Thursday, April 22, 2010

Happy Earth Day

If you do not know who Rachel Carson was, you should. If you do know who she was, this is a lovely dramatization and interview.

Part I loads up automaticallly. Parts 2 can be loaded from a link directly above the main frame.

Behold the power of hormones

Just as we started a discussion of chemical messengers in class this week, npr provides us with a fascinating story about oxytocin. The trust hormone, eh? Seems like quite a stretch to link it to complex things like anti-government sentiment, but perhaps there is a kernel of truth in there somewhere. Much as I'd like to deny it, hormones are powerful things, and probably shouldn't be underestimated.

We really don't understand any of this stuff very well. We like to talk like we do, but come on. The cranium is one heck of a barrier: it's very tough to understand much of anything that goes on inside of there even with sophisticated imaging tools. We're still discovering hormones we never knew we had. We are kindergarteners when it comes to understanding how receptor systems work with these messenger molecules.

Our biochemistry is clearly affected by external stimuli of all sorts: bears jumping out at us behind corners, but also coming home to dog poo on the carpet or being surprised by a chance meeting with an old friend. Who is to say that little daily things like hugs, smiles, birdsongs, or the smell of rain do not cause biochemical changes that can change the way we function...just a little? While science requires evidence to back up any specific claims about this sort of thing, I like the idea.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Chasing Molecules

Elizabeth Grossman has provided us all with a book that features some of the brightest minds and best ideas in Green Chemistry. It is called Chasing Molecules, and includes both heebie-jeebie inducing stories about toxics in our most local environments and also stories of hope. Chemists play both the role of hero and of villain in the stories she tells. It's refreshing to get a balanced message such as this.

Many of the Green Chemists she talks about are among my favorite people in the field: John Warner, Amy Cannon, Paul Anastas, Jim Hutchison, Richard Wool, Terry Collins, and others. I have met these people! What a hoot!

I have to confess I knew about the book but hadn't read it until I attended a meeting where Ms. Grossman herself was in attendance. I should have had her sign my copy. I hesitated. And I missed her. But her message is not lost on me. And I hope the book allows her to bring her message to a broad audience who will listen.

Thanks to all authors who have the patience and talent to write books that popularize science!