Friday, October 30, 2009

Symmetry is Not A Spectator Sport

We just finished discussing Stereochemistry in my Organic class.  Since stereochemistry ultimately boils down to a matter of symmetry, this seems like an opportune time to show this video.

Monday, October 26, 2009

32 Years Without Small Pox

It has been 32 years since a case of Small Pox was last diagnosed.  According to Wikipedia:
The last naturally occurring case of indigenous smallpox (Variola minor) was diagnosed in Ali Maow Maalin, a hospital cook in Merca, Somalia, on 26 October 1977. The last naturally occurring case of the more deadly Variola major had been detected in October 1975 in a two-year-old Bangladeshi girl, Rahima Banu.
We have heard a lot about vaccines in the last few years.  The fact is: vaccines work. The Variola major version of Small Pox has (had?) a mortality rate of 30-35% - out of every three people who got the virus, one died.  In the 20th century, it is estimated that 300-500 million deaths were caused by small pox.  Because of the small pox vaccine, no one gets this disease. Anywhere in the world.

(Image: wikimedia commons)

Via An Anniversary Worth Celebrating – Neatorama

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Drug Microscopy from the Wellcome Image Awards

Image: Annie Cavanagh and Dave McCarthy

Cool image of polymer-coated drug particles taken with an electron microscope. It looks like some sort of modern art piece.  Originally in black and white, the color was added later: the drug is orange and the polymer blue.  From this year's Wellcome Image Awards.

According to judging panel member Catherine Draycotte:
"One of the reasons this image stood out as extraordinary is because it doesn't look like a natural image. It doesn't look as though it could possibly come from a microscope - it looks as though it must be computer-generated.

"This is because the particles - and those within them - are so smooth: they are artificial and have virtually no texture. The image really shows what technology can do in targeting drugs to specific purposes. This system is designed to delay the release of the drug that is contained in the smaller particles until it reaches the large intestine, where it will treat inflammatory bowel disease."

Wellcome Image Awards 2009 | Winners' gallery | Scientific and medical images

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Commercial green fuel from algae still years away

Scientists and investors are lured by the pond scum's natural oils that can be extracted and refined into fuel.
Algae grows fast and absorbs greenhouse gases along the way. Plus, the lowly lifeform uses less land, water and other resources than the corn or soybeans used in first generation biofuels, alleviating concerns that those renewable fuels would cause food shortages.
It's disappointing that this may take a decade to be practical, but it seems like a no-brainer to use algae rather than terrestrial plants as a source for renewable bio-fuels.

via Slashdot: Commercial green fuel from algae still years away | Reuters

Desktop Electron Microscope

From SlashDot:

Wired previewed the desktop-sized Hitachi TM-1000 Electron Microscope a while back. Light microscopes can magnify up to 400X (1,000X at lower quality) — just enough to see bacteria as shapes — but this one offers 20X to 10,000X, giving some amazing pictures. Unlike traditional electron microscopes, this one plugs into a domestic power socket and specimens don't need any special preparation; it's point-and-shoot, much like your typical digital camera.

Cool!  But what I would really like is a desktop NMR!

Slashdot Science Story | An Electron Microscope For Your Home?

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Aberranone - an Unusual Gorgonian Molecule
The Caribbean Sea Whip, or Gorgonian,  has been the source of a myriad of unusual natural products. The latest example being Aberrarone, which has a unique carbon skeleton, not observed before.

 Aberrarone gets its name from the Latin word aberrare, meaning "not typical or usual."  The authors suggest that the aberrarane skeleton  may be formed via a rearrangement from other gorgonian compounds such as Elisapterosin A or Colombiasin A.  All three compounds show anti-malarial activity.

It's hard to really see the structure of these compounds in 2D. Elisapterosin A and Colombiasin A are listed at ChemSpider and if you click the 3D tab above the strucure  there you can see them in 3D. 

Rodríguez, I., Rodríguez, A., & Zhao, H. (2009). Aberrarone: A Gorgonian-Derived Diterpene from

The Journal of Organic Chemistry, 74 (19), 7581-7584 DOI: 10.1021/jo901578r

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Fires spread FAST!

A couple of minutes into this video they start a fire in a simulated dorm room to show how quickly a fire can spread. This is really impressive, and a little scary.

A good reason to make sure your fire alarm is working, and pay attention when it goes off.

When I was a post doc, the house next door to us burned down late at night in the middle of winter - it was frightening how quickly it happened. We were lucky it didn't spread to our house, in the middle of Pittsburgh the houses are very close together.

Thanks to Debbie Decker on the DCHAS-L list.