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).

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Are You Ready for the Digital Transition?

As most of you should know by now, the U.S. government mandated switch to digital television transmissions will occur tomorrow (Friday) at midnight. I’ll be stopping by the Comcast office on my way home tonight, picking up an extra converter box or two for our secondary TVs. We already have one for the main television. All the polls indicate there is still a lot of confusion out there about what needs to be done to prepare for the transition, and while I was initially amused by all this confusion, I have since learned just how easily it can be to get it wrong. I know, because I also got it wrong at first thanks, in part, to some badly worded announcements put out by Comcast.

Several months ago, Comcast was telling everyone (in this area at least) that if you were a subscriber with them, you would still receive all the same analog channels without being required to do anything.. We wouldn’t even notice the transition, they said. About a month and a half ago, the announcements changed. Only the over-the-air based analog channels would remain untouched. All the other analog channels, History Channel, Nickelodeon, Disney, Animal Planet, etc. (yes, we have kids) would disappear, reappearing in a digital format which would require a converter box to access. Although these channels are also analog based, at least by the time they arrive at our house, Comcast no longer refers to them as analog channels. That distinction is now reserved for over-the-air channels. Analog channels which do not originate from local broadcasting stations are now referred to as cable channels, a point which was missed by the people writing the earlier announcements.

At least the extra DTV boxes are free for a year.

Do We Really Need Another Element?

Just great. They’ve officially decided to add element 112 to the periodic table. Like I really needed another name to memorize.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

A Babelfish for Chemists

As an undergraduate, I fulfilled my foreign language requirements by taking German. I found it moderately useful for translating a few chemistry papers needed for my research, but the process was admittedly painful. Scientific German is a lot different (read: harder) than conversational German. By the time I entered the job market, my translating ability had atrophied to the point where it was nothing more than a bullet on my resume. And unless you are very good at it, it’s more economical for the company to pay someone else to perform translations for you.

A report has been released in the Journal of Chemical Information and Modeling describing Lexichem, computer software designed to translate over 250,000 English chemical names into seven other languages and back again. Hmmmm…… I suspect I might have found this useful back in the day, not only for me, but for some professional translators as well. I recall reading through a compilation of abstracts on ceramic materials translated from Japanese articles several years ago. I kept running into the term “basic soil elements” which had me totally bewildered until I finally realized the translator was trying to say “alkaline earth elements”.

Original source: New Scientist

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Arsenic (Again) and Drugs

Following up on last week's post concerning the relationship between elevated levels of arsenic in drinking water and a diminished immune response to certain types of influenza (swine flu?), I ran across the following article describing the use of nanorust (actually tiny particles of iron oxide coated on sand) to provide a possible low cost means of removing arsenic from water. You can’t get much more inorganic than this.

In a previous post, I discussed my general reluctance for taking drugs, somewhat skeptical that it might be possible to develop a drug which didn’t cause some problem somewhere else in the body. Now, Derek Lowe has written a column describing how much we don’t know about drugs and their mechanisms inside the body. He even says:” I try not to take any medication unless I feel it's absolutely needed, and I'm often not very happy about taking it even then.” A man after my own heart! I just might finally consider throwing out all that aspirin I’ve been suspicious of for a while now.