Cassie Rodenberg: Electron-ic Bonds

Hello there, my blog has moved!
July 5, 2011, 10:30 pm
Filed under: Science | Tags: ,

Please check out my new blog The White Noise, hosted on Scientific American.


‘Bedtime stories’ lead to nightmares
December 21, 2009, 11:09 pm
Filed under: climate change, Education, Science

“Some places could even disappear under the sea, and it was the children of the land who’d have to live with the consequences,” a father said, reading a bedtime story about climate change to his young daughter.

This sentence paints a jarring portrait of a future world, one of many found in the “Act on CO2” TV ad launched by the United Kingdom’s Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) in the fall. The ad, entitled “Change How the Story Ends” was meant to cause the public to rethink carbon dioxide emissions, but instead of raising concern for the environment, it raised anger.

Though I haven’t been among the angry, I’ve been among the puzzled. I assumed outcry would stop the ad, but instead of its demise, 4 more ad campaigns appeared, much like the Greek serpent-beast Hydra’s multiplying heads.

As of October 21, the country’s Advertising Standards Authority received 357 complaints about the campaign. Some complaints said there’s no scientific evidence for climate change, while others said the ad is “upsetting and scaremongering.”

Before and since Copenhagen, crazed and misguided warnings against climate change have cropped up, based on commercials and other “propaganda” that extremists say elicit fear for no reason at all.

Still, the DECC defended its campaign against critics, saying they chose a harsh message because half of UK citizens don’t think climate change will affect them.

Even the climate change activist in me says there has to be a middle ground. While well-intended, it’s hard to focus on global warming when you’re looking at a moving storybook filled with crying farm animals and drowning family pets. On the other hand, climate change needs to be on the public’s agenda. Though we need climate change education, television commercial cult science hardly seems like the solution. For now, its the DECC that needs to change the story and not just the ending.

Scientific fraud?
December 20, 2009, 10:05 pm
Filed under: Science

Fraud? Suicide? Blackmail? Perhaps a bad plot line in a daytime soap opera? Nope, just an edition of Science. Though a “typical” paper wouldn’t be retracted from the journal, a misleading paper is hardly unusual. What most forget is that big name journals, just as much as the small players, go for readership, often publishing science for its ‘sexy’ factor rather than for accuracy or quality. But who can blame them in the dying business of journalism?

Zhiwen Zhang and company, current and former post-docs of Scripps Research Institute in San Diego, may be involved in said fraud, having introduced “unnatural” amino acids into proteins, a process that other scientists could not replicate. Yet, they claim this is “good” science, something they still stand by after retracting two 2004 papers from Science and JACS.

After Zhang’s work was questioned by reviewers, his notebooks “disappeared,” he couldn’t reproduce his original work and he was blackmailed for $4000. Huh. Seems to me that this is an open/shut case. With some celebrity science per issue in major journals, this case hardly seems out of the ordinary; someone merely pointed out an inaccuracy, a major one. Zhang stills claims that his science was correct, that others are out to get him…but, at this point, who believes?

Are liquids saved from airport condemnation?
October 20, 2009, 9:46 pm
Filed under: Chemicals

Soon you may not have to trash your water bottle, hand sanitizer and other liquid valuables before going through airport security.

German researchers have found a way to detect and identify explosive liquids commonly used by terrorists. To do this, scientists employ a new technique called Hilbert spectroscopy to effectively tag liquid adversaries.

This method, quicker and more precise than its predecessors, uses electromagnetic radiation over a wide range of frequencies to scan the molecular signatures of liquids. A wider frequency range allows researchers to see more ridges of the molecular thumbprint. This ‘thumbprint,’ electromagnetic information, from the spectroscopic analysis is then converted into electrical signals that alerts to the presence of dangerous compounds.

A device called a Josephson junction, used in electrical signaling, makes this method practical — 0.2 seconds from top to bottom. Before long you won’t be able to blame a slow security check line on liquid contraband.

Hydrogen: a Cinderella story?
October 5, 2009, 10:19 pm
Filed under: Energy

Hydrogen’s been given the kiss-off in recent energy developments, set aside for impracticality. Now hydrogen may be redeemed for energy use…by a winery.

Using bacteria and a little electricity to make a microbial electrolysis system, researchers have produced renewable hydrogen from winery wastewater. Though early in the process, the winery eventually hopes to use hydrogen fuel to power the facilities and vehicles on its property.

Past tweaked hydrogen fuel cells ideas include combining the gas with corn and boron, and improving container storage of the flammable gas.

Overall, attempts at making hydrogen a reliable ‘fuel of the future’ are sorely lacking with biofuels taking over the market. Perhaps hydrogen will be a Cinderella story, defeating wicked stepsisters and solar fuel cells along the way? …Hmm, and how often do we see a good fairy tale?

Diesel: down, not out
October 2, 2009, 9:03 pm
Filed under: Energy, Fuel

Gas engine pollution is the bruise that triggers perpetual wincing of environmentalists everywhere. We know emissions are bad as we drive our fuel-efficient hybrids and frown at off-road tractors and heavy machinery. Don’t even get us started on diesel users.

Actually, diesel may not be down for the count. New research indicates that a careful cocktail, an auxiliary injection, of ether, carbon monoxide and propane may lower hydrocarbon and particulate emissions and improve cold start-up, a huge step forward for the famously inefficient engines. Emission cuts may be as high as 60%, two-thirds of the EPA’s eventual clean-diesel goal of 90%.

This is a far cry from earlier dealings with diesel – one of which included trying methanol as a fuel, which greatly increased carbon monoxide and hydrocarbon emissions.

Though it seems to be a game of tug-and-war with diesel, at least the emitters seems to be inching toward the mud pit.

Showing skin
October 1, 2009, 12:00 am
Filed under: Medicine

“Who is the fairest one of all?” I am. From the coast of South Carolina, a hotbed of tanning, I’m an anomaly. I stick to the shade and liberally apply 95 SPF every hour, on the hour. Why? Melanoma runs in the family.

After identifying a gene that causes melanoma earlier this summer, researchers have been straining to find better techniques for screening and catching the elusive cancer. And so they did, according to a new Australian study. Using radioactive tracers, scientists rely on fluoronicotinamides to shine a spotlight on melanoma, coupling this with former Positron Emission Tomography (PET) scans that often miss the first stages of cancer development.

Though claims of integrating new and old sound reasonable, others opt for another approach entirely. Researchers at Hoag Cancer Center say that a novel cancer vaccine increased the survival rate of patients with metastatic melanoma. Unfortunately, news of HIV leaves vaccines with a rather lackluster season, despite all the press. Perhaps melanoma will be better off. For now, though, I’ll stick with the sunblock.