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Category → Chemistry is Everywhere

Team Germany Takes Lead In Solar Decathlon

A little village of sustainable squatters has sprouted like mushrooms on the National Mall in Washington, DC. Students from universities and educational consortia have assembled twenty one-bedroom, one-bathroom houses – each one an entry in the Department of Energy’s Solar Decathlon.

The decathlon has brought a little solar town to the Mall every other year since 2002. As the name suggests, the structures are solar-powered and judged on ten aspects of sustainability and practicality. Students and faculty from departments of architecture and engineering collaborate on each project.

Team Ontario/BC's light-spreading ceiling design

This is the third time I (Melody Voith) have been able to attend, and each contest has drawn bigger crowds. On my visit, the wait to tour each home was at least 30 minutes – and this was a very educated crowd. I overheard debates about architectural influences, the relative sustainability of different countertop materials, the ins and outs of solar hot-water systems, and the benefits of “bifacial” solar panels – all from people waiting in line.

Team Ontario/BC's house has power shades and BIPV panels

Team Ontario/BC placed fourth, and theirs was one of three houses I toured. The house had wonderful floor-to-ceiling windows and a very modern interior. Automatic shades helped to control solar-heat gain in warm months, while allowing the winter sun to keep heating costs low. The rippled, textured ceiling looked like an art installation – its function was to spread light from a few light fixtures, keeping energy costs down. On the outside, the structure boasted building-integrated photovoltaics, and on the roof, a large PV array and solar thermal tubes to provide hot water and space heating.

Although the contestants used new building technologies very creatively, many – if not most – of the features could be used in any new (or maybe even renovated) home.
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What's In Your Fridge?

HOLD YOUR NOSE George Preti of Monell Chemical Senses Center has been collecting samples of human odor for a long time.

WAY COOL TOXIN LIBRARY The late chemical ecologist John Daly showing a visitor to his NIH lab in 2006 what probably is the world's most important collection of amphibian toxins.

Refrigerators tell you a lot about their owners. They also tell you a lot about a laboratory in which the appliances reside. That’s why I always love seeing what’s inside the fridge, or freezer, when I visit a laboratory for a story I am writing. My last raid on a scientist’s freezer was last month during a visit to Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia for an article that will appear in the October 12 issue of C&EN. During the visit, I had the pleasure, albeit a seriously malodorous one, of peering inside a freezer in the laboratory of George Preti, who studies the nature of human odor. One of his goals is to eke medically valuable information from people’s personal perfumes. The picture I took of Preti’s fridge reminded me of another fridge photo opp that I grabbed a few years ago, that one in the lab of the late chemical ecologist and amphibian toxin researcher John Daly of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (http://pubs.acs.org/cen/science/84/8426sci1.html). And now I invite you to send me your own photos of the contents of your laboratory fridges and freezers. Please send them my way (i_amato@acs.org) with a description of what’s inside and the scientific pursuits that those contents support. I’m betting I can eke a story out of what comes into my inbox.

A 'Barenaked' Science Song

A few days ago, we posted some excellent chemistry-themed music videos from Tom Lehrer and They Might Be Giants. Well, these guys aren’t the only acts getting in on the science songs.

The Barenaked Ladies penned the theme song for my favorite comedy, “The Big Bang Theory,” but what you might not know is BL also wrote an extended version of the catchy ditty. “Big Bang” had its third season premiere last night, and in honor of the show’s triumphant return let’s have a listen to the full version:

In case you’re wondering, the season premiere did not disappoint. Sheldon didn’t prove string theory after all, but Leonard was able to finally catch a break with a certain Nebraskan who, as Sheldon so kindly pointed out, will not be winning a Nobel Prize in Waitressing.

Another Emmy For 'Breaking Bad'

If you watched the 61st Emmy Awards last night, you may have come away with a strong sense of déjà vu. The award show was full of repeat wins, including Bryan Cranston once again taking home the golden statuette for “Lead Actor in a Drama Series” for the AMC drama “Breaking Bad.” In the series, which is in its third season, Cranston plays terminally ill high school chemistry teacher Walter White, who uses his chemistry knowledge to manufacture meth.

I’m just a poor kid from the Valley,” Cranston said in his acceptance speech. ” I don’t know what I’m doing here. I’m like Cinderfella.”

Cranston beat out favorites such as Hugh Laurie from “House” and Simon Baker from “The Mentalist.”

It wasn’t a sweep for science, however. Jim Parsons was nominated for “Lead Actor in a Comedy Series” for his role as Sheldon on “The Big Bang Theory,” but lost out to Alec Baldwin for his work on “30 Rock.”

Ah, well. Here’s betting that Parsons could school Baldwin in a rock-paper-scissors-lizard-Spock battle any day of the week.

New PCR Song On The Block

Next month, New York City hosts the second annual Imagine Science Film Festival, a collection of shorts and features meant to spark conversations between researchers, filmmakers, and audiences.

I learned about Imagine Science from Zach Charlop-Powers, aka the science rapper, a fourth year grad student studying chromatin biochemistry at Mount Sinai School of Medicine. He’s the MC behind the PCR Rap, one of the short films on the program. He’s been at it since college, and has written numbers about bioenergetics, cancer, and more. A track about structural biology is in the works, he says.

In true rapper fashion, Zach’s got the swagger to go with his rhymes- he’s confident he can take on all comers. Since his is the second music video about PCR that I’ve seen in as many years, I thought it was only fair to put the two head-to-head.

How do you like your PCR?(survey)

A Carbon-Free Curiosity

A friend of mine sent me this peculiar photo of carbon-free sugar and I couldn’t help but wonder: What in the world is hiding in this bag? Because the last time I checked, sugar was composed of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen. Carbon isn’t exactly a negotiable ingredient within this tasty trifecta.

A quick visit to the Florida Crystals website, however, reveals the truly unfortunate nature of this wording. In the organic sugar world, “carbon-free” doesn’t mean the sugar is free of carbon. It apparently means the sugar has a low carbon footprint.

Whew! Glad I cleared that up.  Carbon-free “sugar” isn’t anything I want going anywhere near my morning coffee. It’d probably just water it down.

Molecular Models Underfoot

I rolled into Washington D.C.’s Union Station on an Amtrak train at around 9 p.m. on Tuesday night, after a full day of reporting in Philadelphia for a story that will appear in a future issue of C&EN. Waiting to transfer to the local Metro for a ride to my neighborhood in Silver Spring, MD, I looked down at a tiled platform that I had seen hundreds of times. With graphene chemistry so ascendant these days, when this platform comes into view, I can’t help but think of it as graphene writ large. Now I will be on the lookout for other renditions of molecular structures inadvertently there in our constructed landscape.

Graphene You Walk On (Amato/C&EN)

"Meet The Elements" Video Debuts

Eat your heart out, Tom Lehrer. Boing Boing has debuted the music video for the song “Meet the Elements”, from They Might Be Giants’s new album, “Here Comes Science”. Lyrics are here.

Which element song rocks your world?(trends)