Thursday, March 25, 2010

For selected people only

Day 2 was considerably busier than day 1 at Analytica 2010. Although final figures will not be released until tomorrow, members of the organisation confirmed during a press breakfast that these looked promising, with day 1 attracting more visitors than the same day in 2008 (for those of you that don’t know this, Analytica is a biannual event).

In terms of product launches, however, the day was quite quiet, with a number of companies presenting “first time shown in Europe” type releases. At Millipore’s booth, for example, I was shown their automated handheld cell counter and some attractive looking water purification kits. At Thermo Fisher Scientific’s I was treated to a whole tour where they showed me their newest products and had demonstrations of their handheld XRF alloy analysers - if you have recently purchased expensive jewellery you may want to go to their booth and check it is really worth every buck - and Raman spectrometers - I can’t help but wonder how long it will be until these are ubiquitous in airports around the globe to check the contents of passenger’s bottles. And to round up the day I also attended a seminar on the Syro Wave, a microwave and parallel peptide synthesiser that Biotage had launched in mid-February and I had not yet had the opportunity to see for myself.

Day 3 was quite short as I only had the morning at the show, which allowed just enough time for a visit to PerkinElmer’s booth, where I was taken for a private preview - “for selected people only”… it is the first time in my life I’ve been called that! - of a new MS system based on the Flexar LC platform that shows much promise and will formally be unveiled on 23 May at ASMS (we’ll keep you posted on this).

And then it was time to come back home. The show is not over until tomorrow but that is it for me until 2012.

This Day in Science History - March 25 - Friedrich Runge

March 25th marks the passing of Friedrich Ferdinand Runge. Runge was a German chemist most famous for discovering caffeine. The discovery process started when Runge was introduced to the German celebrity and poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe who also had an interest in science. Goethe was visiting a laboratory where Runge was working on plant extracts. The two men struck up a friendship and eventually Goethe entrusted some Arabian mocha beans to Runge to investigate their properties.

Runge eventually isolated bitter white crystals he called koffein that was the active compound in the beans. He moved onto other avenues of chemistry including the invention of the first blue aniline dye made from coal tar and developed the analytical technique known as paper chromatography.

Helium and Sulfur Hexafluoride Voice Demonstrations

You can breathe in helium and sulfur hexafluoride to change the pitch of your voice and illustrate how density affects the speed of sound. Helium is easy to come by... you can pick up a helium-filled balloon at many grocery stores. To make your voice higher, you just exhale air, take a deep breath of helium and talk (or sing, if you're extroverted). While helium is about six times lighter than air, sulfur hexafluoride is about six times more dense. It isn't as easy to find as helium, but you may be able to get some from a specialty gas store that carries oxygen, argon, etc. You can make yourself sound like Barry White asopposed to Alvin of the Chipmunks by doing the exact same thing as you did with the helium.

Neither helium nor sulfur hexafluoride is toxic, but both can make you lightheaded from breathing them instead of air with oxygen, so use common sense. Don't keep breathing either gas. Exhale after breathing them, then take a deep breath of regular air. Incidentally, it is a myth that you have to bend over to expel the dense sulfur hexafluoride gas. Your lungs are more than capable of breathing it out without any exotic posturing. Have fun, but be safe!

Monday, March 22, 2010

Designer Nanomaterials on Demand: Scientists Report Universal Method for Creating Nanoscale Composites

Composites are combinations of materials that produce properties inaccessible in any one material. A classic example of a composite is fiberglass -- plastic fibers woven with glass to add strength to hockey sticks or the hull of a boat. Unlike the well-established techniques for producing fiberglass and other macroscale composites, however, there aren't general schemes available for making nanoscale composites.

Now, researchers at Berkeley Lab's Molecular Foundry, in collaboration with researcher at the University of California, Berkeley, have shown how nanocomposites with desired properties can be designed and fabricated by first assembling nanocrystals and nanorods coated with short organic molecules, called ligands. These ligands are then replaced with clusters of metal chalcogenides, such as copper sulfide. As a result, the clusters link to the nanocrystal or nanorod building blocks and help create a stable nanocomposite. The team has applied this scheme to more than 20 different combinations of materials, including close-packed
nanocrystal spheres for thermoelectric materials and vertically aligned nanorods for solar cells.

Early Galaxy Went Through 'Teenage Growth Spurt,' Scientists Say

Scientists have found a massive galaxy in the early Universe creating stars like our sun up to 100 times faster than the modern-day Milky Way.

The team of international researchers, led by Durham University, described the finding as like seeing "a teenager going through a growth spurt."

Due to the amount of time it takes light to reach Earth the scientists observed the galaxy as it would have appeared 10 billion years ago -- just three billion years after the Big Bang.

They found four discrete star-forming regions within the galaxy known as SMM J2135-0102. Each regionwas more than 100 times brighter than star-forming regions in the Milky Way, such as the Orion Nebula.

They say their results, published online in the journal Nature, suggest that star formation was more rapid and vigorous in the early Universe as galaxies went through periods of huge growth.

Incorporating Biofunctionality Into Nanomaterials for Medical, Environmental Devices

A team led by researchers from North Carolina State University has published a paper that describes the use of a technique called atomic layer deposition to incorporate "biological functionality" into complex nanomaterials, which could lead to a new generation of medical and environmental health applications. For example, the researchers show how the technology can be used to develop effective, low-cost water purification devices that could be used in developing countries.

This Day in Science History - March 22 - Robert Millikan

March 22nd is Robert Millikan's birthday. Millikan was an American physicist best known for his famous oil drop experiment. The experiment was designed to measure the charge of the electron. The value for the electron charge is one of the fundamental physical constants and the experiment is a staple of university physics students.

Millikan Oil Drop Experiment

Determining the Electron Charge by the Millikan Oil Drop Experiment

Millikan's oil drop experiment measured the charge of the electron.
How the Oil Drop Experiment Worked

The original experiment was performed in 1909 by Robert Millikan and Harvey Fletcher by balancing the downward gravitational force and the upward electrical and buoyant forces of charged oil droplets suspended between two metal plates. The mass of the droplets and the density of the oil was known, so the gravitational and buoyant forces could be calculated from the measured radii of the oil drops. Since the electric field was known, the charge on the oil drops could be determined when the drops were held at equilibrium. The value for the charge was calculated for many droplets.

Did You Know Bananas Glow?

You find out some interesting things when you leave a black light lying around on the kitchen counter. If you read my blog, you already know bananas are slightly radioactive, but did you know the areas around the spots of ripe bananas glows blue under ultraviolet light? Now you do! If you want to check out other household items for a fluorescent glow, I have a list of things that glow under black light. If you are aware of anything I've missed, be sure to post a reply and I'll take a picture/add it to the list.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

More cold water poured on ocean fertilisation

The latest expedition to the Southern Ocean to test the theory that fertilising the ocean combat climate change has concluded that the process sucks negligible amounts of CO2 from the atmosphere.

The theory goes that sprinkling iron into areas of the ocean lacking in the metal will stimulate the growth of algae, which will absorb CO2 from the air as they grow and then carry some of this greenhouse gas to the depths of the ocean when they die.

The German-Indian Lohafex project is the latest expedition to test out the theory in practice. The team found that dumping six tonnes of iron into the ocean did indeed boost algal growth - but that within two weeks the algae were being eaten by a voracious band of tiny crustaceans called copepods, drastically cutting the amount of carbon captured.

These results are just the latest to show that a process that at first glance appears relatively simple is actually far from it. Previous studies - including most recently an investigation into the effects of natural iron fertilisation, where the metal is washed from land into the ocean - have produced conflicting data as to how much extra carbon might be captured.

Pfizer licenses actives to Tocris and Sigma-Aldrich

Pfizer is licensing around 100 of its small molecule compounds to Bristol, UK-based Tocris Bioscience and St Louis, US-based Sigma-Aldrich. Under the agreements, unformulated patented and approved drug molecules such as atorvastatin, sildenafil and sunitinib will be sold for use in pre-clinical research studies. In addition, a number of Pfizer’s literature compounds that have not progressed from development to clinical use will also be offered for sale.

Laurence Ede, Tocris’s managing director, told Chemistry World that the announcement continued the considerable momentum that the company had seen throughout 2009 despite the widespread economic doom and gloom. That momentum saw the company’s sales increase 17 per cent compared to 2008, with sales of new products introduced in 2009 surpassing even 2008’s record levels.

Lilly warehouse hit by thieves

Eli Lilly has fallen foul of one of the largest pharmaceutical heists ever. On Sunday March 21, thieves stole around $75 million of prescription drugs from a warehouse in Connecticut, US. The warehouse contained a range of antidepressant and antipsychotic drugs including Prozac (fluoxetine), Cymbalta (duloxetine), and Zyprexa (olanzapine).

According to media reports, the thieves cut a hole in the roof of the warehouse, before sliding down a rope into the warehouse. The company is working with the US Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA’s) Office of Criminal Investigations, and other law enforcement officials, to recover the stolen drugs.

Digesting chemistry at IUPAC2009

Just a quick blog today as I’ve been out at the Gala dinner here at Glasgow - I had a nice chat with Ben Feringa, who gave a stonking plenary lecture this evening. The man is a genius - he was talking about his group’s work in nanomachinery, making molecular switches, rotors and even molecules that can ’swim’ across surfaces. He made the very interesting point that most chemistry within a cell involves some kind of motor molecule at some stage, whereas none of the chemistry we do in flasks is controlled that way.

This Day in Science History - March 21 - Jean Baptiste Fourier

March 21th is Jean Baptiste Fourier's birthday. Fourier was a French mathematical physicist who is best known for a method to express a periodic function into a sum of simple sine and cosine expressions. This process is used extensively in optics, quantum mechanics, acoustics and electrical engineering.

He was also the first to describe what has become known as the "greenhouse effect". He described a theory where the atmosphere served to heat the surface of a planet by slowing heat loss.

Happy Birthday Fourier! Find out what else occurred on this day in science history

Make Microwave S'mores with Easter Peeps

Easter is two weeks from today on April 4th. It's time to use those Peeps because you know they'll be rock-hard before Easter. I realize a lot of people love Peeps (Easter treat traditionally found in yellow chick form, though other colors and shapes exist), but I always relegated them to the 'not food' category of Easter candy. That was before I learned how to eat them with chocolate.

The recipe is easy and fun. Take a graham cracker, set a Peep on it, put a couple of Hershey's Kisses™ on another cracker, pop them in the microwave, and nuke them until the Peep has expanded so it looks like it's ready to explode (20 seconds seems good). Smush the Peep side and the Kiss side together, and enjoy!

Savannah's Nuclear Bomb is holding a meeting in Savannah this weekend so I suspect my coworkers would be interested to know that there is a live nuclear bomb off the Georgia coast. In February 1958 a B-47 bomber on a training mission out of Homestead Air Force Base in Florida had a collision with an F-86. The pilot of the F-86 parachuted to safety and the fighter jet crashed. The B-47 also sustained damage. The crew requested and received permission to jettison the 7,600 pound Mark 15 bomb it was carrying so that the aircraft could more safely land at Hunter Air Force Base.

When Is Earth Day?

If you've been confused about the answer to this question, it is because Earth Day could fall on either of two days, depending on your preference for when you want to observe it. Some people celebrate Earth Day on the first day of Spring (on the vernal equinox, which falls on March 20, 2010) while others observe Earth Day on April 22. In either case, the purpose of the day is to inspire appreciation for the earth's environment and awareness of issues that threaten it.

Balance an Egg on the Equinox

Saturday, March 20, 2010 is the vernal equinox, which marks the first day of spring in the northern hemisphere. Are you familiar with the urban legend that it's easier to balance an egg on end on the equinox than on other days of the year? Test it and see! This vernal equinox one of the two times during the year when the sun crosses the celestial equator and the spin axis of the Earth points 90 degrees away from the sun. Why should this affect your ability to balance an egg on end? The premise is that aligning the gravitational pull of the Sun with that from the center of the Earth should somehow make it easier to balance any object.

Test the Hypothesis Yourself

Take a carton of eggs and try balancing the eggs on end today. Can you stand any of them up (without resorting to tricks like putting salt under the eggs)? Can you stand eggs on their small ends as well as their large ends? Keep track of your results and repeat the process on the equinox. Do you note any differences? A simple hypothesis to test is: Eggs can only be balanced on-end on the equinox. If you can balance an egg today, you've disproven the hypothesis. It's that easy!

One thing I find neat about egg-balancing is that a balanced egg will hold its position until a vibration knocks it down. How long can you keep an egg standing?