Flame Challenge’s Competitive Field Narrows
Apr30

Flame Challenge’s Competitive Field Narrows

Yesterday, the Flame Challenge announced via Twitter their finalists for this year’s contest to answer the question “What is color?” And science enthusiasts everywhere are tickled pink. The Flame Challenge is an annual competition sponsored by Stony Brook University’s Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science. As the center’s name suggests, the purpose of the Flame Challenge is to improve science literacy by asking scientists to explain seemingly simple phenomena in a way that an 11-year-old can understand. The competition’s inaugural year in 2012 sought to answer the question “What is a flame?” Last year’s competition focused on “What is time?” Entries seeking to explain this year’s question of “What is color?” (a topic C&EN recently explored) have been whittled down to three written and three video explanations. To crown an ultimate champion in each of these categories, a collection of preselected children’s science classes will vote on which entries they like best, with the final winners announced on June 1. Until then, be sure to check out the video finalists, which are all posted below. And also check out the Flame Challenge website today at noon EST to watch Alan Alda discuss this year’s final entries with students from 10 different classes from around the...

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Tribute To A Numerical Inorganic Icon: Kenneth Wade
Apr11

Tribute To A Numerical Inorganic Icon: Kenneth Wade

University of Durham chemistry professor Kenneth Wade, famously known for the borane electron-counting rule that bears his name, passed away on March 16 at age 81. Chemists at the University of Nottingham, led by big-haired chemistry professor Martyn Poliakoff, have prepared a lovely video tribute to Professor Wade as part of their Periodic Table of Video series. Chemists use electron-counting rules to determine bonding patterns in different classes of compounds, such as the familiar octet rule for first- and second-row elements, the 18-electron rule for transition metals, and the Hückel 4n + 2 rule for aromatic compounds. However, these rules don’t readily apply to electron-deficient molecules such as boranes that utilize multicentered bonding–a pair of electrons shared between more than two atoms–so other rules have been devised. In 1971, building on the collective observations of other chemists, Wade formulated his n + 1 rule. Wade’s rule states that a cage molecule with a geometry based on a closed polyhedron constructed of triangles with n vertices will possess n + 1 skeletal bonding electron pairs. Wade’s rule and its corollaries have been refined and extended by a number of researchers. When coupled with spectroscopic studies and theoretical calculations, these rules have been successful in showing the structural interconnections between boranes, carboranes, other heteroboranes, carbocations, organometallic complexes, and transition-metal cluster compounds. Hats off to Professor...

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Top 10 Chemistry Videos Of 2013
Jan02

Top 10 Chemistry Videos Of 2013

Although it’s our mission at Chemical & Engineering News to describe in words the wonders of chemistry, sometimes words just don’t do justice to the dynamics of a particular reaction or funky new material. Sometimes our prose just doesn’t capture a scientist’s excitement for research (or the time he spent playing the theme song to Super Mario Bros. with a chromatography column in the lab). It’s those times when we turn to video. Following are some of the Newscripts gang’s favorite clips of 2013. They’ve been collected from our blog and from our YouTube channel. Some we even homed in on and plucked from the roiling sea of inappropriate pop stars, prancercisers, and talkative foxes on the Interwebz last year. And we did it all for you, dear readers. So pour something delicious into that mug that looks like a beaker, kick back next to your science fireplace … and enjoy! Number 10: Alright, so this video isn’t technically chemistry—that’s why we’re ranking it last. But when a theoretical physicist uses the melody to Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” to sing about string theory, we’re gonna take note. Did we mention the Einstein sock puppet? Number 9: Unless you lived under a rock in 2013, you probably heard about a little show called “Breaking Bad.” In this clip, Donna Nelson, science advisor to the show and chemistry professor, discusses some memorable chemical moments from the series. (Alright, alright, we admit this video made the countdown not only because it’s awesome but also because we like hearing Nelson talk about C&EN.) Number 8: Last year, the folks across the pond at the Periodic Table of Videos filmed a number of chemical reactions with a high-speed camera to learn more about reaction dynamics. This video, about a reaction called “the barking dog,” is their most recent—and one of our faves. It’s got historic footage of explosives lecturer Colonel BD Shaw and current footage of Martyn “The Professor” Poliakoff. Need we say more? Number 7: Yo, yo, yo! These dope 7th graders made a hot “rap battle” video last year that details the historic tensions between Rosalind Franklin and the notorious DNA duo, Watson & Crick. Word … to their mothers, for having such creative kids. Number 6: You couldn’t open your news feed in 2013 without finding at least 10 concurrent stories about 3-D printing. One stood out for us, though: Researchers at the University of Oxford printed eye-popping, foldable structures out of liquid droplets. Number 5: Nostalgia for two cartoon plumbers + a handful of test tubes + a chromatography column + Vittorio Saggiomo (a researcher who happened to have some time...

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In Print: Balloon Returns Home, Earthshaking Stadium
Dec16

In Print: Balloon Returns Home, Earthshaking Stadium

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 this week’s issue of C&EN. Purdue University‘s Association of Mechanical & Electrical Technologists (AMET)–a hands-on STEM-oriented student organization that works on everything from robots to Rube Goldberg devices to rockets–expected the weather balloon that it launched on Nov. 16 to return to Purdue’s West Lafayette, Ind., campus. As this week’s Newscripts column describes, however, the trek back home was anything but predictable. Takeoff of the balloon started easily enough, as this video from the balloon shows: When the balloon reached an altitude of 40,000 feet, however, AMET lost all contact. As a result, the organization didn’t know the kinds of spectacular views their balloon was enjoying as it ascended to a height of 95,000 feet above Earth. That ascension is captured in the following videos: Because everything that goes up must come down, the balloon soon plummeted back to Earth: And it wound up in the soybean fields of Joseph Recker, who lives near the town of Kalida in northwestern Ohio, 170 miles from Purdue’s campus. The crash landing can be seen at the 16 minute, 10 second, mark of the following video: But that’s only the start of the weather balloon’s incredible journey. After finding the balloon in his fields, Recker noticed it had a variety of expensive-looking devices on it, including a radiation monitor, GPS unit, pressure sensors, temperature sensors, and accelerometers. Correctly presuming that the balloon’s owners would want their expensive device returned to them, Recker tried playing the balloon’s video camera for clues about who had launched the device. Unfortunately, Recker didn’t have the equipment needed to watch the video at home, so he took the camera to a nearby fertilizer facility. There, Recker was able to play the video, which, at its beginning, had captured a number of students setting up the balloon for launch. Noticing that many of these students were wearing Purdue apparel, Recker put two and two together and contacted the university. “None of us believed that we’d ever see the balloon again,” says Dahlon P. Lyles, AMET project manager and a Purdue student researcher. “And so all of us were just amazed that it survived and how much effort the farmer went through to actually find it and get it returned.” Lyles tells Newscripts that, since returning back home, the balloon has been signed by all AMET members and placed in the organization’s workroom alongside other burst balloons. And the balloon doesn’t just serve as a cool trophy for the organization. The balloon has also provided AMET with...

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Aaaaaand They’re Off: The 2013 World Cell Race Results
Dec10

Aaaaaand They’re Off: The 2013 World Cell Race Results

Today’s post is by Nader Heidari, an associate editor at C&EN who loves watching cells race and paint dry. On Nov. 22, cells raced down ultrathin channels, vying for the position of fastest cell in the 2013 World Cell Race. At speeds of up to 300 micrometers/hour, cells blew down the maze-like track, running into dead ends and occasionally getting confused and turning around. Many cell lines didn’t finish, but glory came to those who did. This year’s victor (shown in the race video above) was MDA MB 231 s1, a human breast cancer cell line from Alexis Gautreau of the Laboratory of Enzymology & Structural Biochemistry, in France. Gautreau will receive a €400 voucher (that’s about $650) from Ibidi, one of the event’s sponsors. The winning cells weren’t the fastest, nor were they the smartest, but they prevailed because of their persistence and because they got a good head-start by entering the maze of channels more quickly than their competitors. Slow and steady wins the race! In second place was MFH 152, a sarcoma cell line from Mohamed Jemaà in Ariane Abrieu’s lab at the Research Center for Macromolecular Biochemistry, in France. Although they were fast and accurate, these cells took too long to actually start the race, falling behind MDA MB 231, according to the race organizers. Cell-racing fans don’t have to wait until late next year for another dose of mitochondria-pumping action: The organizers are looking to start the first “Dicty World Race,” tentatively scheduled for March 21, 2014. The stars of this show would be Dictyostelium, a type of slime mold. So keep an eye out for some pedal-to-the-flagella protist action! Related Stories: Cellular...

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‘Breaking Bad’ Aliquots
Sep25

‘Breaking Bad’ Aliquots

Today’s post was written by C&EN Senior Editor Jyllian Kemsley, who, when she isn’t watching the TV show “Breaking Bad,” enjoys surfing the Web for “Breaking Bad” links and then writing about them. The end is almost here, and the Internet is gearing up. With the series finale of “Breaking Bad” set to air this Sunday on AMC, media outlets have unleashed a barrage of retrospectives and stories about the hit TV show. What’s more, a surprising number of these tributes actually focus on the science behind the show. Take, for instance, the above video in which Boing Boing counts down the top 11 “Breaking Bad” chemistry moments. Or, simply pick up this week’s issue of C&EN, in which I have a story about Donna Nelson, a University of Oklahoma chemistry professor who has spent the last several years volunteering as a science adviser to the television show. I connected Nelson with show producer Vince Gilligan after I first wrote about the show in 2008—something Nelson has graciously acknowledged in many interviews—and I enjoyed chatting with her as the series nears its end. To help all of us get through the last few days before the finale, here are a few of my favorite “Breaking Bad” offerings from across the Web. If, like some of my colleagues, you didn’t get the memo early enough and are only on season two, tread carefully—I won’t promise no spoilers! Wired interviewed some other “Breaking Bad” staff who help get the science right, researchers Gordon Smith and Jenn Carroll: “One day, Gordon and the writers asked me to figure out a way to knock out a surveillance camera, or—at the very least—to make a passerby invisible to the camera. As you might imagine, there aren’t many legal or convenient ways to go about this.” The Washington Post went over what “Breaking Bad” gets right, and wrong, about the meth business: “Could a genius innovator like Walt really become this successful? Are charismatic businessmen like Gus Fring running front businesses to hide their meth trade? Are super labs real?” “Today” talked “Breaking Bad” science and Walter White psychology with the show’s co-executive producer Peter Gould: “We went online and found this way of making a battery using pennies,” Gould said. “We actually built one in the writers’ room. It created a mild amount of current, and was sort of our proof of concept. Every once in a while, there would be a science experiment right there in the writers’ room. It turned out to be kind of a big mess.” At Slate, physician Haider Javed Warraich called “Breaking Bad” “TV’s best medical drama, ever“:...

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