Sunday, January 16, 2011

Historic Change: Just in time for the International Year of Chemistry

The year 2011 has been designated as the International Year of Chemistry. The IYC is an official United Nations International Year, proclaimed at the UN as a result of the initiative of IUPAC and UNESCO.

For the first time in history, a change will be made to the atomic weights of some elements listed on the Periodic table of the chemical elements posted on walls of chemistry classrooms and on the inside covers of chemistry textbooks worldwide. IUPAC will feature the change in the standard atomic weights table as part of associated IYC activities. The new table, outlined in a report released this month, will express atomic weights of 10 elements -- hydrogen, lithium, boron, carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, silicon, sulfur, chlorine and thallium -- in a new manner that will reflect more accurately how these elements are found in nature.

Analytic techniques have improved so that we can more precisely measure atomic weight and scientists have found that some are not static, but will be expressed in intervals. For example, sulfur is commonly known to have a standard atomic weight of 32.065. However, its actual atomic weight can be anywhere between 32.059 and 32.076, depending on where the element is found. Read more on the Science Daily website.
National Geographic's new issue that by the end of 2011 we will have 7 billion people on the planet. This brings up lots of interesting issues to do with education, energy, housing, sanitation, and food.

Sharing a hillside with high-rise apartment dwellers, children dance at a shop in one of the squatter communities that ring Caracas, a city of three million. One in seven people on Earth lives in slums today. Providing them with better housing and education will be one of the great challenges facing a world of seven billion people and counting.

United States
A new house went up every 20 minutes during the 2004 building boom that seized Las Vegas and its sprawling suburbs, like Henderson. The American lifestyle—characterized by gas-thirsty cars and big houses using lots of electricity—contributes to the country's energy appetite; its carbon emissions are four times higher than the global average.

The article and National Geographic website focus on the importance of balance in our world. Watch the great video below:

Bad Movie Physics

Report card time: Click on the above image to read more clearly.

Just to expand on the above categories...
  • There's no sound in space
  • Not all planets have Earth gravity
  • Planets should have diverse climates, instead of one unified climate across a "desert planet" or "forest planet."
  • It shouldn't be too easy to communicate with alien creatures, without some kind of high-technology "translator" explanation.
  • And it definitely shouldn't be too easy for humans to interbreed with aliens.
  • Humans exposed to vacuum without a spacesuit shouldn't explode or shatter. And a "hull breach" where the ship's crew is exposed to vacuum should kill everyone instantly.
  • You can't have fires in space, unless there's oxygen leaking out somehow.
  • Asteroids or other objects shouldn't be able to float close together without falling into each other's gravity
  • People shouldn't be able to dodge lasers and other speed-of-light weapons
  • And there's no reason why someone would move in slow-motion in zero gravity.
  • Faster-than-light travel is probably not ever going to be possible.

Down the Hatch

19th century laryngologist, Dr. Chevalier Jackson, preserved some interesting specimens from his patients.

He preserved more than 2,000 objects that people had swallowed or inhaled: nails and bolts, miniature binoculars, a radiator key, a child’s perfect-attendance pin, a medallion that says “Carry me for good luck.” Jackson retrieved these objects from people’s upper torsos, generally with little or no anesthesia. He was so intent on assembling his collection that he once refused to return a swallowed quarter, even when its owner threatened his life.

He was an early safety advocate for children chewing before swallowing. You can read more about his bizarre collection and interesting techniques here.

His collection will be on display at a museum in Philadelphia, and his biography has been recently written in "Swallow: Foreign Bodies, Their Ingestion, Inspiration, and the Curious Doctor Who Extracted Them" by Mary Cappello.

Baking... with science!

Gel electrophoresis cookies pictured above. Gel electrophoresis is a technique to separate DNA fragments to make a "DNA fingerprint" that can be compared to DNA samples. This is used in forensics, paternity testing, and in genetics laboratories.

Geological layers cake.

Labware cookies!