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As many of you are likely to have heard yesterday, a paper from Steven Lipshultz, MD, at the University of Miami appeared in the journal Pediatrics detailing poison control center reports on an adolescent misadventure called The Cinnamon Challenge. The challenge: to swallow a teaspoon of cinnamon powder in 60 seconds without any liquids.
The practice has been rummaging about the internet since 2001 but really took off on YouTube over the last three years. Lipshultz’s report discusses the risks of such tomfoolery, particularly due to the inhalation of cinnamon powder while one is choking.
I planned to write about this practice both here and at my Forbes.com blog since I thought both chemists and the general public would be interested in the topic. I wrote the Forbes post earlier this morning and drew a series of comments from a kindly San Diego-area chemist who took issue with my facetious comparison of cinnamaldehyde (cinnamic aldehyde) to formaldehyde.
While Lipshultz states that much of the acute pulmonary toxicity of cinnamon powder is likely due to the cellulose content, I submit that some damage could be due to protein adducts formed by cinnamaldehyde. Yes, yes, it’s not as dangerous as formaldehyde. But even at roughly 1% (w/w) in the powder, I hypothesize that the cinnamaldehyde could cause epithelial damage. Also note that cinnamaldehyde is not just any aldehyde but rather an unsaturated aldehyde. That makes me think of acrolein.
The experiments have not been done. But one animal study has been published showing that intratracheal administration of cinnamon powder — not pure cinnamaldehyde — can cause acute lung injury in rats and trigger pulmonary fibrosis within a month.
Alas, my concerns about cinnamaldehyde rubbed two commenters the wrong way and one, well, sought to chemsplain me.
I was originally trained in toxicology so I know the whole Paracelsan story that the dose makes the poison (to which I’d also add “route of administration”). But do you chemists, especially those in chemical toxicology, think that I’m overreacting (as it were) to the potentially reactive nature of cinnamaldehyde in inhaled cinnamon powder?
I’m willing to be corrected if I appear to suffer from #chemophobia. But I hypothesize that 1% (w/w) cinnamaldehyde can be cytotoxic.
The perennial question of the value of humanities education has been rearing its head down here in North Carolina and elsewhere. More often than not, these arguments focus 1) on the allegation that one can’t get a job in [insert humanities discipline] and 2) that education in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) is of far greater importance.
Remarks by our new Republican governor on a conservative talk radio show suggested that his goal was to reallocate state funds from humanities programs toward science disciplines. His stance led to an outpouring of support for the humanities but with considerable criticism of fields such as gender studies and African-American history.
My own students in a newswriting class were split on the governor’s comments. Their opinions were captured in an op-ed writing assignment where I posted the top three peer-ranked pieces over at my Forbes.com blog (by Luke Tompkins, Elizabeth Anthony, and Brian-Anthony Garrison).
Late last week, a call for support of the humanities by the STEM disciplines appeared in The Chronicle of Higher Education by Dr. Kira Hamman, mathematics professor at Penn State Mont Alto. Her essay focuses around three points, one of which is the following:
It is the worst kind of pre-Enlightenment thinking to claim that a thing is only worth doing if it leads to economic gain. No, it is not true that a liberal-arts education decreases a person’s earning potential, but so what if it were? One of the most important things one takes away from a broad education is the understanding that there are many ways to live a good life, and not all of them include material wealth.
Of course, we all need to put food on the table. But having a science degree doesn’t necessarily guarantee employment. Even so-called alternatives to bench science careers are so competitive that jobs are scarce — science writing, for example.
But I want to come out in support of humanities education, and not just because I now have a faculty appointment in English at our state’s land-grant university.
Therefore, I’d like to assemble a list of why the humanities are important in chemistry education and/or being an employed chemist. Here’s a start from me but feel free to add more in the comments:
1. Writing and oral communication skills are essential in chemistry and other sciences.
2. The ability to interact with people from other cultures is increasingly important in a global, scientific economy.
3. The rich history of chemistry is a jumping-off point for discussion of the most important advances of our discipline. Witness the Chemical Heritage Foundation.
4. Expertise in psychology, for example, allowed a chemist to debunk Kekule’s dream in conceptualizing benzene’s structure.
5 . . . .
I’m looking forward to your own contributions.
We’re about to close up the world headquarters of Terra Sigillata to head out and convene with the PharmFamily in points north for Easter (but, thankfully, not a Nor’easter.)
Before we do, I’d like to draw your attention to a short but astute editorial in The Chronicle of Higher Education by chemist Gina Stewart. Stewart launches her essay with a concise description of a dichotomy that’s giving all of us agita:
The STEM paradox: At a time when we have a national dialogue about the dearth of students pursuing these degrees, newly minted Ph.D.’s are having a harder time landing academic jobs.
She then talks about her career and what she considers to be the shortest postdoc on record (believe me, Gina, I know of many shorter) in the UNC-Chapel Hill laboratory of Joe DeSimone. There, the seeds were planted for entrepreurship and a fascination with the practical applications of carbon dioxide.
Years later, Stewart is now CEO of Arctic, Inc., a company that uses sustainable weed control methods by selectively freezing these nasty invasive threats to biodiversity – her company site is appropriately named frostkills.com.
Her experience is one example where one takes a different approach to a chemistry career than following in the traditional academic progression. The first commenter already admonished her for saying that she was pursuing an alternative career. Based on percentages, being a tenure-track faculty member is now the alternative.
It’s a great read so enjoy. I was also delighted to learn that she and her husband live just west of the Research Triangle and base their company in Clemmons, NC.
If you’re up on this lovely Saturday morning and looking for something fun and educational to pass the time, dial up wknc.org for the “Mystery Roach” radio show from 8 am until 10 am Eastern time.
There, I’ll be discussing the discovery of drugs from nature and the differences between herbal remedies and medicines.
The show, hosted by forestry and natural resources doctoral student Damian Maddalena, will be interspersed with psychedelic music from the 60s and 70s.
Maddalena is an experienced scientist-communicator whose show, named after a Frank Zappa song, celebrated five years last November. The Research Triangle’s independent weekly, INDY Week, recognized Maddalena last year as runner-up for both top radio show and radio host, a tremendous accomplishment for a science and music show in a highly-competitive media market.
Livestream at this wknc.org page
Well, leave it to the British to put together one of the most enjoyable exercises of the day, at least for those of us with even a few remaining molecules of Catholicism.
With apologies to my calculus teacher, Sister Agnes Mary of St. Mary’s High School in Rutherford, New Jersey, I present to you the UK Guardian‘s Pontifficator.
Choose your own pope – with our interactive Pontifficator
This week, 115 cardinals will be secreted in the Sistine Chapel to select one of their number as the next head of the Catholic church. You can’t get in to see them but you can use our interactive to explore their views on issues from contraception to relations with other faiths, peruse their CVs, and choose the man you think is best qualified for the job. Tap the pictures to read more about the candidates. There’s a note on how we categorised them here
Finding a pontiff who meets all of one’s criteria is tougher than finding an apartment in New York City. But my selection ended up being Archbishop of Tegucigalpa (Honduras), Óscar Andrés Rodríguez Maradiaga.
The clincher? Of the 10 academic candidates, he’s taught chemistry and physics.
Of course, I’m not keen on his rating for handling the sex abuse scandals in the church and, shockingly, his agreement with the current pope that condoms will not prevent the global HIV/AIDS crisis.
Umm, I don’t know what kind of chemistry and physics he taught.
So if I still were a churchgoer, I’d have to pass on Rodríguez Maradiaga. Italy’s “tech-savvy” Gianfranco Ravasi is notable for having hosted the 2009 Vatican conference on evolution. But something tells me that this time won’t break the latest string of non-Italian popes.
For those of you interested in the outcome of the papal conclave, who are your favorites?
I’m hoping it’s someone from South America or Africa.
So, this was the dilemma I encountered this week at the day job.
In my position at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences in Raleigh, we give public “Meet the Scientist” talks twice daily in our iconic multimedia space called the SECU Daily Planet in the new Nature Research Center wing of the Museum. The Daily Planet Theater seats about 50 folks on the main floor but is open on part of the 2nd and 3rd floors for visitors to peer into events there.
I just received two hits to my PhD defense post using this search phrase.
To the reader: If you are in such dire straits of stress before your defense, please call 911 immediately or get yourself to your local emergency room. The specter of the dissertation defense can amplify self-doubt and if you are considering suicide, you and your family and friends would be better served by you postponing your defense and checking into a hospital for a couple of weeks.
If I can be of any help, please Gmail me at abelpharmboy call me at 919.564.9564. But first call 911.
Free, as always, you can sign up to participate at this link.
McKenna’s book, SUPERBUG: The Fatal Menace of MRSA, is a thorough and accessible investigation of the reemergence of lethal bacterial infections while new drug development lags.
The book, now in paperback, received the 2011 Science in Society Award from the the National Association of Science Writers.
McKenna had spent much of her career at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution as the only U.S. reporter assigned full time to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In fact, her first book, Beating Back the Devil, detailed her experiences with CDC’s Epidemic Investigation Service (EIS), the team dispatched anywhere in the world that’s experiencing an unusual infectious disease event.
From her book’s website:
I was following a group of disease detectives from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the CDC, through an investigation of bizarre skin infections in Los Angeles. The CDC wanted to know where men were picking them up. I wanted to know something more fundamental: How could a minor problem — something that the victims all described as looking like a tiny spider bite — blow up into massive infections that ate away at skin and muscle, put people into the hospital for weeks and drained their health and their bank accounts? Where had it come from? And if it could do that, what else was it capable of?
Maryn’s one of the best science writers in the world in terms of mastering her subject and making it widely accessible.
Of course, her webinar will be of interest to anyone concerned about the proliferation of drug-resistant infectious diseases and how to design drugs to stay a step ahead of evolution.
But she’s also a great model to emulate for anyone trying to make their scientific work more approachable to non-experts. You might even learn a thing or two about telling a gripping story.
And, thanks to your American Chemical Society, dialing into the webinar is FREE. Go here to register.
You don’t even need to be an ACS member!
You can thank me later.