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Category → Chemistry is Everywhere

Amusing News Aliquots

Silly samplings from this week’s science news, compiled by Sophia Cai, Bethany Halford, and Jeff Huber.

Liberation Wrapper

Hamburger helper: Liberation Wrapper conceals shameful eating habits. Credit: Freshness Burger

Japan’s Liberation Wrapper now lets a woman feel—and more importantly, look—dainty and demur while stuffing her face with a burger. [Elite Daily]

You know what would round out your application for that tenure-track faculty job? A scan of your butt. [Pan kisses Kafka] via [In the Pipeline]

Giant rubber ducky explodes in Taiwan. Somewhere a giant Ernie sobs. [News.com.au]

Robot beats human in rock-paper-scissors every time. It cheats, but our eyes and brains are too slow to realize it. RoboWar is upon us, and they’re winning. [BBC]

Meanwhile, Cornell University is training robots to hold knives without stabbing humans. Why are we giving them knives?! Sealing our own fate right there. [NBC News]

Air pollution is making it difficult for China to spy on its citizens. Don’t worry, though, because China is fixing the problem: They’re making their surveillance cameras even stronger. [Quartz]

From Nobel-winning research to the novelty ice cream shelf: Entrepreneur uses green fluorescent protein to make ice cream that glows when you lick it. [CBS]

Looks like they made a film, called “Spinning Plates,” about dreamy chef Grant Achatz and his gastronomical science. [Fast Company]

Scientists posit that King Tut died in a chariot accident, but they remain mum (pun intended!) on the effect such an accident had on future pharaohs’ chariot insurance rates. [Jalopnik]



Amusing News Aliquots

Silly samplings from this week’s science news, compiled by Sophia Cai, Bethany Halford, and Jeff Huber.


Mr. Delaney celebrates wedding anniversary. Not pictured: Mrs. Delaney. Credit: WILX

Who says romance is dead? Man gives wife a giant mushroom as an anniversary gift. [NY Daily News]

The fact that the U.S. now has a National Pet Obesity Awareness Day (Oct. 9) is really not helping our fat American image. [NBCNews]

Are you an Internet-savvy hypochondriac looking for a new ailment to worry about? Well, look no further. “Cyberchondria” is here. [Telegraph]

Rest in Peace, Ruth Benerito. And thanks for helping to save us from hours of ironing. [New York Times]

Males of several species will do a lot for sex. Some marsupials will die for it. [National Geographic]

Why use MRI for medicine when you could use it to make a better pork pie instead? [Annals of Improbable Research]

Chincoteague, Va., fire department is forced to cancel this weekend’s wild pony roundup as a result of the government shutdown. Disappointed firefighters may resort to playing with My Little Ponies instead. [WHSV-TV3]

They tell us cheating leads to guilt. Turns out, it also leads to upbeat feelings, self-satisfaction, and even thrill. [New York Times]

Like “Breaking Bad” but wish it had more opera music? You’re in luck! [Classic FM]




Speed Dating At The NOBCChE Meeting

For some, a 40th birthday can be a harbinger of a midlife crisis. Not so for the National Organization for the Professional Advancement of Black Chemists & Chemical Engineers, or NOBCChE (pronounced no-buh-shay). Last week, the organization held its 40th annual meeting, and just like NOBCChE’s first meeting in New Orleans in 1973, this year’s meeting in Indianapolis provided minority chemists and chemical engineers with an opportunity to present research, reconnect with old friends, and meet new ones. Even the Newscripts gang had an opportunity to mingle with some meeting attendees. Below are a sampling of the fun and interesting people that Newscripts stumbled upon in between visits to local steakhouses and rides on Formula 1 race cars.

NOBCChE Day 1 009

Windmon. Credit: Jeff Huber/C&EN (all)

Name: Nicole Windmon

Background: Fifth-year graduate student at Notre Dame University researching β-lactam mimics in an effort to facilitate antibiotic development.

Number of years attending NOBCChE meeting: First year.

Reasons for attending NOBCChE meeting: “I’m entering the job market very soon, so I’m looking to work on my résumé writing skills and my cover letter writing skills and learn how to do a good interview.”


NOBCChE Day 1 021


Name: Viraj Thanthirige

Background: Third-year graduate student from Sri Lanka who is studying gold nanoclusters at Western Michigan University.

Number of years attending NOBCChE meeting: First year.

Reasons for attending NOBCChE meeting: To present research on gold nanoclusters and volunteer at the science bowl for middle and high school students.


Continue reading →

In Print: Nature’s Call, Nature’s Mimic

The Newscripts blog would like to be closer Internet buddies with our glossy print Newscripts column, so here we highlight what went on in last week’s issue of C&EN.

When you’ve gotta go, it doesn’t matter if you’re thousands of feet above the earth. In 1961, Alan B. Shepard Jr. became the first American to fly into space … and likely became the first American to pee his pants in a space suit (unverified).

Zero-gravity relief: The International Space Station's Zvezda Service Module is home to this space toilet. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Zero-gravity relief: The International Space Station’s Zvezda Service Module is outfitted with this space toilet. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

As Senior Correspondent Steve Ritter writes in last week’s print column, NASA’s space program was light-years ahead of its onboard facilities program. Because the first spaceflight was so short–only 15 minutes–NASA engineers put the pee problem on the back burner, only to regret that decision when launch delays left Shepard in the suit for more than eight hours. (To learn about the more-detailed discussion that went on, Steve points us to the movie “The Right Stuff” about the first NASA astronauts. Without having watched it, the Newscripts gang really hopes that Shepard said, “Houston, we have a problem.”)

Steve says that researchers were developing catheter-based and other devices for the Air Force for high-altitude and long-range airplane flights. But, understandably, these were uncomfortable and often leaked. After learning the hard way during Shepard’s flight, NASA planned something new for their second spaceflight. Later in 1961, Gus Grissom went to space wearing two pairs of rubber pants that he got to take a leak between. On the third flight, John H. Glenn Jr. was the first in the U.S. space program to use a urine collection device (UCD).

Now, astronauts in the International Space Station have vacuum-like toilets that work in zero gravity. What about when they’re in their space suits during takeoff, landing, and space walks? The space shuttle program in the 1980s replaced these UCD storage bags with “absorbent technologies” suitable for men and women, writes Steve. So, giant diapers, Newscripts guesses. The Washington Post reports that they’re called maximum absorbent garments, or MAGs, which sounds slightly more dignified.

Toilet troubles aside, Steve is undeterred. “I have always dreamed of being a space cowboy,” he says. “The best part would be seeing if the moon really is made out of cheese or if the little green men on Mars have been hiding from us. The worst part is a fear of running out of air to breathe.”

Steve has had adventures a little closer to home, however. His next Newscripts item discusses ball lightning, which people only have a one in 1,000 chance of seeing in their lifetimes. Steve’s a lucky winner, he recounts:

Continue reading →

To Pee, Or Not To Pee? That Is The #ChemSummer Question

I don’t really remember the first time I peed in the ocean.

But it must’ve been when I was a girl, during one of my family’s numerous summer vacations to the Jersey shore. We rented the same property in Wildwood Crest year in and year out: a modest 3-bedroom apartment just blocks from the beach.

What I do remember is a yearning to never leave the water, for my dad to throw me into a salty green wave one more time while shouting “Uh-oh Spaghetti-o!”

I’d have to guess that it was during one of those marathon splash sessions when I first did it. If you spend enough time in the ocean that your fingers get wrinkly, your lips turn blue, and you have sand in unspeakable places, trudging back across the white-hot pavement to a rental house isn’t really an attractive bathroom option. I’m sure my parents weren’t in favor of escorting their dripping, pruney child to and fro throughout the afternoon and gave their consent.

Today, my husband and I continue the Jersey shore visits—now a tradition—with my niece, taking her to the southern beaches each year for some fun in the sun … and surf. During our first year in the water, at the tender age of 8, she was hesitant. I told her she could relieve herself in the water, and she looked at me with embarrassment, the way only a child could look at an adult. Clearly, I was not hip. CLEARLY, I had missed that day of potty training.

Jumping the waves in Jersey ... or are we? Credit: Courtesy of Lauren Wolf

Jumping the waves in Jersey … or are we?
Credit: Courtesy of Lauren Wolf

Fast-forward four years, and my darling niece pees in the ocean with the best of ‘em. It’s now my husband that needs the convincing: He refuses to go. To address his noncompliance, my niece and I have become a floating vaudeville act, forcing my husband between us as we put on a show.

Me:  “Hey there, you said you had to pee.”

Darling niece: “Yup. I just did.”

Me: “Oh good, me too. So that’s done with. Hey hubs, you feel that warm spot?”

Before I go any further, I should interject here to say that I do not advocate peeing in pools or other small bodies of water—ponds, pristine lakes in the Alps, etc.

But oceans?

Having so far failed with our comedic act, my niece and I this year changed tactics. We decided to turn to science (and chemistry) to reason with our reluctant (yet very tolerant) companion. Using the WiFi at the beach house, we mounted our case.

Exhibit A:

Urine is the vehicle by which your body gets rid of undesirable chemical compounds. But that doesn’t mean the compounds you’re peeing out are necessarily harmful to anyone (although, again, I should interject here and say I don’t recommend drinking pee or getting it in one’s eyes). For instance, according to NASA Contractor Report No. CR-1802, put together in 1971, the average human’s urine is more than 95% water, and it contains 1-2 g/L of sodium and chloride ions. Okay, so water + salt.

These happen to be molecular species found in seawater. According to Encyclopedia Britannica, the ocean is about 96.5% water, and it contains a lot more salt–about 19 g/L of chloride and 11 g/L of sodium. So far so good.

There are other salt ions in each of these liquids at lesser concentrations. For instance, potassium in urine has a concentration of about 0.75 g/L, and potassium in seawater is at 0.4 g/L. Nothing drastically different here.

Urea, #handdrawn goodness.

Urea, #handdrawn goodness.

Where the composition of a person’s urine strays a bit from that of seawater is with the components creatinine and urea. Both compounds are routes the body uses to get rid of nitrogen. Creatinine is a nitrogen-heavy cyclic compound that is a breakdown by-product of energy-laden molecules in muscle. It’s only present in the average person’s urine at about 0.7 g/L. Urea, on the other hand, is more concentrated: It’s present at about 9 g/L. Because it’s high in nitrogen, the molecule is frequently used as a fertilizer, but it’s also applied in topical creams as a moisturizing factor.



Exhibit B:

Everything’s relative. It seems like urea might be a problem, given that it comes rushing out of us humans at rather high concentrations. When it breaks down in water, it forms ammonium—a charged molecule sucked in by plants and converted into nutrients. Again, according to the Encyclopedia Britannica, nitrogen-containing compounds are important parts of seawater because “they are important for the growth of organisms that inhabit the oceans and seas.”

But again, maybe 9 g/L is too much. So I give you a little calculation: Continue reading →

In Print: Don’t Delete! Read This If You Want To Get Rich!

The Newscripts blog would like to be closer Internet buddies with our glossy print Newscripts column, so here we highlight what went on in last week’s issue of C&EN.


Ca-ching!: Newscripts has some tips on how you can make money, money, money. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Didn’t have a chance to attend last weekend’s get-rich-quick seminar at your local mall? Never fear, Newscripts is here! Just check out last week’s column, written by C&EN Senior Editor Alex Scott, for some helpful tips on how to approach future investments.

Worried that your stock portfolio invests too heavily in fossil-fuel companies? Well, you should be, according to a new report by Carbon Tracker Initiative and the London School of Economics & Political Science that finds that more than $674 billion is spent annually on the discovery of fossil fuels. Such an investment is misguided, says the report, given that fossil-fuel consumption will inevitably have to be curtailed in order to prevent irreparable climate-change damage. This fact, however, seems to be lost on energy companies, and their investors, who continue to pump money into the discovery of new fossil fuels.

So get-rich-quick tip #1? Avoid overinvesting in fossil-fuel companies. “It seems ridiculous to me that investors have not recognized that in the future it may become socially, and politically, unacceptable to burn fossil fuels and that this risk needs to be factored into their company evaluations,” Alex says. As just one example of the risks posed by burning fossil fuels, Alex points to a study published earlier this month that found that air pollution in northern China has decreased life expectancy there by five-and-a-half years.

Alex, however, is quick to point out that investments in fossil fuels can be beneficial when combined with a commitment to sustainability. For example, plastics makers can use closed-loop manufacturing systems to turn discarded plastic into new material for their supply chains, he says.

In the second part of his column, Alex gives get-rich-quick tip #2: Be on the lookout for microwave-driven Internet. As Alex explains, Perseus Telecom, an e-trade information technology firm, is conducting studies regarding the feasibility of using balloons to transmit microwave signals across the Atlantic Ocean. Such signals would be able to transmit data faster than current fiber-optic infrastructure, providing stock traders with a potential advantage in their fast-paced work environments. Continue reading →

In Print: Electromagnet Embarks On Slow Ride, Takes It Easy

The Newscripts blog would like to be closer Internet buddies with our glossy print Newscripts column, so here we highlight what went on in last week’s issue of C&EN.


The precious: One (electromagnetic) ring to rule the roadways. Credit: Brookhaven National Laboratory

New Yorkers aren’t known for sharing the road. But they really had no other choice when a 50-foot-wide electromagnet pulled out of Brookhaven National Laboratory in the wee hours of June 23 and slowly trudged along the highway.

As C&EN Associate Editor Lauren Wolf reported in last week’s Newscripts column, the electromagnet’s early-morning joyride was actually only the beginning of its journey. Over the remaining summer months, the electromagnet (which its handlers affectionately call the “ring” on account of the instrument’s shape) will travel by land and sea to arrive at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, located just outside of Chicago. Once there, the ring will be united with Fermilab’s muon beam generator. What are muons, you ask? They’re a subatomic particle similar to electrons but heavier. Fermilab scientists want to study the slight movements exhibited by muons as they interact with the ring’s electromagentic field because such movements could point to the existence of previously unknown particles and forms of energy. It’s an experiment that Brookhaven actually ran years ago, but the beam the lab used wasn’t intense enough, and as a result, the findings weren’t definitive enough.

Pairing the electromagnet up with Fermilab’s much stronger muon beam generator should alleviate this problem. First thing is first though: The electromagnet has to overcome a rather difficult journey. “The ring can’t twist during transit by more than a degree or so because it might break, which would make this costly move even more costly,” notes Lauren, who adds that the move is being coordinated in part by Emmert International, a firm that specializes in the transport of hauling heavy and large objects. Lauren is quick to note, however, that the big move is a labor of love for all involved. “I’m told the ring was built at Brookhaven in the 1990s,” says Lauren. “So I imagine that some of these scientists and engineers feel parental pride for the little, er, big guy.”

If you’re feeling parental pride for the electromagnet as well, Fermilab has set up what basically amounts to an online baby monitor to track the ring. Just click here to check out a map tracking the movement of the magnet in real time. And if that’s not enough backstage access to the electromagnet’s journey, check out this video featuring interviews with some of the ring’s movers as well as footage of the electromagnet’s road trip across Long Island.

In Print: Chemistry Tattoos

The Newscripts blog would like to be closer Internet buddies with our glossy print Newscripts column, so here we highlight what’s going on in the current issue of C&EN.

Oopsie daisies: MDMA or not? Credit: Reddit

Oopsie daisies: MDMA or not? Credit: Reddit

“Think before you ink” is probably a good motto for people considering a tattoo. “Think before you link” is probably a good motto for people considering posting a picture of their tattoo on Reddit.

The Newscript gang is only guessing here, but user Dolonotikz could’ve used a little more thought before burning the line structure of MDMA–the active ingredient in Ecstasy–into his flesh and then sharing a photo of it with the Internet.

As C&EN’s Craig Bettenhausen writes in this week’s Newscripts column, Redditors on the chemistry board were quick to point out that Dolonotikz’ tattoo was chemically inaccurate–it had only two double bonds in what should be a benzene ring.

All or nothing: A great cheat-sheet for someone sitting a row behind you in the exam. Courtesy of Chaz Saunders

All or nothing: A great cheat sheet for someone sitting a row behind you during an exam. Courtesy of Chaz Saunders

“When I read the thread, the hilarity continued as folks then proceeded to argue the chemistry of how it would break down,” recalls Bettenhausen. “It was geek-tastic, just like the sort of thing that used to happen in graduate school when grading exams. Then a few of the commenters started suggesting how the tattoo could be fixed, and I thought, ‘Well I wonder if legit chemists have done better?’ ”

So Craig asked the most legit chemists we know–C&EN readers–to share their own (hopefully accurate) chemistry-themed tattoos, and boy were there some cool ones. Check them out here: “Chemistry Tattoos.”

No pain, no gain: Blood, sweat, tears, and sometimes ink go into chemistry degrees. Courtesy of Ian Seiple

No pain, no gain: Blood, sweat, tears, and sometimes ink go into chemistry Ph.D.s. Courtesy of Ian Seiple

If you’ve only seen the print story, we ran more tattoos in an online gallery here. And since the story published, we’ve received even more submissions! Chaz Saunders sent in his periodic table back tattoo, and Ian B. Seiple sent in the ink he has of his team’s palau’amine.”When my team finished palau’amine three years ago,” Seiple writes, “I promptly went to get the structure of the final product inked on my back, to make sure I never forgot the misery and strife of being a graduate student on such a project.”

Craig, who has a nonchemistry tattoo, noticed that a lot of the tattoos people sent in were in visible spots, so he’s guessing many of them are meant to be conversation starters. “It’s something that the person wants people to ask them about,” he says. “Which makes a lot of sense when you’re talking about getting a Ph.D., the act of spending 4 to 7 (or more) years becoming the world’s foremost expert in something madly specific.”

We’d love to hear more from you guys, so feel free to add your own stories in the comments section. We will continue to update this post with other photos and anecdotes. And if you don’t send anything in, the Newscripts gang might be forced to get our own chemistry tattoos, just to fulfill the promise of more pictures. So, please, comment away!