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?

The last musing, or the bridge between new and old
September 30, 2009, 11:19 am
Filed under: Musings, Science, Writing

On my better days I like to think of myself as scientist-writer, and I pride myself in seeing the science in ordinary life. Because of this, I’ve realized, I’m doing my field a disservice.

The problem of science is lack of public awareness, interest and understanding. As I grudgingly admit, this blog serves no purpose in teaching or making science interesting; rather, it merely shows that I see the world as scientific. Perhaps a good start, but it shouldn’t be continued, if for no other reason than it’s giving me much more attention than science – the exact opposite of my original intentions.

So, where does bring us? Back to science.

After contemplating the schematics of this new endeavor I wondered what subject I should take on. Science as a whole? Too big. I can’t possibly catch all the news. Then, as fate would have it, I began corresponding with a organic chemist at Princeton (thanks, David) who graced me with a question that chose my blog’s new direction: “Do you think our field [chemistry] will ever generate the same enthusiasm/vibe as biology in the popular realm?”

Upon reading it, I was visibly upset. Shaken, really and quite sad. A chemist, who obviously loves what he does, thinks the public prefers life sciences. Perhaps it’s true, but I’ve never entertained the notion, perhaps because to me, physical sciences are the most fascinating things on the science market. And then I start reading blogs and news and realized that, indeed, science media is ruled by psychology and biology. No wonder I always read ACS publications.

And so, I pledge to bring to you physical science news on the daily and whenever possible – blips of a quantum news that I find alluring coupled with my peculiar, and somewhat science-preoccupied, voice. Well, if you’ve been reading, perhaps you like it.

Welcome to Electron-ic Bonds; I hope you enjoy your science.

August 20, 2009, 4:51 pm
Filed under: Musings, Science

Resonance hybrids blur the line between their two (or multiple) selves so as to obtain dual identities, much like us. Living in downtown Manhattan, I see the two-toned armors: the fun-loving nightcrawlers and the Starbucks-armed businesspeople of the day; are they not the same? In a place where people transform overnight, I can’t help but consider their duplicity as a resonance of sorts, envisioning electrons in an ever-changing state.

But then, I wonder about this resonance nature. We all take carry pieces of ourselves around, perhaps stowed under our shirt collar or the heel of a shoe, to transform into the our “home” self and “work” self. And in truth, the crowd that does not display such resonance often warrants an eyebrow raise. But what of situations where we “cannot be ourselves?”

Often at such times, we wish to be anywhere else than our staff meeting or family reunion and feel miserable because our resonance is well, missing. What connects us to ourselves? Here, the scientist would say that of course resonance still exists, it’s just not captured at the moment.

I call your attention to other points in life where we “are not ourselves.” I think now of drug-induced activities, romantic affairs, hatefully thrown words in a heated argument. Are these not us, a part of our resonance? I believe so. I think, too often, we claim to have lost sight of ourselves for a moment, only to return to our senses and regret it. But, is this not us, a part of our character? Perhaps a negative blip in otherwise decent people… but still a blip that makes us who we are. The point of the deviation from the valence bond theory is that one structure cannot represent the whole entity. Our futile excuses for bad behavior are electrons that do dictate our nature.

We all have resonance structures, good, bad and indifferent. Nothing can account for our endless properties; we have electrons that evade being wrapped in single-structural boxes. But we must remember that every structure lays the bonds of our character, even the bad; therefore, we must be held accountable, as all molecules are.

July 28, 2009, 1:50 pm
Filed under: Musings, Science, Writing

How mathematical and scientific a sentence is… subject, verb with perhaps a few shards of preposition, adverb or clever conjunction. With a single punctuation mark, a slash, what sort of psychological curtain can we lift? A sentence is simply personal science: an addition with a pipetted keystroke.

Though a single organism, by definition, cannot itself evolve, I think we all believe that humans do on an emotional level. Notice, I do not say “grow.” I don’t believe that all of us “grow” in directional terms, unless “in spirals” or “u-turns” count as growth. No, I believe evolution is the right term because it involves mutation, undecidedly good, bad or indifferent. So thus, we evolve, a truly scientific verb and feat.

I’ve often imagined change, not in age but in emotional circumstance, the psychological bulk of who we are. Science in the form of forensics allows us to map people after death takes them, even allowing a craned-neck approach into the past. How many broken bones? Wear on bones? Children or no? Cause of death? Wisdom teeth removed? Science, with much effort, can give us each person’s story, perhaps an accurate depiction of how things were. But if we could choose to map our lives with words, the sinews and tendons of who we are and what we’ve been through, what would we say?

Life looks like a sentence, not an imprisonment, but “a set of words that is complete in itself.” What do our choices say about us? Did we choose lengthy prepositions or have a comma splice? Just as our bones show grooves and lines with wear and breaks, our punctuation reveals our struggles and victories.

Of course, a sentence is a personal matter, but I suppose I owe you mine. Please don’t judge me too readily, for it was a momentary creation like all good revelations are:

“My hands and I were bruised, and thus my ink-clad fingers wrote.”

I’d like to know your sentence.

mad scientists
June 5, 2009, 9:35 am
Filed under: Musings, Science

I run my life like most scientists run their labs: with precision. I have a fierce independence that my mother originally noticed in me as a child, though she noticed this with a sadness that singes me even today. 

From what I’ve seen, many scientists feel this way. The cool control of the lab is exhilarating, having a teetering, pin-pricked purposefulness, which you pray will give way to a dizzying surge of accomplishment. Emotion is riddled in the lab atmosphere: the sheen of sweat on a beaker that spins at a frenzied pace, the whine of the particles melding with a solution. Independence is key.

This independence comes with a price, a constant, nibbling nervous energy of stagnation, regression, and, ultimately, failure. Failure and fear of grant rejection, of community ignorance, of the pressure you place on yourself. 

Usually, this low-level anxiety eats away at the corners of your drive and purpose until you finish what you started, but negative side affects include a voracious appetite for new projects, unsettling looks from family and insomnia. But is the end worth the means? For you, yes. You can’t help your independent nature any more than you can avoid your morning coffee. 

It makes sense that a large portion of life’s overachievers are scientists – those with the inclination to thrive and continue a consciousness-consuming project and goal. It’s harder for those that cannot justify there work as something for the “Greater Good.” Families that ask: “Do you really need to write now?” “What do you mean, you just got an idea?” And thus, those with independence are caught up in a continuous cycle, eased into becoming more and more solitary. Here, I think of old movies, where scientists are “mad” and pent-up in a castle tower. 

Luckily though, tools soothe and eventually drive you back to society. The gentle breathing of the fume hood eases the tension in your spine. The tap-tap-tapping of the keyboard massages your ever-stressed shoulders. The method captivates and remedies all ills, singing the softest of lullabies to your hands that seem to always need occupation.