Hey, ACS, Where’s My Comic Book?
Jun11

Hey, ACS, Where’s My Comic Book?

If you read this blog with any regularity (I know there’s at least one of you out there, two tops), you’ll remember a post I wrote awhile back bemoaning the lack of chemistry coloring books. I had just come across a supercool version about biology—filled with stem cells and neurons and viruses, oh my!—and was wondering what a chemistry version (perhaps produced by the American Chemical Society) might look like. Well, that coloring book still hasn’t materialized, and now I’m even more miffed: The physicists have comic books. And notice that I didn’t say “a” comic book. They have many of them. I spotted a few of these at the American Physical Society (APS) national meeting, held in Baltimore, back in March. One called “Nikola Tesla and the Electric Fair” caught my eye, as well as a S-E-R-I-E-S of books about the original laser superhero Spectra (you know how it goes: She discovers her powers after a class on lasers and winds up being able to cut through metal and play CDs … just your typical teenage drama). These educational aids for middle school classrooms are distributed by APS. But I wouldn’t even say they’re just for middleschoolers. I read all the way through the story of Telsa: It brings to life the epic battle between himself and Thomas Edison over alternating current (AC) and direct current. I guess I never realized that the “War of the Currents” ended when Tesla successfully used AC to light the infamous World’s Fair in Chicago (where the Ferris Wheel also made its debut). Via the comic, I also discovered that Tesla had a fondness (perhaps a little too much fondness) for pigeons. So even I learned something! But it wasn’t until I received a press release about Stephen Hawking’s new comic book that I was pushed over the edge to write this post and point out this educational trend. “Stephen Hawking: Riddles of Time & Space” is produced by Washington-based Bluewater Productions. It chronicles the cosmologist’s life, including how he discovered that he had ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, and his dispute with scientist Fred Hoyle over the Big Bang Theory. You can get your print copy of it here for $4.33. Folks making comic books about physics is by no means a bad trend. But I’m once again left wondering, “Where’s the chemistry equivalent?” We may not have Stephen Hawking or Nikola Tesla to brag about, but surely we’ve got someone who’s got an interesting story to relate to the general public? Organic chemist R.B. Woodward, in all his Mad-Men-esque glory? One of the many bearded chemists of yore?...

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In Print: Mosh Pit Simulator
Apr15

In Print: Mosh Pit Simulator

In stereotypical high school cafeterias, the physics nerds and metal heads don't usually mesh. But luckily for Matthew Bierbaum and Jesse L. Silverberg, there's grad school. The two Cornell physics grad students paid their own way to heavy-metal concerts, studied concert footage from around the world, and took their mosh pit findings back to the lab. As Associate Editor Lauren Wolf writes in this week's Newscripts, the pair, along with professors James P. Sethna and Itai Cohen, created a mosh pit simulator and found that the moshers behaved much like an ideal gas. A paper summarizing their results is available here. For the uninitiated, here's an example of a mosh pit (Warning: Video contains profanity.): And here's an ideal-gas-like simulation of a mosh pit: The group also studied a subset of mosh pits called circle pits -- mosh pits in which people run in a circle, as the name implies (Warning: Video contains profanity.):  And here's their simulation: It turns out that it's difficult to find a video of a mosh pit without profanity, so we apologize in advance. When Lauren heard Bierbaum speak about the team's research at the recent American Physical Society national meeting, he noted that 95% of circle pits move in a counterclockwise direction. He joked that it doesn’t work like toilets—they checked in Australia and other parts of the world—their circle pits go counterclockwise as well. As she writes in the print Newscripts, that’s one of the reasons he thinks the direction is due to humans’ dominant handedness. Why humans behave like an ideal gas, however, is still up in the air. Check back later this week to hear more from Lauren about her second Newscripts item -- flavor-filled New Orleans cocktails at the New Orleans ACS national...

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This Week on CENtral Science: Fireworks Disposal, Not-so- Alternative Careers, and More
Mar29

This Week on CENtral Science: Fireworks Disposal, Not-so- Alternative Careers, and More

Tweet of the Week: UC flack to me: Email is best way to contact researcher since many depts ditched phones due to budget cuts. What a world.— Sam Lemonick (@SamLemonick) March 28, 2013 When I read this I thought-- Really?? Then I figured, well, why not? I haven't had a land line since college. But I'm still wondering how big a chunk of change a phone bill really is in the grand scheme of the UC budget. Rachel will be handling this roundup during April. Until May, chem-keteers. To the network: Newscripts: In Print: Europe’s Got A Stink Problem and Fashion Police: Science Shoes and Amusing News Aliquots Terra Sigillata: Saturday Morning Natural Products PharmChem Radio! and Dr. Gina Stewart on Career Flexibility and Entrepreneurship The Safety Zone: Letter on Donaldson Enterprises fatal fireworks incident and Defining chemical safety, health, hygiene, and security The Watchglass: Kevlar Inventor Stephanie Kwolek and Behind that Chess Pic and Protein Folding and Lise Meitner and Carbonyl Attack and Radioimmunoassays take '77...

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There & Back Again: A Cyclotron’s Tale
Mar15

There & Back Again: A Cyclotron’s Tale

This post was written by Andrea Widener, an associate editor for C&EN's government and policy group. When Ernest O. Lawrence lent a cyclotron to the London Science Museum in 1938, he thought it would be back in eight months. But it took 75 years for the 11-inch cyclotron, one of the first built by the future Nobel Prize winner, to return to the hills of Berkeley, Calif., where it was originally created. The cyclotron survived a war, a bureaucratic tussle, and a security challenge before it was finally returned to Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL), the research institution founded by the cyclotron’s inventor. When it arrived last month, the 11-inch cyclotron was an instant celebrity, drawing crowds as though Lawrence himself had walked in for a photo op. “They were coming down the hallway in a stream,” says Pamela Patterson, who serves as an unofficial historian and manager of the lab’s website. “Everyone was there. The director had his iPhone up taking pictures. It was cute.” At the time Lawrence loaned the cyclotron to the science museum, he was still a young, ambitious researcher trying to convince others that the device was a major breakthrough. An invitation to display it in such a prestigious spot was likely an important step, Patterson explains. But when the cyclotron was supposed to be returned in 1939, Lawrence received a letter from the museum saying officials had moved the cyclotron to a rural district for safe keeping because they feared London would be bombed during World War II. Lawrence thanked the museum’s director for protecting the cyclotron. “We all hope the war will not last long and that soon the world will return to sanity again,” he replied. Instead World War II went on for seven more years, Patterson explains. “The cyclotron was just forgotten,” she says.But not everyone had forgotten. Patterson started her quest for the device’s return 18 years ago, when the president’s office at the University of California, which operates LBNL for the Department of Energy (DOE), asked her to take up the challenge. At first, the London Science Museum wanted to keep the cyclotron, in part because officials there couldn’t decide to whom they should return it, DOE or the university. Apparently, no one could find it on an inventory list.Patterson thought she was home-free, though, once the museum finally agreed to return the prized device in 2010. Museum officials packed the cyclotron up in its original shipping box, complete with PanAm and TransWorld Airline stickers, reflecting the last time it had been shipped. Soon after, she got the call that the cyclotron was a security threat and that...

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Getting Down On One Knee … With A Physics Paper
Mar06

Getting Down On One Knee … With A Physics Paper

The seven-year relationship of two physicists has moved to the next level, thanks to a marriage proposal Brandon wrote to Christie in the form of a physics paper. The faux academic article, titled "Two Body Interactions: A Longitudinal Study," is dated March 2012, but hit Reddit's cyberspace -- and achieved cyber fame -- at the end of last month.   The paper discusses how they met: "The study began on the 23rd of March, 05, outside a SciSoc BBQ at the Eastern Avenue Building, when the subject spontaneously appeared in a red coat and a grey 'Paddington bear' hat and was similarly spontaneously introduced by a local social node." It then goes on to explain the stresses that tested the long-distance relationship between Brandon and Christie: "The locational dependence of the results was tested across two main long term locations as well as a multitude of short term locations local, interstate, and international." And finally how they moved in together: "The third phase of the study involved isolating the two body interaction in a new long term location, while continuing the above mentioned tests." The paper even includes a graph of happiness over time, with a predicted upward trend in the happier-as-time-goes-on direction. And for the paper's conclusion ... ... Brandon writes: "Taking these results into account, the author proposes to Christie the indefinite continuation of the study. The subject's response to this proposal should be indicated below," which is followed by 'Yes' and 'No' check boxes. (Spoiler alert: The 'Yes' box is checked.) Reddit users are largely congratulatory of the couple and their nerdy science selves. Comments include: "Has it been Peer-reviewed? If not, the results could be bogus. But seriously: congratulations : )," "This is the most complicated 'CHECK THIS BOX IF YOU LIKE ME' note ever written," and "I'd like to replicate this...

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