Thursday, December 31, 2009


Somehow I need to reorient myself to the holiday of New Year's Eve, because I just am not much of a fan of it. I think it's a holiday tailor made for extroverts. As a card-carrying introvert the parties, crowds, and general noisiness causes me stress.

So for a slightly intellectual, introspective take on noisy New Year's party fun I'd like to introduce you, dear Reader, to Bassam Shakhashiri. "Dr. Fun" is so utterly fun and charming that he can make an auditorium full of chemical educators sit on the edge of their seats, waiting to see him demonstrate something they've not only seen 10 times before, but that they have probably done themselves 10 times before. THAT's how cool he is. He's a smiling sage.

I got to thinking of him as I thought forward to the fireworks that will come out tonight. You might want to look at his web page on fireworks. And if that's not your thing, help yourself to any of the other marvelous and accurate descriptions of chemicals of the week, or for that matter anything else at Science is Fun.

After all it's a new year tomorrow, and an opportunity to do something new.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

restaurant recipe hack: successes and failures

This entry would go into a category titled "trivia," if I had such categories for my posts. It also shows I've been away from the lab for a little too long.

One of my favorite menu items at a local pub is tortilla chips with artichoke-jalapeno dip. The dip is awesome but it goes over the top good because they bring the stuff out and it's all hot. I realized a while back that having warm chips was key to making this stuff special. And then I found some really good dip at the store, and decided I could easily heat everything at home.

So I hacked the recipe--or more like the presentation--by heating the chips for about 5 minutes in a 300 degree oven. It was perfect.

The next day I thought I'd repeat the experiment. But I didn't want to wait for the oven, I was hungry, and for a moment I stopped thinking and stuck the stuff in the microwave for 30 seconds.

Result? Bubbly hot dip. Cold chips.

And a reminder that microwaves work by heating water, which absorbs microwave radiation. There is virtually no water in tortilla chips. The oven is worth the wait.

Friday, December 18, 2009

read any good books lately?

I'm looking ahead to next term, when some of my Organic students will once again need to write a term paper. Last term's topic was Green Chemistry and the Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge awards.

For the past few years I have had students read Carl Djerassi's autobiography, The Pill, Pygmy Chimps and Degas' Horse, but for a variety of reasons I may not assign it this year. The problem is finding another book that fits the bill: I need something that is ideally focused on organic or synthetic chemistry, I need something that is a narrative of sorts (not a text), and I want a book that brings up things that don't get brought up in class. These are reasons I have enjoyed assigning Djerassi's book. It's a great window into the life of a synthetic organic chemist.

I'm running up to the library tomorrow to pick up a copy of a book called the Carbon Age by Eric Roston, which sounds like it has some potential. But I'm looking for other possibilities. Have you read anything good? Is it about Chemistry? I'd be delighted to hear your suggestions--or warnings about books that wouldn't be suitable.