↓ Expand ↓

Category → Chemistry is Everywhere

In Print: Chemist Gets High On A Unicycle

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.

For most chemistry students, balance means juggling work inside the lab with life outside it. For Max Schulze, it means something else entirely. That’s because the rising senior at Colorado School of Mines is not only a chemistry major, but he’s also a world champion unicyclist.

Max Schulze

Serious air: Chemistry major Max Schulze defies gravity on his unicycle. Credit: Minesh Bacrania

In this week’s Newscripts column, Senior Correspondent Marc Reisch interviews Schulze, whose impressive balance atop a unicycle has led to top honors at multiple gatherings of the Unicycle World Championships & Convention (aka Unicon). Schulze is currently gearing up for the next Unicon, which will take place in Montreal in 2014.

Schulze “seems to have developed an outstanding sense of balance both on the unicycle and off it. That’s something we can all admire,” says Marc, who admits to having had very little knowledge of unicycling prior to his conversation with Schulze. “Like most folks, I have a fondness for motorized four-wheeled vehicles because they are very convenient to get me from point A to point B,” Marc deadpans. “I’m also capable of navigating motorless two-wheeled vehicles. But I have resisted riding one-wheeled vehicles for fear of falling flat on my face.”

Despite a lack of familiarity with unicycling, Marc nevertheless found himself very impressed by Schulze. One of the things Marc found most admirable was the time Schulze has spent visiting grade schools near his hometown of Los Alamos, N.M., “to show youngsters what they might achieve with practice and commitment.” Marc says that during these visits, Schulze will often have elementary school teachers lie down on the ground in a row and then proceed to jump over them them while riding his unicycle. “Now isn’t that every youngster’s desire in life: to pass over his or her teachers?” Marc laughs.

Check out some of Schulze’s hair-raising tricks in the following video. Newscripts readers, don’t try this at home!

Continue reading →

Unlocking Life’s Code … With a Museum Exhibit

Today’s Newscripts post was written by C&EN intern and genomics fiend Puneet Kollipara.

This year marks the 10th anniversary of the Human Genome Project’s completion—when scientists successfully sequenced nearly all the base pairs of human DNA. It’s also the 60th anniversary of James Watson and Francis Crick’s discovery of the double-helix structure of DNA. What better way to commemorate those milestones than with a museum exhibition devoted to genomics?

Photo Jun 13, 10 30 36 AM

VIPs browse “Genome: Unlocking Life’s Code,” which seeks to educate the public on genomics and its societal implications, following a reception honoring the exhibit’s launch. Credit: Puneet Kollipara

That’s exactly what the Smithsonian Institution and the National Institutes of Health have done in a new partnership. Last week they opened “Genome: Unlocking Life’s Code” to educate the public on the science of genomics and its societal implications. A website accompanying the exhibit provides additional educational resources. The 4,400-sq-ft exhibit runs at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, in Washington, D.C., through September 2014, after which it will travel to other museums around the country.

The exhibit’s architects faced a number of challenges when dreaming up the installation. For starters, translating such a large, hard-to-visualize scientific field into a story that a general audience can understand was no easy task, says Vence Bonham, a researcher with NIH’s National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI). To aid in communicating the concepts, the exhibit features a number of high-resolution screens that play videos or animated graphics explaining key concepts in genetics and genomics.

The exhibit also emphasizes the use of activities to teach complicated subjects; for example, an interactive puzzle teaches visitors about how genomics could improve medicine by having them use genetic information to find the best drug for a disease. Another display asks visitors’ opinions of controversial issues in genomics, such as whether people are obligated to participate in genomic research.

Other activities within the exhibit are just plain cool: One lets you build a necklace that has a vial containing a visible sample of your own DNA — a way to remind you that nearly all your cells contain the code of life. To make the DNA visible, visitors take a sample of their cheek cells and place them into a detergent- and alcohol-containing solution that breaks down cell membranes and causes the genetic material to clump together.

Another more unique challenge during the creation of “Genomics” was the ever-changing nature of the scientific field: Just as genomics is continually evolving, so too must the exhibit. To address this challenge, the designers made the exhibit flexible enough that individual elements can be swapped or edited easily, says NHGRI Director Eric Green. The exhibit architects don’t just expect to have to make changes — in a way they welcome them, because new discoveries will likely benefit society. Continue reading →

In Print: Mission to Mars, Molecular Fashion

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.

Meet Anders. He’s 51 and Swedish. He’s also one of more than 78,000 people who have applied to take a one-way trip to Mars.


Red rocks: Rendering of Mars One settlement. Credit: Bryan Versteeg/Mars One

As this week’s Newscripts column explores, Netherlands-based “nonprofit” Mars One is currently soliciting applications from individuals interested in traveling to the Red Planet in 2023 and never returning. Approximately 28 to 40 applicants will be chosen from the pool of applicants to participate in a reality show in which they will train for seven years for the mission. An audience vote will then help determine the four people who will ultimately go where no man has gone before.

There is a video portion to the application that requires applicants, such as Anders, to tell a little bit about themselves and explain their reasons for wanting to travel to a foreign planet. Many of these videos are posted to the Mars One website, and what’s most striking about them is the general lack of enthusiasm many of these applicants have when discussing the opportunity to go to Mars. “I’ve often fantasized to just get on board a spaceship and go to explore the universe. I often get the feeling that I don’t belong here, but out there, in space,” the aforementioned Anders says, without so much as a smile. Continue reading →

In Print: Toys Will Be Toys

McDonald's website leaves it up to interpretation what divides the two types of toys.

McDonald’s website leaves it up to interpretation what divides these two types of toys.

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.

As the cashier at the fast-food restaurant is finishing our order, she grabs a small plastic doll and tosses it in my kids’ meal.

“Excuse me,” my mom says testily. “You didn’t give my daughter a choice of toys.” Even at age six, I can tell my mom is using tremendous restraint to give this young woman a chance to rectify her unintentional wrongs.

The woman looks at my mom, then at me, and asks, “Well, do you want the girls’ toy or the boys’ toy?”

I don’t remember if I ended up picking the doll or the toy car on that particular occasion. But I do distinctly remember the feeling of trying to weigh the gaps in my own eclectic toy collection with the point my now-fuming mother was trying to teach both me and the young woman at the cash register. Toys are toys, and kids should be able to choose their own interests without feeling undue social, gender-specific pressure.

Boots toy signage, before customer outrage led the store to redo how they label toy sections. Credit: @SeanEGray

Boots toy signage–with science kits in the boys’ section–before customer outrage led the store to redo how they label toy sections. Credit: Twitter/@SeanEGray

Twenty years later, I call my mom and tell her about this column, and she’s outraged we’re still having this debate. As I write in Newscripts this week, the gender-specific labeling of toys came under fire in England recently. Specifically, customers and online advocacy group Let Toys Be Toys took issue with science kits and chemistry sets being designated for boys. Since the backlash, toy giant Tesco and pharmacy chain Boots have changed their girls- and boys-specific toy labeling and issued apologetic statements.

In the U.S., however, it remains fairly ubiquitous. Target has girls’ toys and boys’ toys, as does Walmart, Toys”R”Us, and Fisher-Price–where play kitchens are still considered girls’ toys and Star Wars action figures are found in the boys’ section. Some studies have suggested a hormonal basis for children’s toy preferences. On the other hand, Sweden has found support for gender-neutral toy catalogs and early-childhood education.
Biological influences aside, it makes one wonder what the STEM divide would look like if girls were allowed or even encouraged to pick up a model train, a kit for making a clock from a potato, or a play chemistry set.

19th-Century Medicine In New Orleans

Strolling around the French Quarter on my last day attending the spring ACS national meeting in New Orleans, I stumbled across the New Orleans Pharmacy Museum, a 19th-century apothecary shop filled from floor to ceiling with bottles and jars containing crude drugs, herbal medicines, and even voodoo potions. For those of you who didn’t get a chance to visit this gem of a place, check out this virtual tour I put together–and be sure to visit the next time ACS visits New Orleans in spring 2018!

#ChemMovieCarnival: Dramatic Acid-Base Chemistry in Fight Club

This week, friend of the blog See Arr Oh is hosting a blog carnival devoted to chemistry in film. I’m a big fan of the silver screen, so in honor of the #chemmoviecarnival, I’m going to break a couple of rules and talk about one of my favorite films: “Fight Club.”

Living in a world where casual violence has become far too commonplace, I confess that it feels peculiar to be so fond of this film. After all, there are some alarming acts of violence in David Fincher’s adaptation of Chuck Palahniuk’s novel about, well, many things, but in particular life in our consumer-driven world.

I first saw this movie when it came out in theaters, back in 1999, and one of my companions commented as we left, “I hate everyone who liked that movie.” For me, however, the film’s violence is just an unusual way to get at a theme that might otherwise come off as cheesy: Appreciate every moment of your precious life.

To that end, there is this chemistry-related cinematic moment, in which one of the film’s central characters (Tyler Durden, played by Brad Pitt) gives the other (played by Edward Norton) a chemical burn with lye. Be forewarned it’s pretty graphic.

Please, please, please do not do this. It is not cool to give yourself or your friends chemical burns. That said, note the accuracy of the chemistry here: “you can run water over your hand and make it worse, or you can use vinegar to neutralize the burn.” Also, I am always amused at how Durden is so careful to put on gloves and safety glasses, but then rips them off for dramatic effect. It’s certainly not the most positive depiction of chemistry in film, but does drive home the movie’s point.

Terrence Howard Isn’t A Doctor, He Just Plays One On TV

Terrence Howard

Playing the part: Howard smiles through the pain of being an internationally famous actor. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Growing up, most boys dream of one day becoming a chemical engineer and enjoying the endless parade of fans, money, and women that comes with it. Terrence Howard wasn’t so lucky. He had to settle for Oscar-nominated Hollywood actor instead. But don’t feel too sorry for Howard because as he mentioned during a Feb. 26 appearance on “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” he actually holds a Ph.D. in applied materials and chemical engineering from South Carolina State University!

Howard turned the lemons of being left out of “Iron Man 2″ into the lemonade of earning a doctorate? It all sounds very impressive. The problem? It’s a lie. Continue reading →

Four Tips for Getting the Best Beer Foam

The Newscripts gang is always on the lookout for ways to make happy hour even happier. Monica Villa, beer lover and aspiring science writer, shares the following tips on how to get the best bubbles in your brew.

Credit: Shutterstock

Credit: Shutterstock

Beer drinkers know that quality beer foam means a better beer. So what exactly is this luscious lather? Beer foam is composed mainly of the same glycoproteins and organic acids found in beer, but at higher concentrations. Brewing and aging denature the glycoproteins (which come from yeast cell walls and barley), exposing their hydrophobic regions to carbon dioxide. Meanwhile, their hydrophilic side groups hydrogen-bond with water. This segregation of gas and liquid forms the basic structure of foam.

To create the best beer foam in your glass, follow these steps:

  1. Wash your beer glasses by hand; dishwashers leave detergent residues that interfere with bubble formation. The lacing of foam on the sides of a glass is actually an indication of cleanliness. Scratches at the bottom of a drinking glass can serve as nucleation sites for bubbles, so don’t sweat the imperfections in your barware.
  2. Serve your beer at the right temperature. Ideal beer temperatures vary by type, and the truth is that not all beers create a lot of foam. Darker beers and those with higher alcohol content tend to form less foam, while lighter-colored, hoppy beers form high-quality foam. These light-colored beer types should be served at 39–45 °F. Higher temperatures force CO2 gas out of solution, so aim for the higher end of the temperature range to increase foam volume.
  3. Choose the right glass for the beer you’re drinking. BeerAdvocate magazine has compiled a helpful list of the appropriate glasses for each class of beer, highlighting traits that contribute to quality beer foam. Among these qualities are ample space for high foam volume (tulip glasses), slenderness for the fluffy foam of wheat beers (weizen glasses), and room to showcase rising gas beads (pilsner glasses).
  4. Pour vigorously. A strong pour decreases beer surface tension, aiding in bubble formation. Start at a 45° angle, then straighten the glass to 90° midway through (as demonstrated in this video).

Bonus tip: Change your look for improved foam quality: Mustaches and lipstick carry lipids that disrupt bubbles.

Charlie Bamforth shared these tips in a recent ACS Webinar titled “Getting a Head through Chemistry: Great Beer and a Frothy Foam.” He is a professor of malting and brewing sciences at the University of California, Davis, and author of “Foam,” which he plans to be the first of a six-volume series on beer.