"The chymists are a strange class of mortals, impelled by an almost insane impulse to seek their pleasure among smoke and vapour, soot and flame, poisons and poverty; yet among all these evils I seem to live so sweetly that may I die if I would change places with the Persian King."
Johann Joachim Becher (phlogistonist)
Acta Laboratorii Chymica Monacensis, seu Physica Subterranea, (1669).
Tuesday, July 29, 2008
Are there any aqueous inorganic chemists out there reading this blog?
My family and I will be leaving tomorrow to visit my parents in Springfield, Missouri for 5 days. I've talked about Springfield before, so it's always a fun trip, but I won't be updating the blog until next week. In the meantime, here is the previously promised picture of my garden (or at least a small part of it).
Friday, July 25, 2008
Anyway, the kids love it. And my six year old son quickly discovered you don't have to be near the TV to play. The sensor system can pick up the signals from the Wiimote all over our house, so he runs around various rooms throughout the house playing games like "bowling" with no video feedback. It's a little disheartening to watch him get a strike when he's somewhere in the basement while you're standing right there in front of the TV and still haven't gotten a strike all game. Annoyingly, he actually has the nerve to get upset when he loses the game. Oh well, in the meantime, I'll be looking for some good chemistry-based games.
Thursday, July 24, 2008
Monday, July 21, 2008
Today, a few pinches of ammonium carbonate did the trick and restored my standing as a chemist in our home again.
Instructors at the University of Nottingham have put together a series of short videos describing each element of the periodic table . I haven't had the chance to go through all the elements yet, but it's definitely worth a look.
Friday, July 18, 2008
A website named "Vibrant Life", for example, describes the benefits of self-chelation. (Sounds pornographic, doesn’t it?). A check of their chelating product ingredient list reveals that it contains a standard mix of vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and 500 milligrams of EDTA as the chelating agent. Considering how poorly EDTA is absorbed through the gastrointestinal tract, you might as well drink Mountain Dew if you want to ingest EDTA. On the other hand, the makers of Chelorex say that oral EDTA chelation is a scam, which is why their self-chelating formula has no EDTA in it. In fact their product doesn’t appear to have much in the way of metal chelators at all – just vitamins, minerals, and amino acids. Hmmm…. Where’s the FDA when you need them?
Obligatory story from the past about self-chelating… well, sort of, anyway.
A professor back in grad school once told me about a friend of his who was using the old school habit of mouth-pipetting. As you might have guessed, he accidentally swallowed some of the reagent, which turned out to be rather poisonous. (I want to apologize here since I don’t really remember which chemicals were involved, so bear with me.) He immediately began to panic and proceeded to rush from lab to lab yelling for someone to help him. Since no one responded quickly enough for his liking, he ran back to his lab where he had the bright idea of swallowing a second chemical to counteract the first. Again, I don’t remember which chemical it was, but it would have precipitated out the first reagent. Oh, and it was poisonous too. But he drank it anyway.
After calming down a bit, the chemist within began to reassert itself and he wondered if these 2 chemicals would really react at the low pHs present in the stomach. Calmly, he performed the calculations and found that, yes, they would indeed not react under those conditions. So now he had 2 poisons in his system. As far as I know, he ended up suffering no ill effects.
Woo hoo! I made it through an entire post about chemistry and didn't use a single subscript or superscript. Good times, indeed!
Wednesday, July 16, 2008
Monday, July 14, 2008
Warning: this is a non-chemistry related rant.
Last year, I switched from a monthly cell phone plan (Verizon) to a fixed rate per minute plan (AT&T). My wife had been tracking my cell phone use patterns and had convinced me I would pay less on a pay per minute plan. So far she has been right, although as more and more people at work are beginning to call my cell, that advantage is beginning to disappear. The increase in work related calls is not totally unexpected since I am currently existing in a hybrid state, as I resonate between 3 different locations and the cell is often the easiest way to catch me.
Pay per minute plans tend to make you acutely aware of the length of your calls, especially since AT&T graciously sends you a note after each call telling you how much you just spent. These plans are also the source of much aggravation as you notice all the little things the phone company does to drain your phone card of money as quickly as possible. I don’t mind that AT&T rounds calls up to the next minute, but how do they manage to make sure my calls always last X minutes and 1 second? Slightly more annoying is the phone’s user interface, which is designed to maximize the number of times one can accidentally sign on to the AT&T web store (for which you are charged). And nothing is more annoying than hanging up the phone, seeing the “call ended” message, and then a second or two later seeing a “call resumed” message as the timer begins counting again. WTF? The other party has already hung up. Why is my phone reinitiating the call?
However, these minor annoyances are not why I am writing today. My rant is directed at the callers themselves -- in particular, two people at work that are most responsible for my phone card drainage. It’s not just that they constantly call with no real purpose in mind (Hello! The company does have email, you know?). The real problem is that these two guys simply don’t know how to end a phone conversation. Seriously, phone calls that should barely last a minute drag out for 5 or 6 minutes because they can’t bring themselves to say goodbye.
Cell Phone Drainer (CPD): “Ken, I’ve got those samples you wanted.”
Me: “Great, I’ll come on over to pick them up.”
CPD: (Pause……) “I didn’t have any trouble making them.”
Me: Were you expecting any trouble? You’ve already made dozens of them.”
CPD: (Pause…..) ”No, I just wanted you to know that I didn’t have any trouble.”
Me: OK, I’ll come on over right now.”
CPD: (Long pause……) “Anything happening over in your area?”
Me: “Uhhh, no. Thanks for making the samples. I really need to start working on them.”
CPD: (Pause…..) ” Do you want to come over and get them now?”
Me: “Yes, I’m on my way. Thanks.
CPD: (Long awkward pause….) ”I’ll be at my cubicle.”
Me: “Yes, I know.”
CPD: “Have you been enjoying the weather lately?”
I start watching the timer on my phone.
Me: “It’s been okay. OK, I’m leaving now.”
CPD: (Pause…..) ”The samples should all be fine, I didn’t have any problems.”
Me: (Coworkers in nearby cubicles begin to notice my desperation) “Ummm, I really need to use the bathroom, so I think I have to go now.”
CPD: “You want me to leave the samples at my cubicle?”
CPD: (Longer pause….) “How do you think the project is going?”
Me: “I think I just heard an explosion coming from the lab. I should really go.”
CPD: (Pause…..) “Do you want a printout for the samples?”
Me: “I’m sure I hear screaming. I should really go now. Talk to you when I get there.”
CPD: “OK….If there’s nothing else…I’ll be at my cubicle….with the samples. You can pick them up anytime. Are you coming over right now?”
CPD: (Pause….) ”Uhhh… bye…. I’ll… I’ll talk to you later."
I hang up and my cell phone tells me I've been on for 4 minutes and 1 second. Damn!!!
I tend to ignore his phone calls now but then he just leaves messages which require me to call my voice mail (for a fee) to erase. Anyway, thanks for reading. I feel much better now.
For all those analytical chemists who managed to make it through that rant, here is a link to a music video for those interested in automated pipetting. Woo hoo!!
Wednesday, July 9, 2008
1. Oxidizing a fair bit of ethanol with ADH (alcohol dehydrogenase). (Note to self -- consuming ice cream after a bottle of wine is no longer recommended).
2. Altering a large number of my DNA molecules via UV radiation.
3. Witnessing many colorful pyrotechnic explosions. Unfortunately, I’ve noticed that I spend more time trying to guess which elements are being used to generate the colors than I do just ooohing and aaahing like everyone else. At least I’m not trying to make my own fireworks (anymore) like this guy.
So it’s hard enough to get back into the work routine, but now I read over at Practical Transmutations that we may be running out of certain elements. I’ve written about this before, but it seems that the situation is more dire than I originally thought. Apparently, a German chemist has estimated when our supply of certain metals is going to be exhausted. This is not good news for some inorganic chemists. For example, becoming an expert on gallium and indium may not be a good career choice if you plan on working more than 10 years. And as if we aren’t using indium up quickly enough, we now have marketers promoting the use of indium as a promoter of good health. As far as I know, there are no studies demonstrating its efficacy in this area -- only its toxicity. Of course, they used to use arsenic for health reasons too, so who knows?
Anyway, this is not a good way to begin the work week. Stop using up our elements, you swine!
Tuesday, July 8, 2008
(OK, so I added the boat, but you get the idea. The little stick in the water was the Mo signal)
WTF?! How did I screw this up so badly? I asked other grad students for help. I repeated the analysis with another sample. I tried everything I could think of in my rather limited repertoire of NMR tricks. Nothing I tried made the spectrum look any better. Finally I located the NMR guy who had done the original analysis and asked him what he had done to get such a good spectrum. It took me a little while to figure it out, but I eventually realized that he had prettied up the spectrum a little before giving it to me. Looking back at the original data, his original spectrum had looked a lot like mine, but then he had MANUALLY ZEROED OUT THE ROLLING BASELINE, POINT BY POINT, until I had a nice sharp peak with zero noise. Then he had blown up the spectrum until the small blip looked like a giant Gaussian peak. Needless to say, I never let him run a sample for me again.
Of course, it never occurred to him that he was cheating or manipulating the data. He just figured he was doing me a favor. The moral is: If you depend upon someone else collecting data for you, make sure you always see the raw data.