From The CENtral Science Blogs
- May 17th, 2013By Carmen Drahl
- May 16th, 2013By Bethany Halford
- May 13th, 2013By Lisa Jarvis
- May 9th, 2013By Jyllian Kemsley
- May 6th, 2013By Melody Bomgardner
- Apr 23rd, 2013By David Kroll
- Apr 18th, 2013By Glen Ernst
- Apr 5th, 2013By Sarah Everts
- Mar 11th, 2013By Rick Mullin
All Latest Posts
From this week’s issue of C&EN, a letter to the editor from Dow’s William F. Banholzer, Corning’s Gary S. Calabrese, and DuPont’s Pat Confalone discusses whether laboratory safety should have been included in “Advancing Graduate Education in the Chemical Sciences“:
As members of the ACS Presidential Commission on Graduate Education in the Chemical Sciences, we challenge Richard N. Zare’s comment on the inappropriateness of including a recommendation about laboratory safety in our report “Advancing Graduate Education in the Chemical Sciences” (C&EN, March 4, page 51). While admitting that safety is important, Zare states the report “should instead have been about preparing graduate students, about the future.”
What is more important in graduate education than ensuring students complete their research as safe and healthy as the day they entered graduate school? A graduate education is the ideal place to instill the mind-set that if you can’t do research while carrying out the best safety practices, then you shouldn’t do it at all. The recommendation to include safety in the final report was unanimously supported by all commission members. …
The facts are unequivocal. Occupational Safety & Health Administration statistics demonstrate that researchers are 11 times more likely to get hurt in an academic lab than in an industrial lab. There have been serious accidents in academic labs in recent years—including fatalities—that could have been prevented with the proper use of protective equipment and safer laboratory procedures.
Most chemistry and chemical engineering graduate students will find employment in industry. As new hires come on board, many companies spend weeks on remedial safety training before new hires are allowed to work in their labs. This clearly shows that the current state of graduate safety education is lacking and that there is a clear need to address it. If the report is supposed to focus on “preparing graduate students, about the future,” how can this not be a relevant topic? …
The “11 times more likely” statistic is inaccurately framed. I followed up on it with the letter authors and Lori Seiler, Dow’s associate director for environmental health and safety in research and development. The numbers actually compare the overall injury and illness rate for academic institutions (including those that might occur, for example, in grounds keeping or a dining hall as well as in laboratories) to Dow’s overall rate. Seiler adds that the injury and illness rate for Dow’s research laboratories is consistent with the company’s overall rate, when calculated per employee.
That said, it seems like it would be wise for the academic community to take this letter to heart. Banholzer, Calabrese, and Confalone are not writing in a vacuum—they see the skills that chemistry graduates lack, and those skills are necessary whether those graduates are going on to work in industry, academia, or elsewhere.
On a related note, yours truly will be heading to Virginia next week for the Council for Chemical Research annual meeting on May 19-21. On the afternoon of Sunday, May 19, I’ll be moderating a panel discussion on the pilot laboratory safety program that Dow began last year with the University of Minnesota, Pennsylvania State University, and the University of California, Santa Barbara.
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.
People living in the Bay Area rarely complain about the weather. But San Francisco-based Senior Editor Jyllian Kemsley tells Newscripts that, lately, she’s been a bit wistful for rain. “We’ve had very very little here since December. The California news last week, in fact, was that the water content in the snowpack is 17 percent of ‘normal,’ ” Jyllian says, noting that they probably mean “average” instead of “normal.”
So for this week’s Newscripts print column, Jyllian dug through old literature to learn the chemistry of the scent of rain–or petrichor, as Australian chemists Isabel Joy Bear and R. G. Thomas coined it in 1964. Turns out, they were able to isolate an oily yellow material responsible for the characteristic rain scent (that this Portland-raised Newscripts blogger knows so well). Although Jyllian doesn’t know the original motivations of rain-scent researchers, she does point out that Bear appears to have been a talented chemist.
Also inspired by a scientific question raised in the 1960s, Jyllian’s second Newscripts item discusses why honey and other viscous fluids don’t drip off of a spoon like water but instead stretch to lengths that seem to defy physics. Traditionally, scientists thought falling fluid is driven by gravity and not viscosity, but that doesn’t explain why honey can maintain a droopy strand for 10 meters or more, whereas a thin stream of water breaks up into droplets after a mere 10 cm.
The ’60s scientists weren’t the only curiously fascinated ones. Assistant Editor Craig Bettenhausen says: “I distinctly remember when I was a kid turning on the sink, looking at it with a strobe light going, and having my mind blown by the realization that it was lots of little droplets and not a continuous stream.”
But thanks to a 2013 study, these collective curiosities are answered. The researchers found that the length of a fluid strand depends on small waves in the materials. These waves amplify over time and once large enough, break the fluid stream. Because viscosity dampens the amplification, honey gets to hang on a little big longer.
Sunday I picked up an actual print copy of the Washington Post. In the Business section was a feature by Steven Mufson on the rise and fall of Chinese solar firm Suntech – which was at one time the world’s largest producer of crystalline silicon solar panels. In mid March the firm defaulted on $541 million worth of convertible bonds.
(The story of Suntech’s founder and now-former CEO, Shi Zhengrong, is also captured in the feature. A true rags to riches tale.)
In the waning months of 2012, pundits were forcasting major financial problems for some of China’s humongous solar companies – but many expected that the government would prop them up with loans to keep them afloat. There were many reasons why it might have: China wants to hold on to its dominance in making solar modules for export, it has huge targets for domestic installations, it has a policy of subsidizing industrial expansion, and it can provide both cheap electricity and cheap financing.
Mufson explains how Suntech was caught up in a very expensive race to the bottom in solar module production – overcapacity (in expensive facilities) and rapidly shrinking margins, fueled unhelpfully by China’s green economy plans. The U.S. added to the woe by slapping a tariff on solar modules imported from China (oversupply set the stage for what trade officials like to call dumping).
Until now, policymakers in China have used subsidies to create a world-leading “green tech” industry that would push the country up the economic value chain. But green tech doesn’t guarantee thriving businesses. In the race for global solar supremacy, world manufacturing capacity has grown to 60 gigawatts, most of it in China. That outpaced solar demand, which is expected to reach about 35 gigawatts this year, enough to power about 26 million homes. So prices of photovoltaic panels have plummeted, and it will take three to five years for overcapacity to shrink, says Bill Wiseman, managing partner of consulting firm McKinsey’s Taipei office.
China has other very large solar producers in addition to Suntech and LDK. They also have Trina Solar and Yingli. Four huge vertically integrated module makers was at least two too many. Analysts will be watching margins and debt very carefully now that it is clear that China’s future financial support for solar companies is not guaranteed.
I’m back for the month of May, folks.
Tweet of the Week:
Social media should be a part of the scientific process, just as the manuscript-writing process already is. #sciodc
— Eric Schulze (@SciencEric) May 1, 2013
To the network:
Cleantech Chemistry: Technology (like GMOs) and its Discontents
Grand CENtral: Talking about science online at #sciodc
Newscripts: Looking back at our time in New Orleans and In Print: Horse. It’s What’s For Dinner and “A Boy and His Atom”: The World’s Smallest Movie and Amusing News Aliquots and Flame Challenge 2: The Answers Are In
The Safety Zone: Patrick Harran ordered to stand trial in #SheriSangji case and Ripped from the pages: More on the West Fertilizer explosion in Texas and Hearing scheduled for David Snyder in UC Davis explosives case and Friday chemical safety round up
Chemical health and safety news from the past couple of weeks.
First up, on the West Fertilizer explosion in Texas:
- The Chemical Safety Board launched a Facebook page for its investigation into the West Fertilizer explosion
- Sustained Outrage posted about various familiar issues surrounding the disaster
- At a Texas House committee hearing, many agencies
many agenciessaid “not my job” regarding lack of oversight and allowing large quantities of ammonium nitrate to be stored near a residential area
- And the Center for Public Integrity reported on concerns about the pace of CSB investigations
- In honor of Workers’ Memorial Day, the National Council for Occupational Safety & Health released “Preventable Deaths: The Tragedy of Workplace Fatalities” and the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention devoted its Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report to worker concerns.
- The Bureau of Labor Statistics released its final count of fatal work injuries in 2011: 4,693, “the third lowest annual total since the fatal injury census was first conducted in 1992.” That’s 3.5 fatal injuries per 100,000 full-time equivalent workers.
- The Berkeley Science Review published a long article on the lab safety changes in the University of California system in the wake of Sheri Sangji’s death
- The May issue of the Process Safety Beacon looks at “Pressure relief valve bonnets–to plug or not to plug?“
- A Florida high school student experimented with combinging aluminum foil and toilet bowl cleaner in a water bottle on campus before school. She subsequently was expelled from school and charged with possessing and discharging weapons and a destructive device on school grounds. Yes, gas pressure built up in the bottle so it exploded, but really, it seems ridiculous to expel a student for this. From all reports, she was just curious and didn’t intend to harm anyone.
- Janssen chemist Ramineh Behbehanian, on the other hand, perhaps did want to harm people by putting rubbing alcohol-contaminated orange juice onto the shelves of a San Jose, Calif., Starbucks. An alert customer saw her do it.
- Norway orders BP safety review after leak
- The Las Vegas Sun looked back at a 1988 explosion at ammonium perchlorate manufacturer Pacific Engineering Production Co. of Nevada that killed two people and injured more than 300 (C&EN archive story here, paywall-free link!
coming), and explored what hazardous materials plants are in the area today
- And WSYR in New York looked back at a fire from a flame test demonstration that left a teacher and three students badly burned
- U.K. authorities fined SAFC Hitech $190,000 for a 2012 incident in which trimethylindium caught fire and badly burned one worker
Fires and explosions:
- Three workers were killed in an explosion in a fireworks factory in India
- Also in India, and explosion and fire from some sort of chemical transfer at Ganesh Plasto injured one
- A fire at a Formosa Plastics plant in Texas involved ethylene and injured at least nine people (another story says a dozen)
Leaks, spills, and other exposures:
- One worker died and six others were treated for exposure after breathing hydrogen sulfide fumes while cleaning pipes at a wastewater treatment plant at the Port of Tampa, in Florida
- Something “in the ‘cyanide’ family” spilled at metal finisher Kocour in Illinois, sending one person for medical treatment
- Phenol spilled at a medical clinic in Iowa, sending 13 people to two local hospitals, and also at a U.K. high school
- Hydrogen peroxide leaked from equipment at the College of Nanoscale Science & Engineering in New York
- Chemicals stored by a deceased fireworks enthusiast in a residential shed led to the evacuation of 49 neighboring houses while the bomb squad investigated
Not covered (usually): meth labs; ammonia leaks; incidents involving floor sealants, cleaning solutions, or pool chemicals; transportation spills; things that happen at recycling centers (dispose of your waste properly, people!); and fires from oil, natural gas, or other fuels.
Last year, actor and science advocate Alan Alda and the Center for Communicating Science, sponsored the inaugural Flame Challenge by asking scientists around the world to answer “What is a flame?” so that an 11-year-old could understand. This year, the American Chemical Society and the American Association for Advancement of Science have joined in on the sponsorship, and the question scientists have been asked to answer is, “What is time?”
Nearly 20,000 students from around the world have voted on the hundreds of submissions that made it through an initial screening by trained scientists, and the six best answers–three videos and three written responses–have been unveiled on the Flame Challenge website. The finalists each use unique examples to explain time. Some mention Einstein’s theory of relativity, some go into the details of the space-time continuum, and some rely on time being an invented concept that keeps track of events. One thing mentioned in each entry: time only has one direction and that’s forward.
Registered schools can vote for their favorite answers until May 5. This year, rather than recognizing one overall winner, the best entry for each format will be recognized. That will happen at an event on June 2 at the World Science Festival, in New York City.
Silly samplings from this week’s science news, compiled by Sophia Cai, Bethany Halford, and Jeff Huber.
Thinking of putting a wine cellar in your basement? Boring. Why not build a Bat Cave instead? [Walyou]
Hmm. Wondering if C&EN would spring to send us to this meeting next year. We’d have to get our hemp accessories ready. [Wired]
Refrigerators and washer-dryers, make way: 3-D printers could be coming to households everywhere … [Guardian]
… And they may even visit a body near you: 3-D printing is used to merge tissue and radio-wave-receiving antennae in “bionic ears.” [Science Daily]
Oh man, remember to back up your data. [Chemjobber]
Lovesick wild tiger breaks into a zoo in India in search of a mate. Scared zoo visitors seem to be overlooking how adorable this is. [BBC]
Laugh in the face of every lab safety class you’ve ever had, and hang dozens of test tubes from the ceiling with this handy chandelier. (h/t Deborah Blum, Michelle Sipics) [Etsy]
Study finds that more than 50% of ground turkey contains fecal bacteria. Dieters rejoice over a new reason to return to beef burgers. [Consumer Reports]
Jamestown settlers may have come under desperate times, but cannibalistic survival is a way of life for shark embryos. [NBC News]
If a tree screams in a forest, does it make a detectable sound? Scientists say they’re working on hearing thirsty trees’ distress calls. [Yahoo!]
Forget pushing electrons, IBM researchers-turned-filmmakers have moved 5,000 atoms to make a stop-motion film–the world’s smallest, confirms Guinness World Records. How can you watch such a tiny movie, you ask? Well, the frames in the film are magnified about 100 million times. (To give perspective: “If an atom were the size of an orange, then the orange would be the size of the whole planet Earth,” the researchers say.)
Meet Adam and his toy atom:
And you thought Disney/Pixar was good at tugging on your heartstrings with no dialogue and bare-bones animation. But in comparison to Disney’s Oscar-winning “Paperman,” which is a little longer than 6 minutes and had dozens of animators, this team of IBM researchers used the tools they had in their lab to make the 242-frame “A Boy and His Atom.” The team used a scanning tunneling microscope to drag atoms along a surface, then took pictures after each move to make the stop-motion film. I’ll let them explain:
For more on how it was made, watch all of their behind-the-scenes videos here.
h/t Chemjobber via Beth Halford