What would you do with an STM?

When I started this project, I had only one idea for using an STM: looking at nanoparticles.

Since then, I created this sign-up form where people are asked the simple question above.  Here are some of the fantastic answers I received (actual quotes):

  • “I have a project of a small semiconductor fuel cell that I want to experiment with”
  • “A perfect research tool for a homeschooler or small school!”
  • “I am neuroscience student at Keele University (Staffordshire, UK), I will use it for my research.”
  • “Scan for micro-fractures on radio-controlled helicopter and aircraft load bearing components and bearings.”
  • “Look at cancer cells and experiment with magnetic frequencies and cancer cell destruction.”
  • “Hi! I’d like to examine the morphology of bees when subjected to the insecticide imidacloprid.”
  • “I am working as assistant professor in VIT university, Vellore, India. I am interested to do surface probe microscopy (SPM) with an STM.”



New Open Science Group: ChiOpenSci

ChiOpenSciI’m happy to announce the formation of a new Open Science group here in Chicago, called ChiOpenSci.  We’re open to enthusiasts, amateurs, researchers, hobbyists, anyone interested in solving scientific problems using (and making) open source and open culture tools and philosophy.

New website here.

Google group here.

First meeting will be on Sunday, September 12 at 4pm at Pumping Station: One in Chicago 3354 N. Elston Ave.

Feel free to bring your enthusiasm and ideas for problems that are best tackled via open software style approaches. Also, all realms of science that study natural phenomena are welcome: astronomy, physics, chemistry, biology, math, engineering, and many more I’m sure I haven’t mentioned.


Chemistry in the News

While we’re taking a short break (tl;dr there’s a lot of stuff cooking behind the scenes – I’ll talk about it shortly), my news feeds are going berserk with chemistry news here’s the highlights:

BP is dumping chemicals in the gulf designed to break up the oil spill, but there are questions about efficacy and how carefully they have been tested.  Does this mean that the Gulf of Mexico is now the world’s largest beaker?

Meanwhile, research is showing that chemicals in bananas may be effective against HIV?  Take all medical research with a grain of salt, kids.

And on the battlefield, chemistry is making MREs tastier.  I suppose that since MREs are a stew of chemistry already, adding more can’t hurt.


Breaking Bad

…A non-technical post as I prepare my nanoparticle synthesis demonstration for Notacon next week…

I can’t run a conversation about the effects of society on chemistry with out mentioning the AMC series Breaking Bad.

For those of you unfamiliar with the show, it takes place in and around Albuquerque, NM (my home town!) and follows the story of Walter White, a research chemist turned high school chemistry teacher who finds out he has lung cancer.  He doesn’t have the money to pay for treatment AND care for his family (with pregnant wife).  So he hooks up with Jessie Pinkman, a former student who became a drug dealer after high school. Oh, and his brother-in-law is the local DEA team lead.

Most of the first season deals with the bumbling tragicomedy of a clean-cut and logical scientist who tries to enter the dirty world of the local drug kingpin with alternating disastrous, terrifying, and/or triumphant results.

The second season deals with Walt’s increasing separation from his straight life as a husband, father, and teacher and the realities of becoming a part of the underworld, and how the destructive repercussions of his illegal activities affect everything and everyone around him.

The third season (just started) picks up with Walt kicked out of his house and served with divorce papers.

So, what do I think about the show?  I love it.  The production values are fantastic, I love the story line and the characters, and I have a near-constant frisson of recognizing shooting locations of the town and surroundings I grew up in.  The acting is great – even down to the extras.  The show has even won a few Emmys for acting.

Regarding the science, the producers seem to have done a lot of their homework – the science all looks relatively true (I can’t speak to the actual methamphetamine synthesis), the equipment all looks in order, and the actors actually use it properly.  Here’s an excellent episode-by-episode breakdown of the chemistry in the show for seasons one and two.  Overall, I’d say that the series gets a solid B+ for realism, at least as compared to science that gets dramatized anywhere else (don’t get me started on what passes for science on TV anywhere else).

I have noticed a steady decline in the amount of chemistry in the show – by the end of Season 2, it doesn’t have much impact on the story.  Maybe Season 3 will show off some cool stuff?

I’m a little conflicted: I love the show, but it also perpetuates the chemist-as-baddie stereotype.  I could be worried about what this show does to the public’s opinion on chemistry and science, but it’s a well-made show, and hey, at least chemistry comes off as interesting, (if dangerous and highly illegal).  I’ve heard from at least one friend that the show made them pull out an old chemistry text book, and I guess that can’t be bad.

So, what is it? Good because people are at least thinking about chemistry, or bad because of the stereotypes, yadda yadda yadda?

Photo belongs to AMC.

April 7, 2010 | Posted in: Culture | Comments Closed