Not at #ACSAnaheim, but still having fun in lab!
Mar28

Not at #ACSAnaheim, but still having fun in lab!

Hello! I hope you're all having fun at the ACS conference.  Don't forget to go to Disneyland, and know that we on the east coast are all thinking fondly of you.  This morning I'm "stuck" in lab doing some exciting assays and studying for a Biological Anthropology exam (which I'm taking for the social science credit, due to the fact that I can't handle 'regular' social science classes).  The week before spring break, I got the chance to do a really fun Quantum lab - examining the fluorescence spectra of Iodine gas.  If you've ever done this lab, you know that you have to heat an evacuated chamber up to around 170C - much, much higher than is comfortable.  But you get some pretty cool pictures out of it!  These were taken with a DROID camera, so are not of the best quality.  I hope you can forgive me,...

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Spring Break musings – chemistry in the old days
Mar25

Spring Break musings – chemistry in the old days

Hello all! Sorry for the sparse updates over the past week and half or so.  It's been spring break in college land, and for undergrads that means vacation.  I'm currently in the West Palm Beach airport in sunny FL, about to head back to the snow-and-windswept plains of the northeast (where I call my home).  While here, I had the pleasure of visiting with my girlfriend and grandparents and being treated to far too many gigantic meals.  Today at lunch I was eating with my grandmother and her friend, and learned that she was once a high-school chemistry teacher.  She told me all sorts of stories (including one of her in graduate school, when she mouth-pipetted snake venom!), and one of my favorites is below.  Feel free to share your favorites! Once upon a time, in Illinois, my friend was taking her class (from Minn.) to a science fair.  They were working on irradiated chickens, and kept them and the irradiated eggs in the trunk of the car.  Of course, in order to keep the specimens alive, they needed to open the trunk every once and a while to give the poor guys some air.  In a small town in Illinois, the chickens got loose and my poor friend had to chase these irradiated (maybe radioactive?) chickens through the streets. Why does this story speak to me?  Well, first, I find it absolutely hilarious - a scientist chasing her specimens through the streets of a small town just would not happen.  (Also, does anybody use chickens as a model system anymore)?  Second, we don't even have what were called "Becquerel Chemicals" in high schools anymore, much less do radiation experiments on chickens.  It's just a different day today.  Well anyway, in honor of Friday, spring break, and the good old times, feel free to share your favorite old time chemistry story in the space below - thanks!...

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REU Round-Up Part II – An interview!
Mar17

REU Round-Up Part II – An interview!

Hello everyone! Sorry for the long delay, but here is the long-promised interview with a real-live graduate student!  Amanda is a first-year grad student at a new-england university.  She can tell you all about her experience below.  What is interesting is that even though Amanda did hardcore inorganic chemistry in her REU, she has since gone on to a biochemistry lab, but still would like to apply her interest in metal binding.  So as advice for all of you fledgeling researchers, don't feel trapped by your interests: an REU can be a great experience to expand your scientific understanding and learn a new field that you can apply to your own.  With that said, here's Amanda! SCB:  First, just describe your experience – where did you go, what kind of research did you do? Amanda: I participated in a 10 week Chemistry REU at Syracuse University during Summer of 2009. They allowed us to live on campus with the other participants and occasionally arranged weekend trips for us to get out of Syracuse. I worked in Dr. Jon Zubieta's Lab doing inorganic chemistry, specifically Hydrothermal Synthesis of Molybdenum complexes in the presence of other divalent cations. Hydrothermal synthesis was a very cool technique to learn that allows you to set up reactions that incubated over a number of hours or days at high temperatures, and after filtering the mix and potentially identifying crystals, these could be isolated and mounted for XRD study. Further applications could involve incorporation into magnetics or electronics depending on the crystal properties. SCB:  Were you surprised by anything about your REU experience?  Anything you expected but did not get, or vice versa? Amanda: I was surprised that I was working under upper level graduate students in the lab rather than Dr. Zubieta himself. It had been my understanding up until that point that the PI's were always in the lab, too, but since then my understanding on that has changed significantly. They are often busy writing up publications and doing the administrative work. In that regard, I felt like I wasn't going to gain a significant experience, but that wasn't the case at all. I also had entered into that program with the thinking that I would be working on another project within the lab dealing with technetium and imaging, but I was assigned the hydrothermal project instead. SCB:  What did you learn during the summer? Amanda:  During the summer I was able to learn a few interesting inorganic techniques and got a really good feel for the schedule that upper level grad students often held at SU during the summer. The graduate students I...

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An interesting op-ed (semi-unrelated to chemistry)
Mar17

An interesting op-ed (semi-unrelated to chemistry)

Hello! For all of you folks there who are worried about the nuclear situation in Japan and it's potential impacts for the nuclear power industry, this undergrad from Tufts University put together a really great article.  It really focuses on what we as scientists (or budding scientists) need to do and take responsibility for.  Definitely a good reminder of life outside the fume hood.   This article was originally published in the Tufts Daily, and I think it's a pretty good read for undergrads and professionals alike. Thanks to Evan Weixel for permission to reprint his work. Enjoy! -Sidechain Much news these past days has rightly been focused on the terrible disaster happening in Japan. Getting the most coverage has been the ongoing problem of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station. The situation there is critical, and it seems now highly likely that there could be a significant release of radioactive matter. As frightening as this is, the continuing news coverage has helped me realize the thing I fear the most in the world. Most media outlets are doing their very best to sensationalize the story. Organizations such as The New York Times, CNN and The Associated Press have all published articles that confuse readers about what the actual danger from the nuclear reactors is. Small sidebars contain miniscule links to difficult-to-follow stories on how nuclear reactors work. Words such as “meltdown,” a term deemed insufficiently specific for use in the nuclear industry, are used freely. Radiation is discussed without any note of the actual levels, and no benchmark radiation levels are given. An article in the German newspaper Der Spiegel calls this disaster “Japan’s Chernobyl” yet neglects to mention that the differences in reactor type, design, regulation and operation between the doomed Ukrainian plant and Fukushima Daiichi mean that even in the worst-case scenario, Japan will face a disaster several orders of magnitude less than that at Chernobyl. Frankly, the public is being misinformed. The comments on these stories are even more worrisome than the stories themselves. The vast majority of posts on websites ranging from The Huffington Post to Fark.com are to the effect that the results from this disaster are going to be as bad as, if not worse than, Chernobyl, the reactors will explode like giant nuclear bombs, and under normal operating conditions, there is no radiation emitted from nuclear power plants. However, these statements are all false. Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) has called for a halt on all nuclear-power construction projects in the United States until the faults in the Japanese plants can be found yet is unaware that current reactor safety systems are much...

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