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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John D. Roberts: The Seattle Veteran at NOS
Jun26

John D. Roberts: The Seattle Veteran at NOS

The Seattle conference welcomed chemists from near and far. They came from Berkeley, from Harvard, and from everywhere in between. Thirteen of the most eminent among them readied talks about their cutting-edge research, which they hoped would send everyone home inspired to further their own work. That meeting, the 16th National Organic Chemistry Symposium (NOS), took place fifty-four years ago. This week, the gathering is in its 43rd incarnation, and it's back in the Emerald City. So is one of the original speakers from that 1959 meeting-- John D. Roberts. As a young Caltech faculty member, Roberts gave a presentation entitled "Rearrangement Reactions of Small-Ring Compounds." It was already his third NOS talk, but he returned as a speaker several more times, collecting organic chemistry's highest honor, the Roger Adams Award, in 1967. Roberts, 95, is a pioneer in physical organic chemistry and nuclear magnetic resonance (J. Org. Chem. 2009, DOI: 10.1021/jo900641t). Conference cochair Paul B. Hopkins of the University of Washington made note of Roberts' presence during opening remarks. "I believe Professor Roberts is the only one of us in attendance who was also there at the 1959 Seattle NOS," Hopkins said, as the crowd gave Roberts an ovation. "But if I'm wrong about that, you'll have to let me know during the coffee break." Later that evening, this year's Roger Adams awardee, David A. Evans of Harvard, started his talk by thanking Roberts, who he called "inspirational," "my teacher," and "my friend of nearly 50 years." When Evans was a college student at Oberlin, the school "had just gotten an NMR, so we spent the summer poring over John's books" about the exciting new instrument, Evans recalled. He would get to know Roberts while earning his Ph.D. at Caltech. So Roberts could attend Evans' award lecture, NOS organizers broke with decades of tradition and moved the Adams Award Lecture, held on Tuesday nights for as long as anyone can remember, to Monday evening. Over a cup of black coffee, Roberts told C&EN about his experiences at NOS over the years. He reminisced about some of the scientific feuds that played out at the podium, including the epic cation controversy between Saul Winstein and H. C. Brown. Asked about the history of the meeting, recently published in the Journal of Organic Chemistry (DOI: 10.1021/jo302475j), which notes a decline in talks about his field of physical organic chemistry, Roberts is optimistic. "Physical organic is not dead--it's just been co-opted by everyone," he says. Problems in biochemistry, which might involve enzyme mechanisms or noncovalent interactions, are often very appealing to people trained in the field, he adds. The last time...

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