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Saturday, January 29, 2011

Focus On Chemistry (and Cats)

UNESCO has announced that 2011 is the International Year of Chemistry 2011. What does this mean for you?

It means you can participate in the world's largest chemistry experiment!

It means that many websites will feature extra activities, including videos to watch, like these here at NBCLearn, where you can learn various aspects of chemistry. 

It means you can learn a new fact about chemistry each day

You can visit a lot of chemistry websites. Check out the Chemistry Blog Roll in the middle left of this blog for starters, if you like.

You could even make it a point to read a great book about chemistry! I have several to recommend, but you can start with the books I review in my new review as seen under My Latest Book Review . Perhaps you notice the new background? I'm giving it a try.

The books I recommend are The Disappearing Spoon: And Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the Elements  by Sam Kean, Napoleon's Buttons: How 17 Molecules Changed History by Penny LeCouteur and Jay Burreson and Giant Molecules: From nylon to nanotubes by Walter Gratzer

Maybe you could learn that cats can teach us a lot about chemistry, too! I found a delightful site called Master Organic Chemistry with a post that caught my eye, written by James. I have grabbed excerpts from this post:

"Behold: a cat in my neighborhood.

In the picture on the left, she’s lying down, whereas in the picture on the right, she’s sitting and scratching. She’s changed her shape, but you recognize her as the same cat. Why’s that?

Beyond the fact that the markings are the same, we know intuitively that cats can move their limbs around – they have a certain freedom of movement.

Depending on what they’re doing at the time, whether sleeping or scratching or looking out across the street, they’ll move their limbs to adopt different orientations."

He goes on, with some lolcat images to explain high energy conformations and low energy conformations and continues with the most unusual image to represent what molecules CAN and CAN'T do, much in the way what cats can and can't do without some gruesome manipulations:

"Here’s two more pictures of cats in my neighborhood.

Now is THIS the same cat? No way – kitty on the left is normal whereas the one on the right looks like it paid a visit to the Island of Dr. Moreau.

Unlike conformations, which can be interconverted by movement of the limbs, here the connectivity is different. The leg and tail are switched. No matter how they move, they cannot interconvert. The limbs are in a different configuration.

However, they *are* similar. If we did some (very morbid) major surgery but if we just switched the leg and the tail back, we’d clearly obtain the same cat. In other words, their constitutents - that is to say, their limbs - are the same, but arranged in different orders. Let’s go out on a limb and call them constitutional isocats." 

Go visit and learn more if you like. For those not quite up on their chemistry iso- means "same" and the proper term he substituted isocats for is isomer. Isomers are molecules that have the same number of atoms but differ in the way the atoms are arranged. 

Recall my post where cats help explain some geology

Here is one more LOLcat poster explaining science: 


Most of us know at least of protons, neutrons and electrons in atoms, but may be less familiar with quarks.

Every proton is made up of two UP quarks and one DOWN quark (there are six flavors of quarks all together, but their names are about all I know by heart), hence why these cats are labeled U for up and D for down. 

How are protons important in chemistry? Do you know? The number of protons in an atom is known as the atomic number, which determines the chemical element to which the atom belongs. For example, the atomic number of Gallium, from which "disappearing spoons" are made (and you can link to a video to see this happen in my video review) is 31; this means that each gallium atom has 31 protons and that all atoms with 31 protons are gallium atoms. 

Watch a gallium spoon disappear!

My personal goal for this International Year of chemistry is to make more videos featuring the chemistry of make-up. I've explained the chemistry of mascara and of nailpolish. I've got some good ideas coming up. 

Until next time...

Kindly, Joanne 

Sat, January 29, 2011 | link 

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