This blog is my attempt to reconnect with the world of chemistry. I have a PhD in Inorganic Chemistry and make a living doing research for a large company in Michigan. As times have changed, that company has changed its focus and I no longer have as much chance to do the basic, fundamental research which I most enjoy. Through this blog, I am hoping to recapture the magic which I felt during my graduate (and undergraduate) days in college. Expect topics on chemistry and alchemy along with some non-chemistry related items which I think might be interesting.

"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).

Friday, February 29, 2008

Ode to "The Professor"

Last night, my wife and daughter were reading one of the “Magic School Bus” books (an excellent series if your kids like science at all) and came upon a section describing Marie Curie and her discovery of radium. The book explained that it required 3 years and several tons of pitchblende to isolate a few grams of radium.

“What’s pitchblende?” my wife asked me.

Damn. I didn’t know the answer, at least not for sure. What’s the point of being a chemist if I can’t answer simple questions like this, especially since I used to know the answer. Eventually I told her pitchblende was probably a uranium ore, but I wasn't really sure. So, of course, as soon as the story was over and the kids were in bed, I ran downstairs to look it up on the computer. (Seriously, does anyone use an encyclopedia anymore?) To my relief, pitchblende was indeed described as a uranium ore, composed mostly of UO2, with a little UO3 mixed in.

And that, my friends, is one of the main reasons I started this blog. Back in undergraduate land I would have known the answer immediately, but years of focused research have dulled much of my general chemistry knowledge. Writing this blog forces me to recall chemical facts which I’ve forgotten over the years. Of course, the downside is that writing this blog continually reminds me of the number of chemical facts I have forgotten over the years. I've always prided myself on knowing or wanting to know about all areas of chemistry, not just my favorite areas like aqueous transition metal chemistry. My only failing has been that I've never taken a single biochemistry course, much to my regret.

In other words, my role model would probably be “The Professor” from Gilligan’s Island. I’m not sure what his main area of expertise was supposed to be, but the scope of his knowledge was impressive. According to his website the Professor’s expertise included medicine, dentistry, biology, agriculture, astronomy, marine biology, botany, psychology, physics, law, and zoology. (Hey, what about chemistry? Almost everything he did involved chemistry). And his ability to build anything (except, of course, a boat patching kit) would put MacGyver to shame. If Gilligan's Island had lasted more than 3 years, I’m sure the Professor would have solved cold fusion. Now this is a guy I could pattern myself after. I doubt that I would have brought science textbooks along on a 3 hour cruise as he did, but since he apparently has 6 degrees (according to the website), I guess he can be accorded a little slack.

In a slightly more bizarre bit of news, eye-tattooing is now available. You can read about it here and if you really want, you can see far more gruesome pictures here. Damn, I can't even type this without imagining a needle approaching my eye.

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