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Category → Chemistry is Everywhere

More Falling Walls

blogwallBefore heading to last evening’s rainy celebration of the Berlin Wall’s collapse at the city’s historical Brandenburg Gate–which featured a symbolic toppling of 1000 painted, wall-like dominoes, statements by various political dignitaries (Merkel, Clinton, Brown, Gorbachev, Sarkozy, Medvedev, etc), and performances by Placido Domingo and Jon Bon Jovi–I spent the day at a conference called Falling Walls, which was organized by the Einstein Foundation.

Taking place in a renovated water pumping station in the middle of the former so-called death strip, the no-mans land that abutted the Berlin Wall, a variety of top researchers from the sciences and humanities described the “walls” which were falling or which needed to fall in their area of research. The organizers had also managed to book German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who is a scientist-turned-politician from the former GDR (more below). Although no late-breaking new discoveries were announced, the conference provided a fascinating overview of research in a real potpourri of great topics: vaccines for neglected diseases like malaria and TB, three-dimensional televisions, how to make concrete less polluting, and how researchers are cracking the secrets of ancient civilizations , the origin of Homo sapiens. We also heard from Rolf-Dieter Heuer, the director general of CERN, about the Large Hadron Collider (which will hopefully start pumping out data one of these days) and from Norbert Holtkamp, who heads Iter, the fusion energy transnational research organization that originated during a 1985 conversation between Gorbachev and Reagan.
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20 Years After The Berlin Wall Fell

A remaining section of the Berlin Wall near C&EN Berlin

A remaining section of the Berlin Wall

C&EN Berlin’s office is about a block-and-a-half from where the Berlin Wall used to stand, on the former Communist, East side (known as the German Democratic Republic, or GDR). When I get out the wrong subway stop exit, I have to retrace my steps across the infamous death strip–a no-man’s land just before the wall to the West–where people were shot dead trying to escape. Just down the road, one of the few remaining stretches the Wall has been left standing. Where the Wall has been torn down, a double brick strip in the pavement demarcates its former path. Even after two years in the neighborhood, I am amazed and sobered by how easy it is for me to pop over to the West, to buy some printer toner or to pick up lunch supplies at a nearby supermarket.

wallpath2009 In this week’s issue, I’ve got an article about what it was like for GDR chemists who worked behind the wall. I talk to researchers who describe what it was like to be surveilled by the Stasi, the East German spy service, or what life was like after their supervisor escaped to the West. One chemist I spoke to named Christoph Naumann escaped by foot from Hungary to the former Yugoslavia and then to West Germany.
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Repurposing acronyms

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You can’t read a few syllables into many scientific papers without running into an acronym, but in the Plasma Laboratory at the Department of Geology at the University of Maryland in College Park, you can’t even get through the door without encountering one, in this case a familiar one that the lab has repurposed. I was there for a reporting trip earlier this week. I found plenty of evidence of isotopes inside, but not of pain, which of course could have been hidden to my eye. Inside the lab you find, among other things, a couple of inductively-coupled plasma mass spectrometers that are handy for such jobs as determining the elemental and isotopic compositions of meteorites. You are invited to forward your own pictures of lab door humor, or attempts at such humor, to me ().

Day Of The Mole

Happy Mole Day, dear readers!

Last year we gave you some ideas of how to celebrate with food. This year I’d like to point you in the direction of Adventures in Ethics and Science’s Friday Sprog Blogging about Mole Day, particularly for the artwork at the end.

Bringing Chemistry To Ballou High

Ballou Senior High School is only about six miles from the ACS headquarters building in Washington, D.C., but the school feels like it’s a world away. Located in one of the highest crime areas in the District, students at Ballou must go through metal detectors every morning to enter the school.

Yesterday, ACS staff traveled by charter bus to Ballou to do hands-on activities with the students there as part of National Chemistry Week. The stations included activities such as making slime using Borax and Elmer’s glue.

I’ll admit, I wondered whether these activities were too elementary for high school students. John Solano, a chemistry and biotechnology teacher and science department chair at Ballou, told me that for many of these students, this was the only exposure to hands-on chemistry they’ve had because the school lacks the funding to purchase lab equipment and other supplies.

I couldn’t help but think of the high school students on the other, more affluent side of town, who are doing advanced chemistry experiments in labs that rival those at colleges and universities.

It just doesn’t seem fair.


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Elemental Musings

National Chemistry Week is off to a swinging start, and this year’s theme of “Chemistry – It’s Elemental!” has made me a bit nostalgic. A few years back C&EN celebrated it’s 80th anniversary with a special issue full of essays on the elements. The 89 essays were written by both C&EN staff and outside contributors. So as we celebrate the elements this week, peruse at least a few of these gems and enjoy the varied voices, historical photos, and interesting tidbits you’ll find along the way.

Perambulating In An Elemental Garden

Strollers stop and smell the elemental flowers

Artist Rebecca Kamen explains her installation of elemental flowers.


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Whoopi Goldberg + Science Trivia = ?

Happy National Chemistry Week, everybody. While you were gearing up to get your Boy Scout chemistry merit badge, Whoopi Goldberg has brought a new science trivia show, Head Games, to TV. Don’t get too excited, though. She’s the producer, not the host. I think I’d be more likely to watch if she went head to head with contestants in the final round, Win-Ben-Stein’s-Money style.

Here’s a link to a clip of the show with element trivia. And here’s an interview with Whoopi. If nothing else, watch for the fainting goats.