Author Archives: Nick

Graphene, and we swear we’re not dead

Posted by Nick

Yes, this place appears entirely forgotten about. We do think about it sometimes, though, we promise.

A friend sent me this link a few days ago and I just can’t get over how cool this is. Materials are my thing to begin with, but the idea that such a simple process like stretching would create pseudo-magnetic fields like this paper reports is just wild.  Electronic behavior like this that makes the control of electrons easier obviously has a ton of implications for electronics, but I’m honestly more blown away by the sheer absurdity of this – so simple, and discovered by accident.  The things we don’t know are really quite incredible.

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Witch Hunts and Politics as Science – Virginia Edition

Posted by Nick

Michael Mann gets in the news a lot, recently for the wrong reasons.  I feel bad for the guy, but I also hate the way the science of climate change gets represented in the media whenever he comes up.  It remains very clear to anybody remotely familiar with science or reasonably willing to evaluate information and then form opinions based on it that global warming is a very real phenomenon.  I personally believe that it is far and away the most important issue facing humanity in the next hundred years, although there are legitimate debates to be had about the rate at which climate change is occurring.  However, it is reasonable to expect that the relative dangers of climate change and the rate at which it is happening to be discussed and debated among scientists, and that ultimately scientific inquiry will determine the extent of the problem.  Unfortunately, not everybody feels that way.

Apparently Kenneth Cuccinelli, Attorney General of Virginia, is investigating Dr. Mann with the intention of determining that he used grant money improperly while he worked at the University of Virginia.  If found to be true, UVa would be required to return the money to NSF.  In his time as the Attorney General of Virginia, Cuccinelli has also challenged the EPA on fuel standards and greenhouse gases.  He clearly believes that global warming is either not happening or not a problem.  This indicates to me that he either ignores facts for political reasons or that he genuinely believes that his science education in climatology is sufficient to interpret facts in a way that disagrees with an overwhelming majority of experts in the field, making him either intellectually dishonest or very arrogant. Based on his history of using political means to challenge scientific findings, his action against Dr. Mann are nothing less than a declaration of war on scientific inquiry in the state of Virginia.  If Dr. Mann were a prominent climate change skeptic, I have no doubt that Cuccinelli would not be doing this.  The fact is that the inquiry arises simply because a man in power disagrees with the findings of a scientific investigation, and is willing to use any means necessary to discredit these findings.  Since Cuccinelli is not a scientist, he is unable to create scientific dialogue in the usual, constructive, way of publishing contrary results and generating research in an area.  Instead, he is prosecuting a scientist whose findings make his political positions untenable.

One of the beauties of science is that widely accepted theories are widely accepted because they have a large body of evidence suggesting that they are, in fact, correct.  The most distilled mission of science is to find the truth about how our universe works.  Unfortunately, Cuccinelli’s view for science in Virginia is for it to be a mockery of the truth and simply parrot back to politicians what they wish to hear.  This is an incredibly concerning development for anybody who believes that a scientific approach to physical problems is a constructive one.

Max Planck once said that “A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.”  While the idea of climate change is in no way a new scientific idea, I am hopeful that it will eventually be widely accepted as a problem that must be dealt with.  Unfortunately, waiting for the process Planck describes to occur will take time, which may lead us beyond the point of no return for the world.

Since I’m slow, this is probably a month or so late.  Oh well.

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All your periodic tables are out of date

Posted by Nick

The International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC) recently decided that element 112, which until now has been referred to as ununbium, will now be called Copernicium and use the abbreviation Cn.  After being officially recognized by IUPAC as an element last year, copernicum had used the abbreviation Uub.  The most important consequence of this, of course, is that all periodic tables in the world must be replaced immediately.

Science Daily

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Making Carbon Dioxide usable?

Posted by Nick

This is a little bit late, but engineers at UCLA recently reported that they were able to successfully modify some bacteria to produce isobutanol from photosynthesis instead of sugars.  Pretty damn cool, because isobutanol is a useful alternative fuel that burns relatively clean.  Also cool because the process consumes carbon dioxide, as all photosynthetic processes do.

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/12/091210162222.htm

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Nanoink!

Posted by Nick

In general, I hate that “nano-” has turned into such a buzzword in the sciences.   Vendors try to sell nanoprep kits and charge more for them.  Unfortunately, these kits are not 9 orders of magnitude smaller than ordinary kits – they tend to be exactly the same with snazzier packaging.  I honestly believe that if you went to a biochemistry conference selling “nanocookies” that the scientists would pay twice as much for them than if you merely labeled them cookies.

In spite of the regrettable buzzword, a lot of nanotechnology is incredibly cool stuff and has tons of very important potential applications.  Nanoparticles have some particularly cool electronic properties related to them being a sort of in between atomic substance and bulk substance, leading to unique behaviors.  These properties make some types of nanoparticles good candidates for use in photovoltatic cells.  The main obstacle of solar energy currently is that solar cells are expensive and hard to produce.  Chemical engineers at UT-Austin, however, are working on a way to synthesize photovoltaic cells in “nanoparticle inks” cheaply and easily.  These inks would not only present production advantages, they would also make deployment a good deal easier.  Unfortunately these “inks” are about 10 times less efficient than is feasible for a commercial solar cell.

In any case, the idea of a painted-on solar cell is incredibly cool, regardless of how realistic it is.

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Lower Cost Solar Cells To Be Printed Like Newspaper, Painted On Rooftops [ScienceDaily]

Abstract at JACS [Journal of the American Chemical Society]

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More than one writer?

Posted by Nick

Science is a way of thinking much more than it is a body of knowledge.

– Carl Sagan

Smart guy, Carl Sagan.  The cosmos isn’t necessarily my thing, but it doesn’t make him any less insightful.  Science in general boils down to a pretty simple question: how does ______ work?  Masses of socially awkward people we call scientists lock themselves away in little labs to ask, sometimes even answer, that question and its derivatives.  It is a simple question that’s grown into something quite broad and rather vague – ask 10 people what they define as “science” and you’ll get varying responses, especially if you ask 10 scientists.

And that, in a roundabout way, brings me here.  As an undergrad in a relatively small chemistry department, I’m just scratching the surface of how cool most of science can be, so when Matt asked me to to be a chemistry contributor here it made a lot of sense to hop on board.   I’m primarily interested in inorganic chemistry, so most of what I throw up on here would presumably be about that, as well as whatever else I find worth writing about, science related or no. So thanks for stopping by, and we hope you like what you read.

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