Tag: Chemistry

Pique the Geek 20120422: The Isotope Effect

The germ of this piece came from an undertaking that I am considering.  That undertaking is to write a post for every chemical element.  The recent successes of my more technical pieces have made me decide to concentrate more on the harder part of science rather than less technical material.

The problem with that is that it would take over two years to cover all of the elements, and in reality even longer because there are topics out there that will surely be more topical.  I am not sure that this is feasible.  Maybe I could look at families, but then that gets way too general.  Any thoughts on how to approach (or even if I should) this huge array of subjects would be appreciated.

In any event, I would start with hydrogen and work my way to heavier elements.  One of the first things that came to mind was the isotope effect, because hydrogen has the largest isotope effect of any element.  Please stay with us!

Pique the Geek 20101128: Kitchen Chemistry and the Interstellar Terrorist Threat

In the kitchen, oftentimes we desire to thicken a sauce or a broth without significantly changing its flavor.  There are several ways to do this, and the physicochemical principles behind them are quite different in many cases.  One way of thickening things is just to reduce them (i.e., boil them down), but that often involves chemical changes that alter flavor.

Other ways of thickening things including adding small amounts of rather bland ingredients that cause the sauce or other material to become thicker without extreme heating, or to create a complex emulsion that thickens materials due to physical rather than chemical changes.  We shall examine some of both this evening.

It may be possible to Recycle CO2 — back into Fuel

One of my techie hopes is that Science will one day figure out how to Split our excess CO2 production, back into its component parts:  C and O  (harmless Carbon and Oxygen).

One small problem though — Carbon Chemical Bonds are among the strongest bonds out there.  These chemical bonds are the reason HydroCarbons (long chains of Carbon atoms tied to each other, and padded by Hydrogen Atoms), can power our homes, our vehicles, and our Electric power plants.

Burning a HydroCarbon molecule releases all that condensed Energy, previously stored in those Carbon Chain bonds, by millions of years of Geologic heat and pressure.

Just Think:







and you may get an idea WHAT “fueled” our Industrial Age — the quick and easy release of all that Chemical Energy, stored in all those Organic Carbon bonds.

Anyone got a Match?

Pique the Geek 20100704: The Science of Fireworks

This has been sort of a recurring theme for me the past few years for the installment nearest Independence Day.  You can hit my profile and find the earlier entries in this series.

This time, I intend to focus on the single greatest improvement in technology (other than the development of black powder) that has made modern, highly colored fireworks possible.  Until relatively recently the only colors available were white, yellow, and a dull red, with very faded out, compared to today, other colors.

First some theory, then some facts.  Please follow.

Pique the Geek 20100425: Electricity: Cells and Batteries

Electricity is the movement of electrons one way or another.  The electron is a very small mass particle that is classified as a lepton, meaning that is has mass and has a spin quantum number of +/- 1/2.

An electron has a mass of 9.0166 x 10^-31 kg, making it about 1/1800 the mass of a proton, which is a hadron.  Hadrons account for most of the mass in normal matter, as opposed to dark matter, the nature of which has not been elucidated nor ever proven, but that is for another series.

This series is concerned with the storage of electrical energy in the form of chemical energy, and converting the two into useful currents.  Most of the electricity that we use is quite transient in nature, but that stored chemically in batteries is much longer lasting, if not as intense.

Pique the Geek 20091206: Botulinum Toxin (Botox)

Botox is in the news all of the time because of its use as wrinkle reducer, but it has many more uses than that, and a very long history.  The proper name is botulinum toxin, and is a neurotoxin produced by the common soil bacterium Clostridium botulinum.  This bacterium is an obligate anaerobe, meaning that it is poisoned by oxygen.

As a matter of fact, many bacteria of this genus are obligate anaerobes, and more than one are causes of human and animal disease.  In addition, they are also spore formers, which is the mechanism that they use to survive times when they are exposed to oxygen.

Pique the Geek 20091122. US Coin Facts

United States coins have traditionally been forged and minted with gold, silver, and copper.  Very small amounts of other metals have also been added to improve the wearing properties of the coins.

Gold, silver, and copper, in their pure states, are actually too soft to make good coins, in that they wear must too fast.  The chemistry of good alloys is a fascinating part of numismatics, the study of coins.

Pique the Geek 20091004. The Periodic Table Part 2

Last time we talked about the history of the periodic table and some of the reasons behind why it “works”.  We also took a look at the first three periods (rows), the very short first period, with only two elements, and the two short periods with eight elements each in them.  We also grouped these elements into families (columns) that show similar chemical properties.

Now we shall look at Periods 4 and 5, the two long periods.  These periods (and later ones) contain the transition metals.  In the first three periods, chemical properties change radically from one element to the next as atomic number increases.  For example, fluorine, the most chemically reactive element sits next to neon, which forms no known ground state chemical compounds.

Pique the Geek 20090927: The Periodic Table Part I

The single most important piece of scientific literature is, in my opinion, the periodic table.  Those who understand what it means, and what it actually implies, have mastered more science than most professors ever will.  This may sound like an exaggeration, but come with me and I think that I can prove it to you.

One thing that scientists like to do is to make order out of what seems to be a myriad of disjointed facts.  The table does just this.  The table did not just appear overnight; it is the product of contributions by hundreds of scientists over decades and finally took a form sort of like what we use today in 1869.  That was the year in which Dmitrii Mendeleev published his table, but he was not alone by far.