Recycler At Heart

Growing up in the Philippines, my brothers and I used to earn spare change by heeding the calls of scrap buyers going around neighborhoods calling out, “bote, bakal, diario” or bottles, metals, newspapers. They weighed the metals with crude handheld scales; they sorted the bottles according to color and size; and they measured stacks of old newspapers by the span of an outstretched hand, from the tip of the little finger to the tip of the thumb. The scrap buyers were stingy, and we were always disappointed that our stash never amounted to more than a few coins. Nevertheless, at a young age, I was aware that recycling was worth money. So it was a marvel to me when I moved to the U.S. in the mid-1980s to see organized recycling in the form of yard sales and thrift stores. When my mother was still alive, she took great pleasure in hunting for bargains, much to the dismay of my father, who would have preferred to spend Saturday mornings reading the newspaper rather than driving my mother around to neighborhood yard sales. For a few dollars, she could assemble a dining set or a winter wardrobe for each of her children, who were immigrating to the U.S. with their families. My first home in the U.S. contained many previously owned kitchen and furniture items. I still use a salad spinner and a Waring blender that my mother found for me more than 20 years ago. Just last week, I stopped by a Goodwill store and came home with a dozen books that cost me less than the price of just one brand-new book. I still occasionally browse thrift stores and consignment stores and get a kick out of finding exquisite items at a fraction of their retail cost. In addition to the daily sorting for recycling of paper, plastic, and glass that happens now in many homes and places of business, twice a year, I go through closets, shelves, and storage bins to declutter. Anything that is usable goes to Purple Heart or Goodwill. Not much goes to landfills. Multiply the personal acts of recycling by millions and add the efforts of commerce and industry and the results can be staggering. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the amount of municipal solid waste generated in the U.S. rose by 60% from 152 million tons in 1980 to 243 million tons in 2009, but the amount disposed of in landfills fell by 10% from 135 million tons in 1980 to 121 million tons in 2009. The amount recycled soared 465% from 14.5 million tons in 1980 to 82 million tons...

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Values Worth Defending
May24

Values Worth Defending

At the annual meeting of the National Academy of Sciences early this month, Ismail Serageldin received the academy’s most prestigious award, the Public Welfare Medal, which honors “extraordinary use of science for the public good.” Serageldin is the founding director of Egypt’s New Library of Alexandria. I did not know of Serageldin but became curious after someone raved about the speech he gave at the award presentation on May 1. When I found the speech on the NAS website, I understood why: Here is a citizen of the biggest country undergoing wrenching change during the “Arab Spring” calling on the youth of the Arab world to embrace the values of science. With permission from Serageldin, here are extended excerpts: “Today there are those who fear that the Arab Spring will give way to the Islamist winter. … Yes, Islamist sentiment is rising, and zealotry is expanding in parts of the public realm. But the defense against extremism is not by censorship or autocracy; it is by embracing pluralism and defeating ideas with ideas. “Science has much to say … about the kind of values that we must adopt if our societies are to be truly open and democratic. … To the Islamists, who yearn to return to their particular vision of the Muslim past, we say, there is a great Arab and Muslim tradition of science and tolerance … that must be revived if the Arab World, Muslim and non-Muslim alike, will indeed join the ranks of the advanced societies of our time. Rejecting politicized religiosity and reviving these traditions would promote the values of science in our societies. … “To the youth … we say, remember science and the scientific method, for it is scientific insight and knowledge that gives birth to technology. We must be the producers of knowledge, not just the consumers of technology. That will not happen unless we open our minds to science and the scientific approach and open our hearts to the values of science. … “[T]he enterprise of science requires the adoption of certain values: Truth, honor, teamwork, constructive subversiveness, engagement with the other, freedom, imagination, and a method for the arbitration of disputes. The values of science are adhered to by its practitioners with a rigor that shames other professions. … “Any scientist who manufactures his data is ostracized forever from the scientific community. She or he may err in interpreting the data, but no one can accept fabrication of data. … “Scientists reject plagiarism. To give each his or her due is essential, a sentiment well captured in Newton’s statement that … ‘if I have seen farther than most, it...

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CSI: Dognapping at Sandia
Jan13

CSI: Dognapping at Sandia

I spent Monday, January 10, at Sandia’s Advanced Materials Laboratory, in Albuquerque, to witness a unique outreach program that has been an annual weeklong event for the past several years. The lab invites several groups of 4th graders for a chemical magic show that supposedly culminates in a dog doing chemical magic tricks. But just before the dog takes the stage, its handlers discover that it has gone missing. And so a two-hour program of 4th graders just watching staged gee-whiz chemistry becomes a multipronged science-driven activity aimed at figuring out who stole the dog. Here’s how the program began: With kids properly garbed for a chemical magic show, AML researcher Bernadette Hernandez-Sanchez welcomes them and introduces the warm-up act of four demonstrators competing for the best magic trick: Sarah Hoppe mixes rainbow water, Diane Dickie performs clock reaction, Alia Saad creates fake snow, and Kari Monroe makes elephant toothpaste. Then must come the main event, but Lucy, the chemical magic dog is missing. AML scientist Tim Boyle suspects that one of the visiting kids kidnapped Lucy. This amateur video captures the program up to this point. Beware: Many parts are jumpy and can make you dizzy. To determine who took Lucy, every boy and girl must give a fingerprint, a footprint, and a voice sample. The data are compared with the fingerprint, voiceprint, and footprint gathered from the crime scene, and all kids are exonerated. But where is Lucy? Tim Boyle asks the kids to investigate the case of the missing dog. But first they must take an oath to be sworn in as junior scientists. The enthusiasm at swearing-in, led by University New Mexico chemistry professor and Sandia scientist Richard Kemp, is ear-piercing: Now the junior scientists are ready to examine the evidence at the crime scene. The lab has four suspects, and the junior scientists must figure out whodunit by examining the evidence at six science stations. Using what they are told about the suspects and what they learn at each station, they associate each piece of evidence to all likely suspects. Eventually, they nail the culprit from the preponderance of evidence correlating with him or her. Here are some scenes from the science stations. At the Powder Lab, they examine the white powder at the crime scene, they prepare a material called Yuck, and they learn about non-Newtonian fluids, which behave like a solid when something hits them with force but like a liquid when handled gently. At the pH Station, they examine the yellow spill at the crime scene, use cabbage juice as pH indicator, and learn about acids and bases. At the Glow...

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Jobs

In the lead story of C&EN’s annual employment package, Senior Editor Susan Ainsworth surveys the employment landscape for chemists and finds reasons to believe that bleakness is giving way to a few rays of hope. Even though the outlook is tepid, chemists can take solace that the massive downsizings of the past few years seem to be waning. This year’s survey coincides with the ACS Virtual Career Fair on Nov. 2–3. At this event, Ainsworth and C&EN Editor-in-Chief Rudy Baum will discuss the job prospects for chemists and how to prepare for what’s ahead. You can join them and participate in the rest of the fair by registering at presentations.inxpo.com/Shows/UBM/ACS/HTML. Coincidentally, as we were producing this week’s issue, I attended a career symposium at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, on Mole Day, Oct. 23. The event, organized by the Younger Chemists Committee of the ACS Wisconsin Section, attracted 138 postdocs, graduate students, and undergrads, as well as one high school student. They came from Wisconsin, Missouri, Michigan, Illinois, and Iowa. They listened to a mix of speakers, including me, who brought perspectives from industry, academia, government labs, and alternative careers. Speakers emphasized the same themes: A chemistry education can be forged into many career outcomes; the paths to satisfying careers are varied; good communication skills and lifelong learning will open windows when a door shuts. Emily Wixson shared that her fondness for people, language, and communication marries well with her love for problem solving, experimentation, and observation—skills that a chemistry education cultivates—in her role as a senior academic librarian at UW Madison’s chemistry library. Yet she is among many science librarians who don’t have a science degree. Early in her career, she realized that her English degree would not be enough to maintain a science librarianship career so she took various science courses, including chemistry. “A chemistry degree opens the door to most science library positions,” she said. When teaching high school chemistry didn’t work out for Brittland DeKorver, she channeled her B.A. in chemistry into an unusual position at UW Madison’s Institute for Chemical Education. As an outreach specialist, she coordinates after-school science clubs, plans outreach events such as National Chemistry Week, and advises a student organization that is devoted to informal science education. In explaining the challenges of her job, she said, “Imagine explaining chemical concepts to a seven-year-old, who doesn’t have the vocabulary or the ability to think in the abstract.” Steven Sobek, laboratory director for the Bureau of Laboratory Services, Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade & Consumer Protection, brought welcome news: “There will be jobs opening for analytical chemists in government labs in the next...

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Kudos for Career Symposium of YCC Wisconsin
Oct25

Kudos for Career Symposium of YCC Wisconsin

I cannot praise enough the Younger Chemists Committee of the ACS Wisconsin Local Section for organizing the superb career symposium they hosted on mole day, Oct. 23, in the University of Wisconsin, Madison. The event attracted 138 participants, enough to fill the seminar room of the chemistry building. They came not only from Madison, but also from other institutions in Wisconsin and neighboring states Michigan, Iowa, Illinois, and Missouri. The participants were postdocs, Ph.D. students, and undergrads, and I’m told that one participant was a high school student. Those coming from locations that were at least a 6-hour-drive away received financial aid for two nights’ accommodations and those traveling for 4 hours received one night’s accommodation, enabling them to stay through the full length of the symposium, which started with breakfast at 8 AM and concluded with a networking dinner at 5 PM. The accomodation, meals, financial aid, and other arrangements were made possible by an innovative program grant from the ACS committee on Local Section Activities and sponsorships from the UW-Madison Department of Chemistry, ACS Publications, ACS Insurance Plans, Thermo Fisher Scientific, and the Wisconsin Initiative for Science Literary. These sponsors should be very pleased with how the organizers used the funds they supplied. The participants heard from a mix of speakers who brought perspectives from industry, academia, government labs, and alternative careers: Emily Wixson, senior academic librarian of UW-Madison Department of Chemistry Steven Sobek, laboratory director of the Bureau of Laboratory Services, Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade & Consumer Protection Maureen Rouhi, deputy editor-in-chief, Chemical & Engineering News Albert Kruger, group leader for process chemistry, Abbott Laboratories Victoria Sutton, intellectual property associate, Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation Jennifer Schomaker, assistant professor, UW-Madison Department of Chemistry Brittland DeKorver, chemistry outreach specialist, UW-Madison Department of Chemistry John Hottle, assistant program manager, Air Force Office of Scientific Research Mark Heininger, R&D analysis lab manager, Virent Energy Systems Thomas Neuser, advanced chemist, Wisconsin State Laboratory of Hygiene Jeffrey Hirsch, chief scientist, Thermo Fisher Scientific Michelle Rogers, chemist, Lubrizol The organizers—UW-Madison chemistry graduate students Benjamin Bratton, Michelle Cooperrider, Christine McInnis, Danielle Stacy, Eugenia Turov, and Gene Wong—ran the show like pros, keeping the speakers and everyone on schedule. Evidence of the event’s resounding success is that participants lingered well after dinner in discussions with some of the speakers. Many of the students I spoke with said they appreciated hearing about the many ways chemists work and that the different perspectives they heard will help them figure out the next step in their education. I, too, learned a lot from the experiences of my fellow speakers. This career symposium is the best I’ve attended...

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