Monday, December 15, 2008

Blogging for Extra Credit

I don't normally give extra credit assignments in my classes.  I figure that rather than doing "extra" work, the class should focus on mastering the material we work on every day.  However, we have had a challenging semester and I wanted to give the class something fun to do that might help their morale (and grade)  and encourage them to read about science outside of class.  I asked them to write to me about something interesting that they had read about science, something from my blog or any thing else that strikes their fancy.  

It's always fun to see what students find interesting when they are left to choose the topic themselves.  Here is what I learned from my class:

Mikaela wrote:
Although my intentions were to look at one article and write about it, I seem to have got lost in the wonderful world of blogging and spent a little too much time on the day before exams surfing the web. Of the several I looked at, I enjoyed three in particular. First, I read about the study on caffeine versus napping. This was interesting to me because I am a firm believe of napping! I've never really been a caffeine person; I very rarely drink pop and maybe have a cup of coffee once a month. Caffeine does not really make me feel energized or more alert so I tend to just stay away from it. Napping, on the other hand, is probably the best part of my day. Although I don't nap as much as I'd like to, I always feel completely recharged and very alert once I wake up. I often nap before tests or quizzes instead of stressing and cramming minutes before because I do best when I am relaxed. After reading, I was curious to see the whole article and different experiments they did. 

The second article I read was on the glowing mushrooms. This was interesting to me because I like hearing about abnormal things that occur naturally. I love that nature has so many undiscovered features and that it encourages us to never stop exploring. 

The third article I liked was five reasons you should pick up a pencil and draw in "Getting Things Done in Academia." I have always found drawing as a release from all my other academics. I took four years in high school and it was my favorite part of the day because I got to unwind. I like the idea of linking art with sciences (particularly anatomy) because I think once you try sketching something, you look at the object your drawing in a different way than you ever thought you would. Noticing the small details makes the animal come alive, and that much more beautiful.

From Jenna:
I read through your blog and found a few interesting things. The first thing that stood out was on Mutagen, how drugs can be very effective, yet they can also have bad side effects. It is interesting that they can predict the toxicity of the compound before making it. Since I have started college, I have had many people ask me what courses I am taking. When they hear me say chemistry, they crinkle their noses and say "Yuck! I don't understand why anyone needs to take that! What good is that going to do to help you in the real world?" That's just it, many of them do not understand, or at least do not think about it. The first thing that comes to my mind is, "How do they think aspirin and other pain relievers came to work? Along with their cholesterol meds?" Since I began taking chemistry, especially organic, I have developed a deeper understanding of how chemicals work, and I think it is important to realize that chemists really do make an important impact on the world. Now, back to your blog, I agree with what you said about media portrayal. It seems every time you watch t.v. you see commercials for a new drug and they spend over half the commercial telling you all these horrible side effects it has. It's no wonder why so many people are afraid of chemistry. The media mostly portrays things like this involving chemistry, I think they don't portray the good things about it mostly because they are not well enough educated in chemistry to understand-most of them are biologists.

I also laughed about the high fructose corn syrup. Also, the brightly colored fruits and dark leafy green being defined as a fat. Even I know that's not true! I probably have my mother to thank for that!

I found an interesting article about Lions, Tigers, and DNA.  A scientist started studying feline leukemia in the 70's and found diseases. I find this interesting since I have worked for a few vets for the past 3 1/2 years and have done multiple feline leukemia tests on cats. These tests have been made possible because of scientists who have spent years studying it. I also find DNA and reproductive traits very interesting in animals. I hope to study animal genetics and reproduction more in depth when I go to vet school. The scientist also studied feline HIV to fine a gene that might help create immunization for people. This is another example of how scientists and veterinarians can to reasearch on animals to help understand and find treatments for people.  He also found genetic mishaps during migrations of felines, and he published his research in Science.

I found an interesting article about finding a new earth.  They have no real evidence but the star that they did find is one third of the mass of our sun, and when they first found the star there was a planet circling it and pulling the star at the speed of a jet plane.  Then they saw another planet rotating and it was pulling the star at the speed of a race car. After the most recent observations they found a third planet circling the star much more slowly, it rotated at the speed that a man could run!  I thought it was cool because they went on to say that the planet had a rocky content similar to ours. They also said that it is 15 million light years away, so the thought of a new planet is still far away, but really cool!  I think that we should try to keep our planet and restore it but the thought of other life forms is exciting.

I was searching online for articles about Organic Chemistry and came across a very interesting one that might be of a little interest or just a fun fact to learn about for you.

As the article says, "A discovery by a NASA scientist of sugar and several related organic compounds in two carbonaceous meteorites provides the first evidence that another fundamental building block of life on Earth may have come from outer space."

How interesting is that, that a fundamental building block of our life could come from outer space! I guess in previous research, researchers found that meteorites have organic compounds found on earth, like amino acids and carboxylic acids. This information is helping researchers understand that there could have been organic materials on earth before life. If you want to read more about it, the website is

I thought you all might like these topics… some relate strongly to organic chemistry and its affects and some deal with chemistry and physics and some are just plain interesting facts I thought you all might like to look into….so here is a list with links…

1. Is Carbon nanotubing… I first read about this material on an article that was titled “space Elevator” why it was call that is that the unique structure of this carbon sphere was a fraction the weight of steel and was around 10x the strength of steel, which made it a good candidate. 

2. This topic is a little hard to find…. Saw this on the history channel which was kind of cool how Hannibal in around 220 b.c. conquered Rome by attacking them through the mountain range the Alps. What made this so unique was Hannibal was said to be crazy to attempt this by taking 10,000 people and horses and war elephants on this trial over the mountain. He had no problem scaling the mountain where he ran into trouble was the descent. He ran into steep limestone rock faces they could go down and they couldn’t turn around either. As they sat there his chemist as you might call them found out if you heat limestone up and pour in their day was wine vinegar it would react and produce CO2 and H2O. Once cooled the rock became very brittle and they were able to make a zig zag path down the mountain face. As for a link with this I have looked for the story and havent found one you may be able to look up on and check for times the program maybe showing.

3. This topic is just rather interesting that relates to chemistry and slighty organic chemistry if you look up the term Browns Gas you will find an interesting topic. I heard about this at work they explained it to me in the simplest way as they thought it heated up any given material to the temperature at which it melts and does just that… I guess these links will explain it in more or more accurate detail. 

4. This topic is for anyone who wants to do some good with their computer and also get a viewing of a construction of a large carbon molecule from a simple core model. This is a program you can download called Folding@Home what it does is use your computer to fold organic molecules in an attempt to develop a molecule that can help them fight cancer. If you want to do this simply google the program name and go from there. It is a good way to view large organic molecules and how organized they are, I have had this program for a year I still run it to this day.

5. Well its not a big secret that there are more bio majors than chem majors so here is something interesting for bio majors. I don’t know if this relates to chem, but people tell me they have never heard this before so here ya go. There was these two Russians playing in a chess tournament Nikolai Titov and Vladimir Dobrynin and all of a sudden while Titov was in deep concentration on the board he screamed in pain and grabbed his temples and his head blew up like a fire cracker. Now I know you may think im pulling your chain but it’s a rare condition call HCE Hyper-Cerebral Electrosis. Now not getting into to great detail the gist of the story is not to think to hard or your head may blow up…Literally! …. If you want to read the article let me know and I will bring the book in.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Chemistry Gift List

I know that everyone wants to keep-up with their chemistry studies over the holidays, and just in time the Make Blog site has a list of chemistry supplies for your Christmas list. The have descriptions of chemistry sets, as well as other chemistry-related things.

They include several chemistry sets, books about home chemistry experiments and suppliers for glassware. I had a Skilcraft chemistry set as a kid, but I don't remember much about it except that if you mixed certain chemicals together they would change colors. It is said that chemistry kits used to be much more interesting before all of the dangerous chemicals were removed. For an idea of what a do-it-yourself chemist could do in the Old Days, read Uncle Tungsten by Oliver Sacks.  

I really got a kick out of seeing The Golden Book of Chemistry Experiments, published in the 1960's. It's a collector's item now, but you can follow a link to download a pdf of the original book for free. Be aware, the file is 28 mb. There's a lot of good stuff there that would be familiar to any chemistry student. I'm not sure I would recommend making chlorine gas at home, but a lot of the experiments look like fun. You have to bear in mind how times have changed when reading this book - the list of where to buy supplies in the back of the book is pretty entertaining. I don't think I have ever seen carbon tetrachloride or manganese dioxide at a hardware store, or potassium permanganate at the drug store.

Also be sure to check out the youtube video of chemicals at a party, it's at the bottom of the page.

MAKE: Blog: The Chemistry gift guide - Celebrating chemistry and inspiring the next generation of chemists!

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Need a Quick Pick Me Up? Take a Nap.

The New York Times has a short article about a study that compared caffeine with taking a short nap before doing mental and physical skills.  As it turns out, the people who took caffeine felt more awake, but they didn't score any better.  In fact the caffeine group performed worse than nappers on all three types of task that were studied:  motor skill, perceptual task, and verbal task.

I really like my coffee, but it is no substitute for getting enough sleep, and even a short nap in the afternoon will do more good for you than just caffeine.

The research paper itself is available online.  You can read the abstract for free, but to read the full paper you need to be a subscriber, or you can pay for it for $31.50.

Vital Signs - Regimens - For the Best Pick-Me-Up, Lie Down -

Monday, December 1, 2008

Cool Green Glowing Mushrooms

photo from

The Science-Fiction blog has an article about mushrooms that glow!  I knew about the jellyfish that glow, and I get fireflies in the backyard every summer, but I didn't know that there were mushrooms that glow.  

Apparently they are well known in Japan, and now National Geographic is reporting a new species from Brasil.

Hat tip to IO9:
Mega Biochemistry: Don't Eat the Glowing Mushrooms

National Geographic: