How To Cut a Drop of Water In HalfThis may not sound like a particularly difficult task, but a lot of science has gone in to producing an easier way of doing so. Antonio Garcia of Arizona State University has made “knives” for this task by coating zinc or polyethylene in hydrophobic chemicals such as silver nitrate and a superhydrophobic solution known as HDFT.The implications of being able to cleanly cleave a drop of water is in biomedical research where it could make separating proteins in biological fluids much easier.

How To Cut a Drop of Water In Half

This may not sound like a particularly difficult task, but a lot of science has gone in to producing an easier way of doing so. Antonio Garcia of Arizona State University has made “knives” for this task by coating zinc or polyethylene in hydrophobic chemicals such as silver nitrate and a superhydrophobic solution known as HDFT.

The implications of being able to cleanly cleave a drop of water is in biomedical research where it could make separating proteins in biological fluids much easier.

Fluroantimonic AcidBack in high school I did something most people would think stupid: I tasted sulfuric acid, not a lot, but enough to know that it was incredibly sour. You wouldn’t however get me to do the same with the above chemical, known as Fluroantimonic Acid, or more colloquially “The World’s Strongest Acid”. While the above structure may seem a little odd in that it appears to just have a proton chilling doing its own thing this superacid is in fact made of two components, firstly antimony pentafluoride and secondly hydrogen fluoride, itself an acid strong enough to corrode glass. The hydrogen itself is actually weakly connected to the antimony-fluorine complex by a dative bond and it’s this weak bond that makes it so acidic.So just how acidic is it? Well it’s 20 quintillion times stronger than sulfuric acid and reacts vigorously (read: explodes) with almost all solvents including water. Furthermore it’s capable of protonating all organic compounds, something that is no small feat.

Fluroantimonic Acid

Back in high school I did something most people would think stupid: I tasted sulfuric acid, not a lot, but enough to know that it was incredibly sour. You wouldn’t however get me to do the same with the above chemical, known as Fluroantimonic Acid, or more colloquially “The World’s Strongest Acid”. While the above structure may seem a little odd in that it appears to just have a proton chilling doing its own thing this superacid is in fact made of two components, firstly antimony pentafluoride and secondly hydrogen fluoride, itself an acid strong enough to corrode glass. The hydrogen itself is actually weakly connected to the antimony-fluorine complex by a dative bond and it’s this weak bond that makes it so acidic.

So just how acidic is it? Well it’s 20 quintillion times stronger than sulfuric acid and reacts vigorously (read: explodes) with almost all solvents including water. Furthermore it’s capable of protonating all organic compounds, something that is no small feat.

Starlite: The Super-heat Resistant Polymer (maybe)Now firstly I have to admit that I am more than a little skeptical about the following, but due to its tenacity I have to at least give it a little lime light. Starlite is possibly one of the most amazing, miraculous (in the impossible water to wine sense) materials most of you will never have heard of. Invented by Maurice Ward, an amateur, untrained chemist who started off mixing hair products, starlite has the unbelievable ability to apparently withstand temperatures up to 10,000 degrees Celsius (Nearly 3 times the melting point of carbon or nearly 2 times the surface of the sun). A slightly more believable demonstration of Starlite’s heat resistant properties was shown on the television show Tomorrow’s World here an egg covered in a thin film of the stuff was heated with an oxyacetylene blow torch for 5 minutes without cooking.Of course this material has a range of benefits including pranking people. So why isn’t it in common use? Well Maurice Ward was highly secretive of the composition of the chemical, never letting a sample out of his sight except for tests conducted by Imperial Chemical Industries and the Atomic Weapons Establishment. Furthermore only his close family knows the composition of Starlite (Ward himself died in 2011) and is actually not even patented for fear of the secret getting out. Commercialization of Starlite was hindered by Ward demanding 51% of profits from products using his wondrous chemical and as such it has never really had its day in the sun.Image: 1

Starlite: The Super-heat Resistant Polymer (maybe)

Now firstly I have to admit that I am more than a little skeptical about the following, but due to its tenacity I have to at least give it a little lime light. Starlite is possibly one of the most amazing, miraculous (in the impossible water to wine sense) materials most of you will never have heard of. Invented by Maurice Ward, an amateur, untrained chemist who started off mixing hair products, starlite has the unbelievable ability to apparently withstand temperatures up to 10,000 degrees Celsius (Nearly 3 times the melting point of carbon or nearly 2 times the surface of the sun). A slightly more believable demonstration of Starlite’s heat resistant properties was shown on the television show Tomorrow’s World here an egg covered in a thin film of the stuff was heated with an oxyacetylene blow torch for 5 minutes without cooking.

Of course this material has a range of benefits including pranking people. So why isn’t it in common use? Well Maurice Ward was highly secretive of the composition of the chemical, never letting a sample out of his sight except for tests conducted by Imperial Chemical Industries and the Atomic Weapons Establishment. Furthermore only his close family knows the composition of Starlite (Ward himself died in 2011) and is actually not even patented for fear of the secret getting out. Commercialization of Starlite was hindered by Ward demanding 51% of profits from products using his wondrous chemical and as such it has never really had its day in the sun.

Image: 1

OctanitrocubaneChemists are a mystery for two reasons: a) they’re pedantic and b) they often love explosions. So while you may have spent time in your high school chemistry class memorizing bond angles of 109.5 degrees the Mr. Hyde side of chemistry however doesn’t give a toss about that. Instead it makes things such as cubane or octanitrocubane (pictured) with C-C bonds at 90 degrees to each other. The product of this deviation from the preferred geometry of 109.5 degrees is an awful lot of strain and stored potential energy. As such octanitrocubane is the one of, if not the, most powerful, non-nuclear, explosive known. As a direct comparison what would take 1 kg of TNT might only take around 0.4 kg of octanitrocubane. This gives it a relative explosive factor somewhere between 2.38 and 2.7. To put this another way, it explodes with a velocity of over 10,000 metres per second. Unfortunately it’s highly difficult to make and has only been synthesized in small amounts, however its resistance to impact makes it a highly valuable, if inefficient, explosive.

Octanitrocubane

Chemists are a mystery for two reasons: a) they’re pedantic and b) they often love explosions. So while you may have spent time in your high school chemistry class memorizing bond angles of 109.5 degrees the Mr. Hyde side of chemistry however doesn’t give a toss about that. Instead it makes things such as cubane or octanitrocubane (pictured) with C-C bonds at 90 degrees to each other. The product of this deviation from the preferred geometry of 109.5 degrees is an awful lot of strain and stored potential energy. As such octanitrocubane is the one of, if not the, most powerful, non-nuclear, explosive known. As a direct comparison what would take 1 kg of TNT might only take around 0.4 kg of octanitrocubane. This gives it a relative explosive factor somewhere between 2.38 and 2.7. To put this another way, it explodes with a velocity of over 10,000 metres per second. Unfortunately it’s highly difficult to make and has only been synthesized in small amounts, however its resistance to impact makes it a highly valuable, if inefficient, explosive.

How To Breathe With No AirWhile it’s commonly believed that air in the blood stream can cause death by embolism a new way of preventing suffocation actually involves injecting oxygen straight into the blood stream. The crucial difference is that the oxygen comes in the form of lipid based single layer microparticles that act as microscopic bubbles (pictured) and was designed by researchers at the Boston Children’s Hospital. The technique itself can buy an extra half an hour before oxygen deprivation sets in, considering brain damage begins after 4 minutes of suffocation this can be the difference between life and death. Unfortunately due to the lipid (basically just fat/oil) structure of these microparticles this process can’t be prolonged as it would create further problems.Also interestingly the creation of these particles uses sound-waves to mix the lipid and oxygen together forming a liquid that in the end is 70% oxygen and mixes effectively into the blood. It also carries oxygen about 3-4 times better than our own blood.Image Courtesy of Children’s Hospital Boston

How To Breathe With No Air

While it’s commonly believed that air in the blood stream can cause death by embolism a new way of preventing suffocation actually involves injecting oxygen straight into the blood stream. The crucial difference is that the oxygen comes in the form of lipid based single layer microparticles that act as microscopic bubbles (pictured) and was designed by researchers at the Boston Children’s Hospital. The technique itself can buy an extra half an hour before oxygen deprivation sets in, considering brain damage begins after 4 minutes of suffocation this can be the difference between life and death. Unfortunately due to the lipid (basically just fat/oil) structure of these microparticles this process can’t be prolonged as it would create further problems.

Also interestingly the creation of these particles uses sound-waves to mix the lipid and oxygen together forming a liquid that in the end is 70% oxygen and mixes effectively into the blood. It also carries oxygen about 3-4 times better than our own blood.

Image Courtesy of Children’s Hospital Boston

Shape-Memory AlloyA shape-memory alloy is exactly what it sounds like: an alloy of two (or more) metals that somehow can “remember” the original shape it was folded into. One of the more famous examples of this is nickel-titanium, or nitinol, will spontaneously fold from a crumpled state back to the ordered, cold forged state when heated. A video of this process can be seen here. This works because of a small phase change in the metal itself, when shaped the atoms arrange themselves into organized crystal structures. Distorting the metal then causes these crystal structures to become disorganized and energetically unfavourable, application of heat then allows the original crystal structure to be formed again by overcoming the energy barrier. The special thing about SMA’s is that the crystal structures can be reversed while in most alloys the structures naturally decay due to diffusion of atoms within the metal.Shape-memory alloys have many applications, ranging from uses in medicine and robotics right through to the more novel, as seen in this lamp designed by Japanese design group Nendo. In this case the heat from the bulb causes the lamp to “bloom” as the strips of alloy move back to their preformed shape.

Shape-Memory Alloy

A shape-memory alloy is exactly what it sounds like: an alloy of two (or more) metals that somehow can “remember” the original shape it was folded into. One of the more famous examples of this is nickel-titanium, or nitinol, will spontaneously fold from a crumpled state back to the ordered, cold forged state when heated. A video of this process can be seen here. This works because of a small phase change in the metal itself, when shaped the atoms arrange themselves into organized crystal structures. Distorting the metal then causes these crystal structures to become disorganized and energetically unfavourable, application of heat then allows the original crystal structure to be formed again by overcoming the energy barrier. The special thing about SMA’s is that the crystal structures can be reversed while in most alloys the structures naturally decay due to diffusion of atoms within the metal.

Shape-memory alloys have many applications, ranging from uses in medicine and robotics right through to the more novel, as seen in this lamp designed by Japanese design group Nendo. In this case the heat from the bulb causes the lamp to “bloom” as the strips of alloy move back to their preformed shape.

Siderophores

Iron is one of those things that life needs, it’s at the heart of many proteins such as the hemoglobin in your blood. But getting that sweet, sweet ferrous metal is not always so easy. That’s why many creatures have evolved to use special chemical compounds known as siderophores (Greek for iron carrier). Siderophores are produced within the cell and then released into the extracellular environment where they bind to iron ions, helping to solubilize them and thus transfer them into the cell. Enterobactin (pictured above) is a particularly potent siderophore that works somewhat like the claw in one of those games where you try and retrieve a stuffed animal. In this case the oxygen atoms surround and bind to the iron atom to form metal-ligand bonds.

Materials That Fix ThemselvesThe quest for a self-repairing material has been an on going one, for years chemists have dreamed of being able to artificially recreate something that seems so trivial in biology. Now a team at the University of California, San Diego have achieved that using hydrogels. Hydrogels (or aquagels) are hydrophilic polymers which are highly absorbent and have a degree of flexibility very similar to natural tissues, allowing them to be prime components of tissue scaffolding. By manipulating the side chains of the constituent polymers, UCSD scientists have managed to achieve polymers that once broken can rejoin or “heal” by latching on to one of these “dangling” side chains.Image

Materials That Fix Themselves

The quest for a self-repairing material has been an on going one, for years chemists have dreamed of being able to artificially recreate something that seems so trivial in biology. Now a team at the University of California, San Diego have achieved that using hydrogels. Hydrogels (or aquagels) are hydrophilic polymers which are highly absorbent and have a degree of flexibility very similar to natural tissues, allowing them to be prime components of tissue scaffolding. By manipulating the side chains of the constituent polymers, UCSD scientists have managed to achieve polymers that once broken can rejoin or “heal” by latching on to one of these “dangling” side chains.

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Soap Films and the Minimal Surface

One subject of particular interest to me is soap films, while they hold wonder for children they’re also amazing in scientific terms. The  shape and structure of a soap films is determined by what configuration minimizes surface area, this is why bubbles are round. However other interesting shapes known as minimal surfaces arise such as the catenoid and helicoid. The catenoid is the shape formed by rotating a caternary around it’s axis of symmetry, the catenary in turn is the shape formed by a hanging chain. The helicoid is a minimal surface that can be formed from a catenoid without any deformation or stretching. Both of these shapes (along with the plane) have zero mean curvature and also minimize surface area and as such are energetically favorable shapes for soap films (with boundaries) to exist in.

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Chemistry on ComputersOne of the most lengthy components of chemistry is all that trial and error to find out exactly how to make the chemical you want, or even just to assess the chemical properties once you have made a chemical. The problem is, there simply isn’t a way to predict how a molecule will behave. Until now. Computer scientists have recently developed an algorithm which can predict certain features of a molecule based off other examples. While this doesn’t give exact answers they found that by using 1000 examples they could calculate the atomization energies of over 6000 other molecules to a precision of 1%. The major problem that had been facing this “designed” approach had lay in the complexity of chemistry equations, most notably the Schrödinger equation which can only be solved efficiently and accurately for 1 electron systems. Instead this Machine Learning approach, which has been used in stock markets for years, gives approximations accurate enough to find what you need to know. As such, research that previously took years may be able to be completed in a fraction of the time.Image

Chemistry on Computers

One of the most lengthy components of chemistry is all that trial and error to find out exactly how to make the chemical you want, or even just to assess the chemical properties once you have made a chemical. The problem is, there simply isn’t a way to predict how a molecule will behave. Until now. Computer scientists have recently developed an algorithm which can predict certain features of a molecule based off other examples. While this doesn’t give exact answers they found that by using 1000 examples they could calculate the atomization energies of over 6000 other molecules to a precision of 1%. The major problem that had been facing this “designed” approach had lay in the complexity of chemistry equations, most notably the Schrödinger equation which can only be solved efficiently and accurately for 1 electron systems. Instead this Machine Learning approach, which has been used in stock markets for years, gives approximations accurate enough to find what you need to know. As such, research that previously took years may be able to be completed in a fraction of the time.

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Show Us What You’re Made Of!

The word "protein" is a fairly house hold term, but it seems to me that most people don’t actually know what it is to any level greater than “oh that thing in food that makes you strong!”. A protein is basically a polymer made of amino acids pictured is a basic structure), in humans (and all eukaryotes) proteins are made up from 21 types of amino acids, although the actual number of amino acids is fairly innumerable. Proteins are created at ribosomes within the cell and are coded for by mRNA which is essentially a copy of DNA. The amino acids are transported by tRNA which matches to the mRNA and thus creates the order of amino acids. It is this order which governs the shape of the protein and thus its function, as such small mutations in the DNA can be disastrous such as in sickle cell anemia. Proteins fold due to hydrophobic forces created by side chains (which would be where the R is in the diagram) of the amino acid and are stabilized due to things such as hydrogen bonds. These proteins then go on to make up a large number of structures in your body, from the enzymes that digest your food, to the protein channels that regulate the flow of chemicals in and out of your cells and right down to the haemoglobin in your blood supplying you with oxygen. The protein pictured here is known as the Green Fluorescent Protein and is what is responsible for all those genetically engineered “glow in the dark” animals.

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Ever wondered what flavors look like? Here you go!

Each one of these shows some chemical present in your every day food that contributes to the flavors you know and love seen through the microscope!

Top: capsaicin from chillis
Middle: glucose (sugar), catechin (present in teas) and honey
Bottom: some stuff from strawberries and lettuce!

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