Chemicals and Environment

It doesn't matter how bad or wildly untrue an idea might be; it is a near certainty that one can find an academic somewhere who is willing to embrace it. Alternative medicine, AIDS denialism, Holocaust denialism, communism -- all of these find a welcoming home within the ranks of academia.

The latest bad idea -- admittedly, not nearly as bad as the aforementioned -- comes from Smith College history professor Daniel Gardner, who believes that the U.S. should learn from China about air pollution. In an article for Project Syndicate, he makes the case that a nation with some of the cleanest air in the world can learn from a nation...

There's ozone, and then there's ozone.

Is ozone good for us? Yes.

Is ozone bad for us? Yes.

All of which means that the next time the conversation turns to ozone, it's good to know the context before you weigh in.

But I know what most of you are thinking: "Look pal, who's got time to talk about ozone? And, more importantly, it doesn't come up. So why should I even pay attention to the details?" Well, maybe because it's increasingly being used to combat the spread of infection, including methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, more commonly known as MRSA.

Prior to that, when we thought of ozone it was frequently in reference to the layer in the upper atmosphere that protects us from the sun's harmful ultraviolet, or UV, rays. As we know...

 

 

 

I'm more than a bit tired of writing about opioids. Need a break. But since I've started writing about them I've learned quite a bit about addiction. Which is why I know that I have one - Game of Thrones. Big time.

                                            

 

 

 

                                                                         

 

12 Steps: Not nearly enough

So, as a chemist/GOT addict, I could not help but...

Every so often, the media likes to warn us that we're all dying from air pollution.

Headlines like, "Air Pollution 'Kills 7 Million People a Year'" are common and repeated like a morose version of the childhood game "Telephone." Predictably, that leads to calls for tighter environmental regulations, and anyone who disagrees is labeled an Earth-hating, cancer-loving industry shill.

Now a team of researchers from the University of Chicago has created a map that depicts the average number of years of life per person that could be saved if countries adopted the...

The origin of life is a profound mystery. Once life arose, natural selection and evolution took over, but the question of how a mixture of various gases created life-giving molecules that arranged into structures capable of reproducing themselves remains unanswered.

Many theories have been proposed, some of which are popular (e.g., RNA World), and some of which are a far-fetched (e.g., aliens). Unlike politics, more ideas are not necessarily better; in science, a diversity of theories tends to betray the reality that scientists have no idea what's going on.

It is generally agreed that organic molecules were created when gases in the early Earth's atmosphere reacted. The trigger for these reactions is...

The Associated Press reports that blackmailers have poisoned baby food in Germany and will continue to do so unless paid more than €10 million.

It does not appear to be an idle threat, as authorities have found jars of baby food containing ethylene glycol, a chemical used as antifreeze. According to Fisher Scientific, a chemical company, a lethal dose of ethylene glycol is 1.56 grams per kilogram of body mass. A four-...

 During the Vietnam War the lush tropical vegetation of the region provided both a cover for the North Vietnamese and a natural obstacle for our soldiers.  In response, the United States military sprayed approximately 19 million gallons of herbicide (a defoliant) on roughly 3.6 million acres of land to clear the area for armed forces – an operation referred to as Ranch Hand - from the years 1962 to 1971.   

The most widely used herbicide mixture contained equal parts 2,4-D and 2,4,5-T, which was called Agent Orange because it came in drums with orange stripes.  But the 2,4,5-T created an unexpected problem. During the manufacturing process small amounts of an impurity...

Christopher Ingraham at the Washington Post recently used a working paper by economists at University of Kansas and West Virginia University to claim that Flint, Michigan's lead contamination crisis is responsible for a "precipitous" drop in the region's fertility rates.  The economists claim that switching the water source in Flint in 2014 is responsible for a 12 percent decline in fertility rates, a 58 percent spike in fetal death rates and poorer overall health fetal health. All without measuring any lead in...

Gatorade needs a better marketing team.

This past Saturday, during a commercial break for college football, Gatorade ran a very curious advertisement. The ad contained a diagram of an organic molecule that, if it actually existed, would probably be dangerous. You certainly wouldn't be drinking it.

Below is a screenshot of the ad. There are multiple problems with the molecule, as noted by the numbers superimposed over the image.

Organic Chemistry for Marketing Majors

Problem #1. Whoever drew this molecule doesn't know the first thing about organic chemistry. This molecule cannot exist. The middle of the molecule...

I've written recently about nitrogen-infused coffee (and also beer) and why the chemistry of adding nitrogen makes sense. (See: Nitro-Coffee: Good Science Or Nitrogenous Waste?). The following, helium-infused beer makes far less sense, but good luck not laughing during the four minutes of the video.

The screwballs in the following YouTube video are apparently astounded that when they try the same experiment five times that they get the same result every time. 

The video starts with beer critics about to drink helium beer. At first, they are skeptical. Will drinking helium beer make them sound like little girls when they speak the way a helium balloon does? Aren't we all...