chemistry

There can be no better example of the damage done by quackery masked as "alternative medicine" than the tragic case of Chad Green. In 1977, at age two, Green was diagnosed acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL). At that time the cure rate for childhood ALL with chemotherapy was about 50%. Now it is about 90%. Chad Green died in 1979, a victim of uninformed parents and quacks that exploited them.

For the full story, which is heart-wrenching, I cannot recommend highly enough the first chapter of Dr. Paul Offit's book, "Do You Believe in Magic? The Sense and Nonsense of...

It's often helpful for journalists who do not have specialized knowledge of complex scientific topics to write about them anyway, because if they can understand them and figure out how to communicate them, they can perform a tremendous public service. However, if journalists don't take the time to understand complex topics and get the very basics wrong, they do the public a massive disservice and end up looking like buffoons.

Which brings us to veteran New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, who studied law and fancies himself an expert in chemistry and toxicology. Chemists and toxicologists disagree.

His latest diatribe -- which was easily and thoroughly debunked by my...

Though they are both metals, gold and uranium have little in common.

Gold is permanent. It is made into jewelry. For many centuries, it was used as currency. Uranium, on the other hand, is not permanent. It is radioactive, and it decays (albeit very, very slowly) into lead. If you owned an ounce of gold and an ounce of uranium, after about 32 billion years1, you would still have an ounce of gold but the uranium would turn into an ounce of lead.

Compound Interest

Let's pretend that you no longer want your ounce of gold. You sell it and put $1,000 into the bank at 5% interest. If your bank only compounds the interest once per year, then after one year, you would have $1,000 + $50 = $1,050. But, banks are typically a little more generous...

The media often uses the words "opioid" and "opiate" interchangeably. However, there are subtle but important differences between them.

OPIOID

The term opioid refers to any drug that acts on opioid receptors in the brain1, resulting in a wide range of pharmacological effects, especially analgesia (stopping pain). Other common uses for these drugs are suppressing a cough and stopping diarrhea. The term opioid encompasses all drugs -- synthetic, semi-synthetic, or naturally occurring -- which act on opioid receptors.

OPIATE

Opiates are a subset of opioids that are either derived from poppy or synthesized from any drug that is found in poppy or synthesized from one. It does not matter if the drug is synthetic or...

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...

Someday, everybody will be wearing smart clothes -- not just clothes that look dapper, but are able to sense the environment and the body's vital signs, perhaps then pinging the data to your wrist watch or doctor. To get there, we will need functional fabrics, and nothing beats the touch and feel of cotton1.

Natural cotton fibers, which are made of cellulose, must be chemically modified if they are to be engineered into smart fabrics. This could be done after the cotton has been harvested (like when clothing is dyed), but the drawback is that this sort of modification wears out. A better way would be to modify the cotton as it is being synthesized by the plant, so that the new properties are physically built into the cotton fibers. Now an international team of...

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...

Kurt Eichenwald is an interesting guy -- in the same way that a 47-car pileup on the freeway is interesting. He is, according to his Twitter bio, a contributing editor to Vanity Fair and a New York Times bestselling author. He also has written for Newsweek, where he penned one of the best essays I have ever read about conspiracy theories.

You would think that a man with such enormous influence would wield it with great responsibility. But you would be wrong. Last year, he tweeted -- without any evidence whatsoever -- that he believed Donald Trump...

Dr. Gregory House was fond of saying, "Everybody lies." In the food industry, that maxim could be modified to, "Everybody cheats."

Indeed, food fraud is absolutely rampant. In some parts of the world, beef hot dogs may contain buffalo. Cheese labeled Parmigiano-Reggiano may not be authentic. Phony seafood is especially notorious. And now, new research indicates that extra-virgin olive oil (EVOO) may not be the pure, wholesome maiden you've been anticipating for your dinner night.

What Is Extra-Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO)?

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Initial reports suggest that Kim Jong-Nam, the estranged half-brother of North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un, was murdered with VX, a type of agent used in chemical warfare. What is it, and how does it work?

VX is an organophosphate, a generic name for any molecular compound that contains carbon and phosphate (i.e., ions made of phosphorus and oxygen atoms). Organophosphates are found everywhere. Life-giving molecules like DNA are organophosphates, but so are some pesticides and nerve agents. Given the structure of VX (which includes a sulfur atom), it is more specifically a phosphonothioate. (See image on right.)

VX...