Tag: Scitech

Pique the Geek 20120520: Tanning Pros and Cons

Tanning, either by the sun or by artificial means, is hugely popular in the United States and elsewhere.  The word itself is interesting, deriving from the Old English tannian which in turn is derived from the Latin tannum, meaning oak bark.  This makes sense, because the inner bark of certain oaks are rich in phenolic compounds that have been and still are used to tan raw skins into leather.

During the tanning process the skins darken, just like the human skin usually darkens when exposed to the ultraviolet light in sunlight or tanning salons.  I use the term usually because some very fair people never tan but just burn, and very dark skinned people show little or no tanning.  Albinos are not capable of tanning.

Before we get to the science behind tanning, it is of service to look at the cultural aspects of it.  There has been a sea change in attitudes about tanning in the past century.  I shall use my mum as an example.

Pique the Geek 20120513: Melatonin, not just a Sleep Aid

Before we get started, please allow me to wish all of the mums, grandmums, greatgrandmums, greatgreatgrandmums, and, often neglected, adoptive and foster mums out there a very HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY!  I just got off of the telephone with the former Mrs. Translator after wishing her the same.  I would have wished my mum and grandmum that as well, but they are no longer in the temporal plane.  I did give a card to my special friend since she has a little girl.

Like my current series about The Moody Blues on Popular Culture, this topic was suggested by my very dear high school buddy Steve Ahlert.  (He approved of me using his name.)  Steve and I sort of lost contact for a while, but now we speak almost every day.  I LOVE my Straight Talk unlimited everything, $45 per month plan and my Samsung T528G!

Steve uses melatonin to help him sleep, and it is very effective for him.  Now, Steve is not some new age trend follower.  Actually he is a professional pharmacist, and is the best pharmacist insofar as knowing his area of expertise that I have ever known.  Equally important, the way that he deals with his patients is outstanding.  He has a knack for translating highly technical information to whatever level is necessary for people to understand what they need to do.

Melatonin is interesting because what has turned out to be sort of an incidental effect gave it its name.  It is also interesting from a molecular structure/activity standpoint because it is chemically related to a whole host of psychologically active agents.  Let us examine this interesting substance.

Pique the Geek 20120506: Promethium, another odd Element

Last time we discussed technetium, and now we shall discuss the only other element with Z < 82 with no stable isotope, promethium (Z = 61).  But there is more business than just that, and it has to do with a suggestion that commenter Wreck Smurfy‘s suggestion that I use actual hyperlinks to key terms rather than just bolding them.  There shall be more about that later.

Promethium is actually not as interesting as technetium, but still has its moments.  It has a storied tale of claimed discoveries, and one of my personal interests is the history of chemistry, in particular infighting by contributors.  I got into one of those contests myself back in the day, when I supported a particular geometry for the lowest triplet excited state for cyclohexen-2-one, but that is another story altogether.

Promethium, chemical symbol Pm, is a member of the lanthanide series, and those are often called the rare earth elements.  They are not all that rare, at least several of them, but their chemistry is such that they were extremely difficult to separate and purify until modern ion exchange chromatographic methods were developed after World War II, many of those techniques outgrowths of classified work during the Manhattan Project.

Pique the Geek 20120429: Technetium, An odd Element

Last week a commenter suggested this topic, and I am always happy to get reader feedback and try to honor requests.  Technetium is one of only two elements with an atomic number (Z) less than 82 (Z =  43) without a stable isotope, the other one being promethium, with Z = 61.  Dimitri Mendeleev predicted this element after he had perfected the Periodic Table of the elements in 1871.  He called it ekamanganese since it occupies the place in the table one row under manganese.

Technetium was claimed to have been discovered over and over, and credit to its discovery goes to Emilio Segre and Carlo Perrier in 1936.  It was discovered in a foil that Ernest Lawrence had given Segre that was composed of molybdenum.  Some of the molybdenum had been transmuted into technetium, and the Italian team confirmed this.

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 20120415: Beryllium, a Very Unusual Element

Beryllium, atomic number (Z) 4, is the second metallic element in the periodic table.  By looking at the periodic table, one would think that it would be very similar to magnesium and calcium, but one would be wrong on several accounts.  There shall be more about that later.

Beryllium is a comparatively rare element, both on earth and in the cosmos.  There are a couple of reasons for that as well, and again there will be more about that later.

Most people have never seen the pure metal, but most of us have seen compounds of it, at least in jewelry stores, because it is an essential component of real emeralds.  Let us take a look at this little know element and see what good it is, and any ill that it might cause.

Pique the Geek 20120408: More on Meat

Last time we discussed lean finely textured beef, commonly referred to as pink slime.  Tonight we shall finish this short series by discussing two other forms of recovered meat.

Mechanically separated meat is derived from a process that dates back to around forty or a few more years.  A newer process is called advanced meat recovery and has certain advantages over the older processes for some applications, but the older process is still used in others.

These products are in LOTS of prepared foods and interestingly are subject to a higher degree of regulation than lean finely textured beef, at least for beef products.  Please join for the discussion to follow.

Pique the Geek 20120401: The Things that we Eat. Pink Slime

Pink slime is a slang term, and not a terribly inapt one for what is technically known as lean finely textured beef or boneless lean beef trimmings.  Although I used the term pink slime in the title to get your attention, I think that it is a bit pejorative and shall use the term “the product” henceforth.

Since this is a meat product, it is regulated by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and not the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).  This seems to me to have a bearing on how it has been approved.

There are a LOT of politics and hype surrounding the product, and I think that it serves my readers to look at the technical issues before we examine the political and PR issues.  You might be surprised where I come down on the safety and wholesomeness of the product.

Pique the Geek 20120325. Wrist Drop

I apologize for not keeping up with my normal posts, but I have developed a rather serious neurological disorder, the common name being wrist drop.  It has to do with damage to the nerve that serves to flex, in my case, the right wrist and fingers.

It also has a minor sensory component in that the dorsal surface of my thumb and surrounding part of my hand feels pressure poorly but is fully responsive to heat and cold.  It happened literally overnight, as when I awoke Monday morning my hand was fully involved.

I am much improved now, and thought that I should share some of my findings with you.  I also plan to resume My Little Town and Popular Culture next week.

Pique the Geek 20120318: Ovarian Cysts

Ovarian cysts are an extremely common condition in women of childbearing age, and not uncommon in women past menopause.  In fact, most women of childbearing age have ovarian cysts that produce no symptoms.  However, when the cysts become large or inflamed pain is often experienced.

There are several types of ovarian cysts, and they can cause different symptoms.  Diagnosis is made by ultrasonic, MRI, or CT methods.  Often a combination of techniques is used to obtain a more definitive diagnosis, and rarely laproscopic procedures are used.  Ovarian cysts are divided into two broad categories:  functional cysts and nonfunctional cysts.  Functional cysts are those that are not associated with any disease process, whilst nonfunctional cysts are definitely associated with a disease process.

Pique the Geek 20120311: More on Hydraulic Fracturing (Fracking)

Hydraulic fracturing (fracking) is back in the news since the Ohio Department of Natural Resources indicated that it was likely that disposal of those fluids after the actual fracturing operation was likely the cause of seismic activity in the Youngstown area, the largest of which was a magnitude 4.0 on 20111231.  It turns out that it us usually not the fracturing activity itself that caused the seismic, but rather deep well injection for disposal of the spent fluids after use.

This not the only potential problem with this procedure, however.  I have written about the process before, but am returning to give a more in depth treatment of it.  I was first drawn to the subject when earthquakes occurred in Guy, Arkansas last year.  The Guy area is not known for seismic activity, but sure enough after deep well injection of the spent fluids began so did the earthquakes.

Before we look at the potential problems with this process, we should look into why it is done and some historical background.  It turns out that the process is over a century old.

Pique the Geek 20120304: Norovirus, a Nasty Bugger

I was actually going to address another topic this evening, but after late Friday and all of yesterday (and part of today, too) this topic is on my mind.  First we shall review my symptoms then get to some material released by CDC about this nasty bugger.

Friday evening I was answering comments for Popular Culture and started feeling a little funky.   I did not think much of it then, but I noticed that when I would stand up that my equilibrium was a bit off.  It was getting late, so I shut down the computer and went to bed.

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