XPRIZE Competition Poses Ocean Acidity Challenge
Sep20

XPRIZE Competition Poses Ocean Acidity Challenge

Today’s post is by Puneet Kollipara, intern at C&EN and an aquatic acidity aficionado. Humans pump carbon dioxide into the atmosphere by burning fossil fuels, but not all of it stays in the air. About one-fourth of the released carbon dioxide dissolves into the oceans, where it has been lowering the global average pH of seawater and thereby threatening aquatic ecosystems. Unfortunately, the ocean is as complex as it is spacious, and ocean pH doesn’t change uniformly across its depth. To get the full picture, scientists need a lot of data, but current techniques for monitoring ocean pH are generally expensive, aren’t always reliable, and can’t go very deep underwater. Right now, the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), for instance, has 18 ocean-chemistry monitors at various locations—more than anyone else in the world—but none of these sensors takes measurements below surface waters. “As you can imagine, that does not really represent the global oceans very well,” says Christopher L. Sabine, an oceanographer at NOAA’s Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory. A 22-month competition launched by the XPRIZE Foundation, a nonprofit aiming to spur technological innovation for society’s betterment, seeks to change that. The newly announced $2 million Wendy Schmidt Ocean Health XPRIZE calls on innovators of all stripes, both professional and amateur, to design better pH-measurement technologies. “The idea with the XPRIZE is to develop robust, inexpensive sensors that can be deployed much more easily,” says Sabine, whose NOAA lab is partnering with XPRIZE for the competition. Half of the $2 million prize will be awarded for the development of an affordable, reliable sensor, Sabine says. The other half will go toward a system that can accurately profile pH changes, including at great depths; such an instrument might start deep in the ocean and take real-time measurements as it’s lifted to the surface. Two types of instruments are currently in mainstream use for measuring ocean pH, but both have significant drawbacks. The first type, potentiometric sensors, involves probing a water sample with a device containing two electrodes. One electrode is enveloped in a semipermeable membrane that lets ions pass through, and the other is exposed directly to the water as a reference. Acid hydrogen ions flow from the seawater across the membrane, and a voltmeter measures the resulting electric-potential difference compared with the reference electrode. The sensor can use that measurement to calculate the water’s pH: The more H+ ions there are, the more that flow across the membrane, and the greater the resulting voltage. One drawback of pH electrodes, however, is that they’re very sensitive to the presence of other ions in seawater, which can also flow across...

Read More
Announcing Flame Challenge 2
Nov07

Announcing Flame Challenge 2

Today’s post is by Emily Bones, an assistant production editor and Newscripts contributor here at C&EN. Although Election Day got top billing, it’s not the only vote-centric event of the week. As of Monday, the Center for Communicating Science (CCS), a division of the State University of New York, Stony Brook, opened the polls for choosing the next Flame Challenge question. When he was 11 years old, Alan Alda, an actor and the founder of CCS, asked the burning question, “What is a flame?” He never received an answer he thought was satisfactory, so last year he challenged scientists across the world to submit answers in a way that an 11-year-old could understand. The winner, Ben Ames, created an animated video that defines flame-related terms and then brings all the concepts together in the form of a song. This year, the newly established tradition will continue: Another question will be posed to scientists around the globe. From June to October of this year, more than 300 potential questions were submitted online to CCS by inquisitive 11-year-olds. The pool of questions has now been narrowed down to five possibilities, “which  might look simple at first glance, but would offer good scientific complexity, like the question from last year,” explains Valeri Lantz-Gefroh, workshop coordinator at CCS. And the five contenders are: 1.) Does the universe have a known end? 2.) How does the brain store all of that information? 3.) What is time? 4.) How do you hear your thoughts in your head? 5.) What is color? Polls are open until November 16, at 5 PM EST. The catch? Only 10- to 12-year-olds can vote. They can do so by clicking here. Votes can be submitted by individuals or as a class. The final question will be announced on Dec. 11, which will mark the start of the second challenge. So scientists, get ready to answer one of these questions—submissions are due by March 1, 2013. And if you have or know a 10- to 12-year-old, now’s the time to get them...

Read More
Chemists Can Break It Down
Oct24

Chemists Can Break It Down

After losing out to physicists last year, chemists have stepped it up to win the 2012 Dance Your Ph.D. contest, organized by Science magazine. More specifically, Peter Liddicoat, a materials scientist at the University of Sydney, in Australia, won with his dance rendition of the chemical nanostructure of aerospace aluminum alloys. "The dance describes the classic engineering problem of combining lightness and strength and how it could be solved using atom scale microscopy to produce a super-alloy," explains Liddicoat, who played "The Scientist" in the circus-style silent movie. Dancers embodying lightness and strength transform into a super-alloy--a lightweight aluminum alloy with the strength of heavy steel, whose crystal lattice structure is represented in a group dance number. "We've had an amazing response," Liddicoat says. "My favorite part of the movie is where I pull out the baby-sized microscope to study a juggling ball--that, and spinning the rainbow umbrella." See for yourself: To create the winning performance, Liddicoat enlisted the talents of his lab colleagues: choreographing, juggling, clowning, and, of course, dancing. Because it was such a team effort, Liddicoat says he felt uncomfortable receiving the $1,000 prize money. So he and the team decided to put it toward their newly launched Biomedical Atom Microscope project. This crowd-funding "experiment"--much like sites devoted to raising money to build a Tesla Science Center or an e-paper watch--was inspired by the science-funding problems that exist around the world. "Crowd funding has just started hitting million-dollar projects, and in a few years, it will be as common knowledge as Youtube and Facebook," Liddicoat predicts. "High-impact science is yet to really try it out, so my project is itself an experiment!"   Check out our Newscripts about crowd funding for the Tesla Science Center here....

Read More
That’s A Wrap For The 44th International Chemistry Olympiad
Aug06

That’s A Wrap For The 44th International Chemistry Olympiad

The 44th International Chemistry Olympiad concluded a week ago today, and it was truly an amazing experience! The team from South Korea won four golds, the most of any country during this year's competition. The U.S. team earned a gold and three silver medals. For more highlights, see C&EN's news article in this week's issue. Congratulations to everyone who earned medals, but like ACS president-elect Marinda Li Wu said to the students during the closing ceremony: "No matter whether you bring home a medal or not, you will all carry back some precious memories that should last a lifetime. Furthermore, you made some personal connections and bonds this week that will become part of your own valuable network. Maintaining and continuing to build that network can help you succeed no matter what your ultimate career and profession." With that said, let's take a look back and see how much fun the students had during their stay in the nation's...

Read More
Competition and Camaraderie at #IChO2012
Jul26

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 Even a bus ride can be entertaining! Credit: Peter Cutts Photography A group of students pose in front of an exhibit at the Air & Space Museum in Washington, D.C., on Sunday. Credit: Peter Cutts Photography During a trip to Annapolis, Md., on Monday, a guide tells students about Maryland's blue crabs. Credit: Peter Cutts Photography After touring NASA's Space Flight Center, students were treated to a boat cruise in Annapolis. Credit: Peter Cutts Photography Slovenian students express their joy after completing the five-hour lab practical on Tuesday. Credit: Linda Wang/C&EN ACS President Bassam Z. Shakhashiri demonstrates the properties of moving air to students during a presentation on Tuesday evening. Credit: Linda Wang/C&EN U.S. participant Jason Ge and his teammates react to one of Shakhashiri's demonstrations. Credit: Linda Wang/C&EN On Wednesday, after touring the monuments around Washington, D.C., students gathered in front of the Capitol Building for a group photo. Credit: Peter Cutts Photography Check out the Catalyzer, the daily newsletter of the International Chemistry Olympiad, for more photos and interesting tidbits from the...

Read More