Archive for the ‘ Science ’ Category

Relativistic Atoms

Last week I read a really interesting article in Scientific American about the periodic table, which, being a potential chemistry major (who happens to be able to recreate the periodic table from memory) immediately piqued my interest. Called “Cracks in the Periodic Table,” the article discussed how, as more elements are discovered beyond element 118 (the last element on the existing periodic table), the intrinsic order of the elements and their properties will begin to break down. I had heard something about this before, but had not been given an explanation for it. Apparently, this potential for the periodic table to “fail” in the future delves into the particle physics inside the atoms.

As atomic number of the elements increases, the numbers of protons and neutrons increases, thereby increasing the overall mass of the molecule. This causes the nucleus to be unstable, which we know as radioactivity, but also results in the electrons around the nucleus moving at a higher velocity. In atoms of lower atomic number elements, the velocity of the electrons really doesn’t have much of an effect on the element and its properties (as far as I know), but in the larger atoms, the increase in velocity results in the occurrence of some relativistic effects. The phenomenon known as electron shielding (which separates the energies of orbitals on the same electron sublevel) is lessened, making the electrons feel a stronger attraction to the nucleus and actually pulling all of the electrons closer, making the atomic radii smaller. The energies of electron orbitals are also affected.

These effects can actually already be seen in elements we understand quite well, like gold. Looking at the periodic table, almost all of the elements surrounding it, which it would be expected to share chemical and physical properties with, are a silverish color, but gold is, well, gold. I won’t get into all of the details of what’s happening, but basically a relativistic effect in gold causes atoms of the element to absorb a wavelength of blue light, making the metal appear yellowish to our eyes. In the other metals, this relativity is not felt, and they absorb wavelengths of ultraviolet light, which we cannot see, instead. I would not have expected that to be the reason for gold’s color, but its interesting.

In larger elements, the effects of relativistic electrons would be even greater, leading to a seeming disorder in elements that have yet to be added to the periodic table. Only time, and more research, while tell what those effects actually are.


A Very Angry Letter to Microsoft

There are a lot of things I don’t like about Microsoft, and specifically Microsoft Windows. Tonight, after waiting 45 minutes to install an update (when all I wanted to do is video chat with N for a few minutes before she went to bed), I wrote this Facebook post to vent a little bit:

Dear Microsoft,

Windows may be the one of the “best, most advanced” operating systems of the day, but no matter what I SHOULD NOT have to wait 45 minutes, create an unwanted Microsoft account, remind Windows of all my application and privacy settings and fix my boot order (so that I can access my main operating system), just to install an update! That’s just ridiculous. And a few more things: it would be nice if Windows actually explained what it was doing and how long it was going to take before it actually did it (like making updates automatically), and would be wonderful if Windows 8 had an option where it wasn’t “optimized for touch screen use,” even if you don’t have a touch screen like myself. Any plans to do either of those any time soon would be greatly appreciated. If I didn’t need Windows for school (because everything is made to run on Windows), I would permanently delete my Windows partition before you could blink.

Thank you,
A very frustrated Ubuntu user

Paper Proposal

Tomorrow (by which I mean today…) I need to submit a written proposal of a topic for my last paper in my writing seminar, which is focused on the issue of climate change. I just finished, and liked my subject idea enough that I thought I’d share it. Here’s my proposal:

In all of the discussion about climate change and the many harmful impacts it will have on the world, its environments and people, there seems to be one reality that gets overlooked. Though the effects of climate change are common groups for discussion, especially their impact of humankind, as are the causes of global warming and their potential fixes, there is a bit of a disconnect between the cause and effect. The reality is that anthropogenic climate change is a phenomena caused by humans that, though unintentionally, also hurts humans. Especially considering that in many cases the greatest victims of climate change’s consequences are a distinct group from its effectors, I feel that this is most definitely a moral problem that I do not think is recognized enough. This is why I have chosen to focus my paper on the morality and ethics of climate change and continued carbon dioxide emissions, even after the potential for devastating effects has been shown. I may also use this as a springboard to answer questions of “What can I do to help stop climate change?”

Though it was my first idea for a topic, I shied away from it because I did not believe there would be enough existing evidence to support a six to seven page paper, leaving me to do my own research into the statistics of climate change’s causes and impacts. After half an hour of Google searches, I realized that this would not be the case. I have a list of six books and papers in university libraries that appear to be promising sources, and found several articles and videos of lectures on the topic online. Rather, the greater challenge will be organizing the wide range of information into a cohesive argument for a specific claim, which I have not yet decided on. While it may take some time and a good deal of work to find an effective structure for the final topic and paper as a whole, I think the plethora of information available on what I feel is an important but overlooked matter is too good of an opportunity to pass up.

Bedtime. (No, this is not part of my proposal.)

What I Learned Today…

Today in chem lab, it took longer than the scheduled class period, from 2:00 to 5:15 to extract just a couple of milliliters of essential oil. Apparently that sort of thing is normal in organic chemistry lab, so next semester’s labs will be fun (I say this with a little bit of sarcasm). At least next week we will be running some tests (TLC, IR spec, and NMR) to determine the identities of the essential oil and the spice we extracted it from. That will be a little shorter and more interesting.


The past couple of weeks in chemistry, we have begun to explore molecular structure, especially with relation to electron orbitals, both molecular and atomic. Today, our professor used what we were learning to explain what makes hydrogen cyanide such a toxic substance. The nitrogen atom in cyanides has a pair of nonbonding electrons at one end of the molecule, which is free to interact with other molecules if it can. Inside the human body (or the body of most other respiring organisms), the free electrons can easily attach themselves to iron atoms inside a certain enzyme that assists in the electron transport chain, which is one step in the conversion of the energy we consume in food into a form usable on the atomic level. This deactivates the enzyme, stopping the process it is involved in, and preventing our cells from having the energy they need. No energy, and the cells cannot survive, quickly killing the person exposed to the cyanide. It may be a little morbid, but I think it’s pretty cool how simple chemical concepts have such a big effect.

Global Warming Can Make Winters Colder?

For several years now, I have been a subscriber to the monthly magazine Scientific American. I really like learning about new discoveries and progress in the scientific world, both in my intended fields of study, chemistry and physics, as well as others that I know relatively little about, from psychology to computer science. Scientific American provides excellent articles on a wide range of topics that lets me do just that, and it is the only periodical I subscribe to. Unfortunately, as a senior last year I did not have as much time to read for pleasure as I liked, and when I had time, I tended to read other things, so I am a ways behind. While I was able to read a lot this summer and this first month of college (I expect that will not be the case the whole time), I am still just finishing the January 2013 issue.

That being said, I read a really interesting article on Wednesday (from the December 2012) about sea ice melting and some unexpected effects it can have on global weather patterns. As hinted at in the title, as sea ice melts, it can actually cause winters to be colder and stormier in the United States and Europe. If you’re thinking what I was thinking when I first read it, you’re thinking something along the lines of “…wait, what…?” But as unbelievable as it sounds, there is a good amount of evidence to support this hypothesis. So, here’s a quick explanation of how that works:

First, when I (and most scientists) say that sea ice is melting, they are referring to the fact that the amount of ice in the Arctic that remains frozen through the whole summer is decreasing, and rather rapidly. As the Arctic warms up, which is accelerated by this loss of ice, the pressure and moisture in the atmosphere over the Arctic Ocean increases. The higher the pressure and moisture, the weaker a normal “polar vortex” around the North Pole is, which has major consequences for other weather phenomena in the northern hemisphere. With a weaker polar vortex, two patterns we know as the Arctic Oscillation and North Atlantic Oscillation tend to have a “negative” phase.

While the differences between the positive and negative phases of the two oscillations are hard to explain, when they are negative they cannot hold cold arctic air in the Arctic as well. The global jet stream is also pushed southward, taking more mild air with it. The rest is simple, cold air that would normally be constrained by the Arctic Oscillation is able to move southward, making winters in most of North American and Europe significantly colder, stormier and snowier. This exact phenomenon, with some variation, has happened in the past three winters, bringing some of the most severe temperatures and storms to certain places with it.

That was pretty surprising for me, but is a good reminder of the unpredictability of our climate and weather. Global warming is a lot more complex than it may seem, and can may some pretty drastic and unexpected consequences. And because we can’t predict it, wouldn’t it be better to do whatever we can to stop it so we don’t need to find out what problems it may cause. I don’t want to rant about climate change now, as I could spend a lot of time and would rather do that later, so that’s all I have to say for now. If there were a free (and legal) version of the article online, I would post it, but I don’t know of one, but if you are interested enough feel free to check out where you could buy issue here.

My Day in Four Outfits

Outfit 1: t-shirt, cargo shorts, Crocs. Met E, one of my Chi Alpha core group leaders for brunch, then had German class at noon.

Outfit 2: same t-shirt, jeans, white socks, indoor soccer shoes, lab coat. Chem lab. Dissolved penny in 8 molar nitric acid and used 15 molar ammonium hydroxide data to find out how much copper was in it with spectrophotometry.

Outfit 3: tuxedo, bow tie, black socks, dress shoes. First concert with orchestra here at college. Program: Wagner’s Rienzi Overture, Saint-Saëns Violin Concerto No. 3, Schubert Symphony No. 8, von Suppé’s Overture to The Beautiful Galatea. Only played the two overtures because the concerto and symphony had only two horn parts.

Outfit 4: same t-shirt as before, cargo shorts, white socks. Stayed up late talking to N, writing blog post(s), and otherwise getting distracted on the internet.