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Posts Tagged → chemistry

Hey, ACS, Where’s My Comic Book?

BAM! Don't mess with Tesla. Credit: APS

BAM! Don’t mess with Tesla. Credit: APS

If you read this blog with any regularity (I know there’s at least one of you out there, two tops), you’ll remember a post I wrote awhile back bemoaning the lack of chemistry coloring books. I had just come across a supercool version about biology—filled with stem cells and neurons and viruses, oh my!—and was wondering what a chemistry version (perhaps produced by the American Chemical Society) might look like.

Well, that coloring book still hasn’t materialized, and now I’m even more miffed: The physicists have comic books. And notice that I didn’t say “a” comic book. They have many of them.

I spotted a few of these at the American Physical Society (APS) national meeting, held in Baltimore, back in March. One called “Nikola Tesla and the Electric Fair” caught my eye, as well as a S-E-R-I-E-S of books about the original laser superhero Spectra (you know how it goes: She discovers her powers after a class on lasers and winds up being able to cut through metal and play CDs … just your typical teenage drama). These educational aids for middle school classrooms are distributed by APS.

Able to spot-weld a building in a single bound. Credit: APS

Able to spot-weld a building in a single bound. Credit: APS

But I wouldn’t even say they’re just for middleschoolers. I read all the way through the story of Telsa: It brings to life the epic battle between himself and Thomas Edison over alternating current (AC) and direct current. I guess I never realized that the “War of the Currents” ended when Tesla successfully used AC to light the infamous World’s Fair in Chicago (where the Ferris Wheel also made its debut). Via the comic, I also discovered that Tesla had a fondness (perhaps a little too much fondness) for pigeons.

So even I learned something!

But it wasn’t until I received a press release about Stephen Hawking’s new comic book that I was pushed over the edge to write this post and point out this educational trend.

Page from new Hawking comic detailing how he learned of his disability. Credit: Bluewater Productions

Page from new Hawking comic detailing how he learned of his disability. Credit: Bluewater Productions

“Stephen Hawking: Riddles of Time & Space” is produced by Washington-based Bluewater Productions. It chronicles the cosmologist’s life, including how he discovered that he had ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, and his dispute with scientist Fred Hoyle over the Big Bang Theory.

You can get your print copy of it here for $4.33.

Folks making comic books about physics is by no means a bad trend. But I’m once again left wondering, “Where’s the chemistry equivalent?” We may not have Stephen Hawking or Nikola Tesla to brag about, but surely we’ve got someone who’s got an interesting story to relate to the general public? Organic chemist R.B. Woodward, in all his Mad-Men-esque glory? One of the many bearded chemists of yore?

What about Kevlar, the original polymer superhero? Or how about turning the periodic table of elements into superheroes, an idea originated by a graphic designer here?

Readers, what kind of chemistry comic book would you like to see? (And ACS, when can we have one, pretty please?)

Chemists are notoriously bad at tooting their own horns to the public (go ask someone on the street to name a famous chemist, and you’ll see what I mean). But I’m certain they’ve got interesting stories to tell—the tales have just got to be drawn out.

In Print: Europe’s Got A Stink Problem

High-priced smell: Brit Ken Wilman has been offered $65,000 for the ambergris he and his dog, Madge, found. Credit: Manchester Evening News Syndication

Brit Ken Wilman has been offered $65,000 for the ambergris he and his dog, Madge, found. Credit: Manchester Evening News Syndication

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. 

This week’s print Newscripts comes from Alex Scott, C&EN senior editor for Europe, who writes about the smells in his neck of the woods in “The French Stench, The English Pong, The Cheesy Norwegians.” He covers the sources of a sulfurous rotten-egg smell in coastal France, an unpleasant “pong” on a British beach, and noxious goat-cheese fumes in a Norwegian tunnel.

“Chemistry is happening all around us,”  Scott says. “The stories this week show just how this can happen and how even the smell of benign chemicals in the environment can stop us in our tracks. You can even make money from some smells such as was the case with the discovery of ambergris.” (A Brit found some ambergris, the intestinal slurry of a sperm whale valued for perfume-making, on a beach).

As for what he couldn’t fit into print, Scott says he wished he could’ve gone into more detail about just how rotten-egg-smelling mercaptan was accidently released from a Lubrizol plant in France. But hey, he’d love to tell the blogosphere more: “Rather than being produced as a final product, the mercaptan was generated incidentally during the production of an additive for a lubricant. The additive wasn’t cooled quickly enough in a reactor, and this led to a release of mercaptan. Normally this is avoided. Lubrizol’s problem was then that its air-scrubbing equipment was unable to reduce the mercaptan to the extremely low levels at which humans can detect it, hence the release.”

Stay sniffin’, Alex.


Harlem Shake ft. Tryptophan

Not to be confused with the real Harlem Shake dance moves of the 1980s, a Harlem Shake video meme quickly went viral last month. The gist: An individual starts to dance to electronic music producer Baauer’s song “Harlem Shake” for roughly 15 seconds before the beat pops and the video jump-cuts to a huge crowd of costumed companions who join in on the erratic dancing.

The meme began in Australia, but quickly became popular across the globe, with the University of Georgia men’s swim team, some Norwegian army troops, and even a distressed clothes dryer posting their own Harlem Shake videos.

And now, thanks to Pierre Morieux (@ChemDrawWizard), chemists have gotten in on the fun. His YouTube channel features a couple of ChemDraw video tutorials, followed by this bigger hit:

Celebrating Pi: Don’t Try This at Home

Do you remember what you did on Pi Day last Thursday (3/14)? American Chemical Society (ACS) student affiliates from Duquesne University, in Pittsburgh, took the opportunity to “pi” their professors (literally) and made a short video about it:

And on a related note, if you think reading the digits in pi will take forever, check out this video of a man pronouncing the longest word in the world, which happens to be the chemical name of titin, the largest known protein. (Warning: you’ll need three and a half hours to get through this video, but as a reward, you get to watch this man’s beard grow.)

Amusing News Aliquots

Silly samplings from this week’s science news, compiled by Bethany Halford, Lauren Wolf, and Sophia Cai.

Credit: Flickr user Eco_Monster

Did you know there’s something called The Journal of Articles in Support of the Null Hypothesis? Did you also know that it published a paper showing that transparent windows on envelopes don’t encourage people to respond to mail surveys more frequently? Sigh. [Improbable Research]

Chemists get called out for naughty names. [Geeks Are Sexy]

African students come up with a urine-powered generator. Yes, there are many jokes to be made here, but post-Sandy, they seem too soon. [The Register]

Whey—it’s come a long way since Little Miss Muffet sat on her tuffet. [NPR]

Use this tidbit to strike up conversation at your next party: Of all the people who ever lived, only 6.5% of them are alive now. Chicks will flock to you. [Huff Post]

Stanford scientist says human intelligence peaked 2,000 years ago, and we’re all on a downhill slide from there. And on to the good news: There’s now a show on TV called “LOLwork.” [iO9]

Alternative careers for PhDs in Malaysia. [Improbable Research]

Playing With Science: Djerassi’s Latest ‘Chemistry-Centric’ Play Debuts In London

Bubbleology in practice: Tim Dutton (left) plays Polish chemist Jerzy Krzyz with Walter van Dyk as chemistry chair Leo Hamble. Credit: Andy Jordan Productions

This post was written by Alex Scott, senior editor for C&EN’s business department, who is based in Europe.

Smudged diagrams of chemicals on a white board, a desk overflowing with research papers and scientific journals: This might be a typical chemist’s office you’ve just walked into. Except it isn’t—it’s the set of “Insufficiency,” a whodunnit with a chemistry-centric plot and the ninth play by Carl Djerassi, the Austrian-American chemist and playwright. The play just started a four-week run in London’s Riverside Theatre and is being well-received.

Djerassi, the inventor of the oral contraceptive pill, who is now 88, has set his play around the workings of a U.S. university chemistry department. The audience is a fly on the wall to the frustration and ambition of key players in the department and becomes the jury when Polish chemist Jerzy Krzyz is tried for a double murder.

In “Insufficiency,” Djerassi informs the audience about the process of science, topical issues such as funding, scientific objectivity, obsession with results, subsequent pressure to publish results, and how personalities and relationships can get in the way of everything scientific.

Bringing science into a play and presenting scientific concepts to the general public is an approach that Djerassi describes as his act of “intellectual smuggling.” And he does plenty of smuggling in “Insufficiency,” leading the audience through the development of a new field of science known as bubbleology. We even get to hear about the “fractal surface nature of bubbles” before the head of the chemistry department tells our Polish chemist and would-be murderer, “Enough about bubbles, I’ve got a department to run!”

It’s great to see science being made accessible to a wider audience. Djerassi’s play in London this week drew hoots of laughter and much applause and, undoubtedly, a greater understanding about how scientists go about their work. It’s a play well worth seeing even if science isn’t part of your daily diet. Okay, so C&EN wasn’t one of the scientific journals that appeared on stage strewn about the chemist’s desk, and there was a weird scene toward the end of the play involving a lot of flatulence, but you can’t have everything.

Following the London run of the play, there will be dramatic readings of “Insufficiency” next month at the University of Wisconsin, Kenyon College, in Gambier, Ohio, and at the Technical University of Berlin in December. For more details, go to www.djerassi.com/schedule.

Science-y Contests: Put On Your Dancing Shoes & Take A Lucky Guess

Two contests are afoot that chemists—particularly grad students—shouldn’t miss. Why? Well, there’s the eternal glory that comes with being victorious. But there’s also some cash and an iPad in it for the winners. And let’s face it, grad students can use all the free cash and prizes they can get.

Contest 1: Dance Your Ph.D.

Newscripts publicized this competition, sponsored by AAAS, earlier this year. The deadline is fast approaching. If you want to enter, you need to translate your Ph.D. project into a dance by October 1. There are four categories into which twinkle-toed grad students can place their submissions: chemistry, physics, biology, and social sciences. The top entry in each category gets $500. But that’s not all!

The overall winner gets another $500 as well as travel and accomodation to attend TEDxBrussels, in Belgium, on Nov. 12. There, the danciest dancer—the Gene Kelly of Ph.D.s, if you will–will be crowned for all to see. The Newscripts gang would like to see chemists once again take the top prize, proving without a doubt that the central science is where it’s at, so get your submissions in soon!

Contest 2: 70 Millionth Substance Contest

According to the counter here, Chemical Abstracts Service–the division of the American Chemical Society that finds, collects, and organizes chemical information–has now entered more than 68,447,000 substances in its registry. To celebrate the day when the organization will add its 70 millionth chemical substance to the database, CAS is holding a little guessing competition. The division thinks the organic or inorganic entity in question will be registered either at the end of this year or early next year.

Your job is to predict the date and time the lucky substance gets added. Prizes vary depending on when you submit your answer, but you could potentially win an iPad, Nook, or Kindle Fire. If the precise date and time isn’t guessed correctly, CAS goes into “The Price Is Right” mode and gives the award to the guess closest to the date and time the substance was added without going over. Take a look at the rules for entry here. And study them closely, Daniel-san.

You MUST put your guess into the contest form by Nov. 16 or by the time the counter reaches 69.8 million substances—whichever comes first.

CAS’s registry hit 50 million back on Sept. 7, 2009. You can read about that milestone here.


Do us proud, Newscripters. And if you win, do let us know (we’ll only take a little bit of the credit).

Competition and Camaraderie at #IChO2012

Today, students competing in the International Chemistry Olympiad are taking a five-hour theoretical exam, which counts toward 60% of their total score. Check out Newscripts’ blog post from July 24 for some sample questions and see whether you can compete with a chemistry olympian.

While the students are hard at work, let’s take a look at some of the camaraderie they’ve enjoyed over the past few days:

Students held up their country flags at the Opening Ceremony on Sunday.
Credit: Peter Cutts Photography Continue reading →