Tag: Scitech

Pique the Geek 20111211: Would I Lye To You?

Sodium hydroxide, aka lye, is one of the most important basic chemicals used in industry, and until not too long ago, for several home uses.  It can still be found in a few consumer products, but because of its usefulness as a chemical reagent for clandestine preparation of methamphetamine, is hard to get now without a legitimate business reason.  However, I found some at Lowe’s a couple of years ago (under a different label) for opening drains.  I wanted some to show my relatives how to make soap.

A significant amount of this material is still used for making soap, but its uses are so widespread and pervasive that soapmaking is just a small fraction of the applications for this material.  Industrially it is used when a strong, cheap base is needed, because it is amongst the strongest and cheapest, other than perhaps calcium hydroxide (lime), but sodium hydroxide is very soluble in water where calcium hydroxide is not.

Pique the Geek 20111127: Chemical Bonds and Electronegativity

The way that atoms bond together to form molecules has been a question asked since scientists came to the consensus that atoms do indeed exist.  Work progressed rapidly after the turn of the 20th century from both theoretical and experimental breakthroughs.  To keep the discussion easy to visualize, we shall consider only diatomic molecules, but the concepts are good for any number of atoms.  One of the great advances was the development of the idea that chemical bonds can either be covalent, where each atom shares bonding electrons equally, or ionic, where one atom donates an electron to another atom entirely.

Actually, pure ionic bonds do not exist because all bonds have at least a little bit of covalent character.  Pure covalent bonds are common, common examples being the nitrogen and oxygen of the atmosphere.  There is a very cool way to predict where a particular bond falls in the covalent to ionic spectrum, and that is to use electronegativity values.

Pique the Geek 20111120: The Neurochemistry of Love

The subject of love has been investigated by philosophers, writers, dreamers, theologists, and a whole host of others throughout the ages.  With the advent of the “science” of psychology, the question was even further muddled.  Please do not get me wrong, I have the utmost respect for ethical psychologists, but some of the hypotheses that the likes of Freud proposed were just plain wrong and just confused the issue.

We are just beginning now to solve some of the puzzle, and it turns out that there is quite a lot of biochemistry (and not just neurochemistry) that is involved.  With modern chemical analytical techniques, precise measurements of various neurotransmitters can be made, and with functional magnetic resonance imagining (fMRI) actual images of the human brain in action can be had.

Using a combination of observations about how people behave during different stages of love and some results from these methods, let us take a look about how love works, how it can be one of the most exhilarating experiences that is, and how it can be so terribly hurtful when it goes wrong.  Are you ready?

Pique the Geek 20111113: I was Right. Twice

First of all, I am back from taking vacation from writing for the past week.  I needed to get my thoughts organized and also to recharge a bit.  There are also some other things going on that are significant that I mentioned yesterday in a post.  But this is Pique the Geek, and we shall try to stay on topic.

Now, I hope that I have been right in this series more than twice, but these two instances are significant.  Those of you who read this series regularly know that I often write on health issues.  I have made recommendations here from time to time, and in these two occasions the Food and Drug administration (FDA) actually has, presumably independently, has adopted one of them outright and the other at least partially.

After doing more research, I have to say that my statement in the paragraph just above is not quite accurate.  FDA actually did something BEFORE I recommended it, but it got almost zero coverage and I just today found the information.  I shall clarify this as we go.

Pique the Geek 20111030: Heat and Temperature

This might sound like a foolish title, but actually the concepts of heat and temperature are quite different.  Obviously things that feel “hotter” must have more heat in them, right?  Actually, that is not always, and is often NOT, the case.  The two concepts are quite different, but are related.

In a bit we shall go into specific definitions of what heat and temperature actually are, but it is more interesting to look at the historical thoughts about them.  Back before quantitative physics, the higher the temperature that an object had, the more heat that it was thought to have.  That is correct for a specific object, as the temperature increases, the amount of heat in it also increases.

But it is easy to show that for dissimilar objects, the amount of heat is quite unrelated to the temperature.  I shall show you that ice might contain more heat than red hot steel!  Ready to look more deeply?  Then let us go to it!

Pique the Geek 20111023: All about Zebras

I know that this is sort of a subject about which I do not write often, since I am, for the life sciences, more botanist than zoologist.  But this topic was by special request from a friend, that friend indicating that zebras are her or his favorite animal.  So Zebras it is.

Actually, as I began doing research on them, I also became fascinated with them as well.  Not only are they extremely handsome animals, they have an extremely complex diversification into diverse subspecies, something that I vaguely knew but was very interested to learn more about as the research continued.

Zebras are uniquely African, except of course for those that have been taken away from there.  They are very much allied with horses and asses, but with some twists.  One of the most interesting thing is that the accepted scientific name for them is likely erroneous, but that comes later.

Pique the Geek 20111016: All about Soap Part II

First, please allow me to apologize for not posting Popular Culture Friday last.  I was occupied until late in the day and did not have enough time to write a quality piece for the series, and I would rather post nothing rather than a poor piece.  It shall return this coming Friday.

Actually, this is not about soap, but rather synthetic detergents, although we often call then “soap”.  In the companion piece to this one from last week, here, the terms are explained in detail.

There are a couple of reasons for using synthetic detergents over actual soap.  Part of it is economics, because both vegetable and animal fats, essential ingredients for soap, tend to be fairly high in cost.  Most detergents are based on petroleum, so when oil prices are low then can be cheaper to produce than soap.  When petroleum is high in cost, then detergents become less economically favorable.

Pique the Geek 20111009: All about Soap

Before we start, here is an important public service message brought to you by Translator.  There is a fraudulent email going around asking that gmail users verify their accounts by the end to the month to avoid suspension.  This is a fraud!  If you get an email from Gmail@carrierzone.com, do not respond and delete it.

We take something as mundane as soap way too much for granted.  It is not an exaggeration to say that soap has saved more lives over its history than modern medicine has over its history.  Of course, soap has a much longer history than modern medicine, but soap is still essential as a medical adjunct.

The actual origin of soap is lost in prehistory.  I suspect that the first soap like materials were plant saponins, and we shall get to them in just a bit.  Before we get into the nuts and bolts of soap (and by extension detergents), it is important to understand just how these materials work.  At first it does not seem to make a whole lot of sense, but as we continue I promise one of those “Aha!” moments.  Ready to get going?  I am!

Pique the Geek 20111002: The Things we Eat: trans Fats

We hear a lot about trans fats in food and the negative health effects of them.  However, most folks without a background in chemistry do not really know what that means.  Tonight the object is to clear that up, and to point out sources that are high in them so they can be avoided.

Contrary to the opening statement, not all trans fats have deleterious health effects.  There are a couple that seem to be beneficial, but unfortunately they are sort of rare.  They are also some of the few trans fats that occur naturally.  By a huge margin, most trans fats consumed are artificially produced, and we shall get into that as well.

To understand the topic well, a chemistry lesson will first have to be given.  However, this IS Pique the Geek!

Pique the Geek 20110925: Faster than Light

The recent results from CERN (the acronym for the original name for the outfit, Conseil Européen pour la Recherche Nucléaire) about neutrinos being propagated faster than light speed has caught a lot of attention.  I am still not convinced that the data are correct, but 15,000 individual measurements at the high certainty that is claimed certainly gets one’s attention.

I am not prepared to say whether or not these results are valid as of yet.  The folks at CERN are begging other laboratories with comparable apparatus and expertise to verify (or to refute) the findings.  That is how science is supposed to work!

However, 15,000 individual determinations are a LOT of data!  Let us for the moment take the data at face value and assume that this is not a fluke nor a mistake, but an actual “violation” of the Special Theory of Relativity that indicates that no massive particle can exceed the speed of light, henceforth called c.  Ready to do some thought experiments?  I am!  Let us go!

Pique the Geek 20110918: Arsenic

This seems to be a topical topic (please forgive the confoundment of words) because of the controversial claims that the purported “Doctor Oz” gave last week about arsenic in apple juice.  I shall give a couple of links later about that, but shall first describe the element in a Geeky way.

Then I shall dismember “Dr. Oz’s” credibility.  Fair enough?

Before we get started, know that arsenic is all around us, at higher or lower concentrations, depending on where we live.  I shall get into that a bit as well.  The important thing to come away with from this post is that arsenic is almost (but not ALWAYS) a bad thing to ingest or to have for an injection.  On the other hand, it likely is allowing us to communicate via the Internet as we read and speak.

Are you ready to start?  I am!

Pique the Geek 20110911: Cyclones, Typhoons, and Hurricanes: Oh, My!

Lots of pieces have been written about why Hurricane Irene did so much damage as a Category 1 storm as it skirted the Eastern seaboard.  The answer is deceptively simple, but does not fit in with what we have been taught about hurricanes.

Before we examine Irene specifically, let us look at what a hurricane really is.  A hurricane is a rather intense form of a tropical cyclone, and we shall use just the term cyclone in general for all of these kinds of storms.  There are other kinds of cyclones, but for this piece the unqualified term shall mean tropical cyclones, except at the beginning of the main text where the term cyclone itself is defined.

Before we get started, the only reference that I am going to make to the story of the day is the date in the title.  This has been covered ad naseum elsewhere, often with distortions to fit a particular political perspective.

Load more