Saturday, June 14, 2008

This is your desk:

This is your desk in grad school:

This is your desk in grad school 2 weeks before your final defense:

Monday, June 9, 2008

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Plants and your health...

It's getting to be the time of year when I like to start putting all of my plants outside on the balcony. Usually I also like to plant a couple of windowboxes full of petunias. Add a couple of tomato plants, and I am set for the summer. This year though, with my final defense set for July 1 (GASP!), I don't have time for any of this "enjoying the sun" nonsense. Instead I'm limited to reading here about plants that are good for your heath.

Who ever thought that my spider plant could be cancel out the effects of the formaldehyde potentially found in my clothes?

Or that a gerbera daisy could protect me from the benzene in inks?

Not sure about the accuracy of these statements (I'd love to know their sources), but it is cool to think that my overabundance of plants (more than 20 in 600 sq. feet) is good for something other than just improving my mood.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Legal problems of Ph.D's in Germany

As some of you may know already, my husband is German, so what I read last night in C&EN (don't you think it is ridiculous that I often don't get C&EN until Friday?) really shocked me. Apparently some internationally-trained (non-EU) scientists in Germany are facing charges for using the title "Dr." on their websites and business cards. Before I started reading, I was sure that it must be something to do with the fact that the "Dr." title might be confused with a medical doctor in a foreign country. But as I read further, I realized this wasn't the case. According to Spiegel, this law stems from 1939--and in simplified terms states that foreign degrees are suspicious, and need to be verified. In those times, such a law might have made sense, but now it just seems outdated. Luckily, the German government has already started to fix things up; at a conference in Berlin last week (see point 5) it was decided that an American Ph.D's can use the "Dr." prefix in Germany as long as their degree was granted from an institution recognized by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Happy Pi Day!

This video is kind of freaky, but it fits the pi day theme nicely. Enjoy!

Monday, March 10, 2008

New Bacteria isolated....from hairspray

Earlier today when I read the news online, I came across this article. Basically, researchers in Japan have discovered a new type of bacteria. And it lives in hairspray. Of course, I had to look up the original article, and I just want to know why researchers decided to search for "hairspray bacteria" in the first place. Of course I've heard of various cosmetic products becoming contaminated with bacteria, and I know that many bacterial species are thermophiles, acidophiles, or even both, but I just didn't think that hairspray would be such a great environment. The newest ingredient in your hairspray bottle is from the genus Microbacterium and researchers have proposed the name Microbacterium hatanonis (in honor of the scientist Kazunori Hatano, a Microbacterium expert). For those interested, the rod-shaped Microbacterium hatanonis is aerobic and Gram-positive.

On a side note, when I first read the article and saw the words "parsimony analysis," I had to laugh, because my brain could only think of the Parselmouths (the characters in the Harry Potter books that can speak the language of snakes). In reality, parsimony refers to the idea that "less is more," or that the simplest explanation for something is generally the best. In this paper, maximum parsimony analysis was carried out to create phylogenetic trees demonstrating the relationship between the new hairspray bacteria and other strains of Microbacterium.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Answers Research Journal?

First, I want to say I went to the Answers Research Journal website with a totally open mind. While I am not overly religious, I don't necessarily believe that science is at odds with religion. As an undergraduate I took a excellent class (I forget the name, it was something along the lines of "Great Issues in Science") and was first introduced to the writings of Paul Davies, Richard Dawkins, and Stephen Jay Gould. My favorite two "textbooks" from the class were "The Mind of God: The Scientific Basis for a Rational World," and "Origins: Cosmos, Earth and Mankind." If you are at all interested in science and/or religion and how the two subjects can come to terms with each other, I highly recommend these books as a place to start.

Anyways, when my husband sent me a link to ARJ last week, I was intrigued. It seems as if the journal is an offshoot of the website According to their website, "
ARJ is a professional, peer-reviewed technical journal for the publication of interdisciplinary scientific and other relevant research from the perspective of the recent Creation and the global Flood within a biblical framework." At first I had high hopes (I mean, it is "peer-reviewed and everything, that must count for something, right?) and was really hoping for some cool science or interesting theories on how (Christian) religion and science can really go hand in hand. Andrew Snelling, the editor, certainly has the scientific credentials (a Ph.D. in geology from the University of Sydney) necessary for making informed scientific decisions.

So what did I find? Well, I only looked at the current issue, but I wasn't very impressed. Of the five articles, two were written by scientists from "Answers in Genesis" and one was written by a guy whose only credentials are his (home?) address. Two are also written in the first person (which in my opinion just doesn't work for scientific publications), and sound like sermons rather than peer-reviewed scientific research. I do have to admit, the article on Louis Pasteur is pretty interesting, and while I would classify this article on granite formation as opinion rather than research, it was entertaining (I hesitate to say informative) as well. Although I had high hopes and an open mind, I was really left a little disappointed at the end of it all.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Face Research

This is not chemistry related, but I thought it was too cool to pass up. The Face Research Laboratory is run by Lisa DeBruine and Ben Jones, two experimental psychologists currently working at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland. I think the face average is the coolest part of the website, but you can participate in one of their many studies here.

Nature Chemistry

Today over at the Sceptical Chymist, Stuart Cantrill revealed a preview of the Nature Chemistry website. The journal is set to open in April 2009. I must say I'm quite pleased with the color choice--the beautiful blue/violet color reminds me of the natural product analogs that one of my labmates is busy synthesizing.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Cheddar anyone?

Why in the world would someone want to calculate the heat capacity of cheese? While I do enjoy a nice creamy Brie, fresh mozzarella (especially with tomatoes and fresh basil), and maybe once in a great while a strong stinky cheese (reminiscent of Limburger) that I tasted on the Azores, calculating the heat capacity of each individual cheese seems to be taking it a little far, doesn't it?

Apparently not. In order to design the perfect cooling systems for the food industry, it is important to know the heat capacity of the food you are dealing with. For cheese it seems like moisture content is key in heat capacity calculations. Formulas to calculate heat capacity for cheese tend to be more accurate for those cheeses with higher water content (soft cheeses). Who would have known?

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Traditional Chinese Medicines as Modern Drugs?

Earlier today I read an article entitled "How many traditional Chinese medicine components have been recognized by modern western medicine?..." in ChemMedChem. Actually, the title is what attracted me to this article. I've always been interested in alternative and/or natural medicine (maybe that comes with being a vegetarian?*), and really try to avoid taking unnecessary medicines (other than the occasional necessities like ibuprofen and when I was really sick this summer, I ended up taking hydrocodone and paracetamol--a.k.a. vicodin--followed by trimethobenzamide, both of which I resisted initially). In my kitchen I also have a tea for just about any ailment--lemon balm (melissenblaetter in German) tea will cure just about anything. While I've never actually tried any traditional Chinese medicines, a comparison of the components found in these traditionally used herbs and minerals seemed like it might be an interesting read.

Traditional Chinese medicine has been around for more than 4000 years and currently there are over 10,000 chemical components that have been extracted from almost 5,000 traditionally used Chinese herbs/minteals/animals found in the database of traditional Chinese medicines. Compared to Western medicine, this is pretty amazing. Synthetic drugs have only been around for about 100 years, and in one comprehensive medicinal chemistry database you can find about 8000 different molecules that have been approved for use as approved drugs. About 50% of these approved drugs are actually derived from natural products, so a logical conclusion is that there might be some striking similarities between the chemical components of traditional Chinese medicines and modern Western drugs.

According to the Zhang group, there are 327 compounds found in both the traditional Chinese and Western drug databases, and approximately 900 chemicals that are structurally similar (>85% similarity) between the two. Not surprisingly, more than a hundred of the traditionally used Chinese remedies display the same pharmacological effects as their corresponding Western drug. The pharmacological effects of many of the natural herbs were recorded in ancient Chinese texts dating back to the Eastern Han dynasty (~25 AD to 220 AD). For instance, among the 12 chemical components of the herb Coptidis rhizoma (used to treat gastric conditions in traditional Chinese remedies) are berberine, columbamine, coptisine, jatrorrhizine and palmatine. Today calystigine/palmatine is known as an antibiotic, and a structurally similar compound called berberine is believed to be an inhibitor of Helicobacter pylori.

The article also stresses the potential that traditional Chinese medicines could have in drug discovery efforts, in particular in finding multicomponent therapeutics that combine two or more active ingredients into one single dose to hit several targets at once. The herbs used in traditional Chinese medicine can easily have over 50 chemical components. Although each single component might not be active, in combination they might be able to potentiate the effects of other chemical components, or they might work in combination to produce unexpected results. Additionally, traditional Chinese medicines are often prescribed in combinations. Would it be possible to combine the well established formulae of traditional Chinese medicines with Western medicine to produce combinations of drugs with lower risks of adverse drug-drug interactions? Now that we know traditional Chinese medicine has somewhat of a scientific basis, hopefully more work will be completed in this area. Acupuncture has already gained acceptance in many Western societies, so maybe this is the wave of the future.

*My cat on the other hand, certainly isn't a vegetarian. In addition to lounging in the sun on his new window seat, he enjoys his dinner of duck and peas very much.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Sciencedebate 2008

I haven't checked out the entire website yet, but this seems like a good idea. While there are certainly other important issues, why not encourage a presidential debate on science and technology? Several thousand scientifically minded individuals and organizations have already signed, including the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), Sigma Xi, Roald Hoffmann (Nobel Laureate), Robert Grubbs (Nobel Laureate), Richard Schrock (Nobel Laureate), Peter Agre (Nobel Laureate), Phillip Campbell (editor of Nature), and Rudy Baum (editor of Chemical and Engineering News).

(thanks to Mirth)

Wednesday, January 30, 2008


My husband works in what I consider to be the materials side of chemistry (he is currently the only chemist in a group of physicists), so even though I am an organic chemist at heart, I really enjoy reading about new developments in nanotechnology. Yesterday I came across a paper entitled "Conductive One-Handed Nanocoils by Coassembly of Hexabenzocoronenes..." and I actually thought it was pretty interesting. Coiled nanofibers have been made previously, but little is known about their conducting properties. This is mostly due to the fact that coiled assemblies of aromatic molecules are not overwhelmingly stable. If one could create coiled, single-handed, electroconductive nanostructures that were also stable, it would be possible to create tiny little electromagnets. Cool, huh?

Hexabenzocoronene (HBC) with alkyl and triethylene glycol substituents can self assemble into nanotubes; appending norbornene groups at the end of the triethylene glycol chains leads to the formation of both right- and left-handed helical nanocoils upon self assembly (1). While these nanocoils can be stabilized by subsequent ring-opening methathesis polymerization (ROMP) of the norbornene groups, they are actually only the kinetic product of self assembly. Without the ROMP stabilization, they are eventually converted into the more thermodynamically stable nanotubes. This all seems fascinating enough, but members of the Aida lab were able to take things a step further using what they call the "sergeant and soldier effect" to control the formation of left- or right-handed nanocoils. Doping the original HBC/norbornene construct (1) with as little as 20% of HBC with a shortened linker containing a chiral handle (either R or S) produced single-handed coils (S enantiomer --> left-handed coils, R-enantiomer --> right-handed coils). After doping with I2, the coils are also conductive. It only takes a few sergeants to control an army!

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Periodic Table of Sentiments

While elements like 18Is (I'm sorry) and 49Ty (Thank you) are certainly made up, I think that any chemist would get a chuckle out of receiving one of these lovely periodic table of sentiments cards from Pink Loves Brown...

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Chemistry on TV...

Today when I looked in the newspaper, I just happened to see an advertisement for this new show on AMC. I was so happy that both bromine and barium were pictured with the correct atomic number. Yay for the proper use of chemistry in the media!! Since I don't have cable, I won't be watching tonight, but from some of the pictures online, it seems that at least some chemistry might actually appear in the first episode. Bunsen burners, Erlenmeyer flasks, electron configurations, all that good stuff. Unfortunately safety doesn't seem to be a high priority. In the first picture, the high school chemistry teacher on "Breaking Bad" is shown in front of a flaming Bunsen burner without goggles. But I forgive them this time, as I did enjoy this quote from the show's blog: "Electrons change their energy levels. Molecules change their bonds. Elements combine and change into compounds. But that's all of life, right? It's the constant, it's the cycle." Yes, chemistry is life.

Friday, January 11, 2008

PCR, when you need to find out who the daddy is...

A biologist in my lab sent this out yesterday. It's from the Biorad website and only gets better the longer you listen. Enjoy.


Tuesday, January 8, 2008


My husband made a nice little visual aid to go along with the post from yesterday...

Monday, January 7, 2008

How much are you worth?

Some recent information to absorb (all rounded to the nearest thousand):

An average graduate student in the chemical sciences earns per year before taxes: $22,000 (wow, do i really get paid that much? it doesn't feel like it.)

Tuition paid per year on behalf of the graduate student: $12,000

Facilities and overhead paid per year on behalf of the graduate student: $13,000

Misc. expenses paid on behalf of the graduate student ("fringe"): $1,000

Being told that an average Ph.D. (assuming a full five year service) costs more than a quarter of a million dollars: PRICELESS