chinese manufacturers apparently began using cadmium instead. Cadmium is cheap, but it’s also toxic.

According to the Occupational Safety & Health Administration, cadmium is “a soft, blue-white malleable, lustrous metal or a grayish-white powder that is insoluble in water and reacts readily with dilute nitric acid.” Cadmium metal is primarily used because of its anticorrosive properties. It is found in alkaline batteries, pigments, metal coatings, plastics, and now some children’s toys imported from China.

Cadmium is considered a known human carcinogen by the Department of Health & Human Services. Long-term exposure to the metal can lead to kidney disease, lung damage, and fragile bones, depending on the route of exposure.

The question is whether a child is likely to be exposed to cadmium in toys. Wearing a necklace or bracelet is unlikely to cause harm, but sucking on a necklace, or swallowing a piece of it, would certainly be a different story.

In October, bright orange pumpkin erasers with extremely high levels (1800 ppm) of cadmium were in the news. I happened to have a few of them around my house from birthday party goody bags my kids brought home. Out of concern that my kids would chew on them, I threw the erasers out in the trash.

Someone ought to calculate how much cadmium is likely to enter landfills because of the recent cadmium jewelry scare, and what impact that could have on ground and surface waters.

Chemist Rumored To Be Next Boss Of France's CNRS

According to the French newspaper Le Monde, France’s prestigious National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS) might soon have chemist Alain Fuchs as its new director general-president. Neither the CNRS communications office nor the French Ministry of Higher Education and Research are confirming the Fuchs appointment, stating that they will make an official announcement next Wednesday. Fuchs is also declining to speak to the media at the moment.

Fuchs is a physical chemist who leads a molecular simulation group at Chimie Paris Tech, and is also the university’s director. Chimie Paris Tech is part of a distinguished and influential group of higher learning institutions in France called “écoles nationales supérieures.” According to Le Monde, a mathematician named Antoine Petit and a cryptologist named Jacques Stern were also considered for the CNRS position.

Whoever gets the job will be responsible for 26,000 permanent CNRS staff and a budget of 3 billion Euros ($4.3 billion). That person will also be at the helm of an organization in transition: The French government is splitting the CNRS into 10 institutes by subject. For example the institute of chemistry will be separate from the institutes of physics and biological sciences.

The new CNRS director general-president will be kept busy: The relationship between President Nicholas Sarkozy’s government and French scientists (including those from CNRS) has been rocky. Some of the government’s proposed reforms to the CNRS and to universities have brought thousands of scientists out of their labs and into the streets in protest.

Now on the Sheri Sangji Case: The L.A. District Attorney's Office

Sangji's hood after the fire. Credit: UCLA

The California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) last week sent its findings in the investigation of the death of University of California, Los Angeles, chemistry researcher Sheri Sangji to the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office. The DA’s office will now review the case and decide whether to file charges against the university or any of its employees.

Sangji, a research assistant in the lab of chemistry professor Patrick Harran, died a year ago after being badly burned in a laboratory fire. Cal/OSHA investigated the incident and subsequently fined UCLA $31,875 for laboratory safety violations related to Sangji’s death.

As is standard practice in the case of a workplace death, Cal/OSHA’s Bureau of Investigations reviewed the case to determine whether there was sufficient evidence of criminal violations of the California Labor Code to warrant referring the case to the DA’s office.

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Periodic Tables Galore

As I was scrolling through boing boing today, I came across a familiar face – the Periodic Table of the Elephants elephant, which hangs out here at the ACS building in Washington. Now, we’ve chronicled various periodic tables from beeriodic table t-shirts to a video periodic table to baked goods ones, but Mark Leach has taken the chronicling to a whole new level with the Internet Database of Periodic Tables. Take a gander at his extensive collection of periodic tables, great and small (including said elephant).

(Hat tip to Maggie Koerth-Baker at boing boing)

Photo credit: C&EN

After Copenhagen

The United Nations-sponsored climate conference held in December in Copenhagen was neither the groundbreaking success proclaimed by President Barack Obama and other world leaders nor the abject failure gleefully denigrated by climate-change skeptics.

C&EN Senior Correspondent Cheryl Hogue attended the entire conference and, with assistance from Senior Correspondent Jeff Johnson here in Washington, reported on it in several News of the Week stories (Dec. 14, 2009, pages 6 and 7; Dec. 21, 2009, pages 6 and 7; and Jan. 4, page 8). Hogue’s comprehensive wrapup from the conference appears in this week’s issue (see page 27).

As Hogue points out, negotiations in Copenhagen “yielded little. They were stymied not only by shifting geopolitical dynamics but also by procedural maneuvers that stifled consensus and by disruptions from the unprecedented number of people observing the proceedings.”

That’s a nice way of saying that the conference was a mess. As Hogue suggests, it has now become likely that a UN-sponsored, worldwide agreement to limit greenhouse gas emissions is unattainable. Climate-change skeptics are elated by this development, but they should not be.

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