Monday, November 29, 2010

SoCMA, ACC, and more....about the potential for a Green Chemistry standard

Advancing Green Chemistry shares with us an article detailing the current discussion--or is it a squabble?-- about establishing a standard for Green Chemistry.  There are a lot of very powerful people interested in the outcome of this discussion, it appears!  Important people are listening and participating.  But there also appears to be some potential for gridlock as these groups try to find a standard that is good for everyone.

A variety of stakeholders care about the outcome of this discussion.  The public is of course one group that may benefit from a clear and rigorous standard.  It would make it easier for us to make greener choices without having to draw on a great deal of technical expertise (which few of us have).  On the other hand, industry is likely to strongly resist any standard which is going to give some products a competitive advantage over others.  AGC discusses this problem at some length.  But it's good reading.

One of the great strengths of the Green Chemistry community is its inclusiveness.  It bring all kinds of perspectives to the table.  When people with differing viewpoints find themselves working on a problem together, the opportunity to innovate for real change is more likely.  But the solutions that these various groups can agree to are rare, and difficult to discover.

It's good and difficult work, and we'll hope that the outcome brings us a step forward. 

Advancing Green Chemistry keeps a close eye on the chemical industry (ACC is an acronym we all ought to know), and provide frequent updates on issues interesting to the Green Chemistry community through their Facebook page and Twitter feed.

Friday, November 26, 2010

fourteen.4 grams

Based on some serious Google research and with the help of my Introductory Chem class, I have determined that the 15.0 lb turkey cooked at my house yesterday contained a grand total of 14.4 grams of tryptophan. 

While the debate continues on the streets and at the water cooler about the biological effects of consuming a hefty portion of roast bird, there are a lot of other good reasons to get a nap on Thanksgiving afternoon. 

Turkey is not exceptionally high in tryptophan compared to some other fairly common foods, which leaves me wondering how the tryptophan story ever got off the ground in the first place.

Happy Thanksgiving weekend.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

spinning vinyl

My collection of vinyl records still sits in my living room under a coffee table, though I haven't played them in years.  I have a turntable and a component system that is old enough to play them but it's just too much work, and a lot of the music I have is not interesting to me anymore.

I expect I would encounter some trouble if I tried to play them anyhow, since many of them were made when records were stamped on thin vinyl, which would warp over time if not occasionally rotated.  Letting them sit on one side for years could have caused some major problems.

I spent a lot of time as an adolescent listening to records, so just talking about them gets me feeling a little nostalgic. 

LP (long play) records like this are called vinyl because they are made from polyvinyl chloride.  Vinyl chloride is CH2CHCl, an alkene with a chlorine attached to the sp2-hybridized carbon, aka the vinyl position.  Addition reactions can be used to produce polymers which often end up bearing the names of their raw materials, or suggestions of what those raw materials are:  polyvinyl chloride (PVC), polyethylene (HDPE and LDPE), and polystyrene (PS) are all made from alkenes, through addition reactions that cause them to polymerize.

Organic students may recognize, if they think of it, that after forming a carbocation in an addition reaction one could imagine another molecule of the original alkene behaving as a nucleophile...the double bond itself is rich in electron density.  This is the underlying principle of the addition polymerization reactions that allow us to make all these different plastics.

Wikipedia has relatively informative articles on LP records, and on vinyl chloride.  PVC is not very environmentally friendly if you consider the problems that come along with handling the vinyl chloride monomer which it is made of, though some have argued it is very environmentally friendly precisely because it lasts so long--and often is used in applications to replace wood, or other plastics with shorter lifespans.

A few years ago a great (but admittedly biased) documentary about PVC was put out by Bullfrog Films.  You can watch the trailer here, and it's in our College Library.  It's worth your time and presents the serious problems associated with PVC with great humor.  And you know what's funny and ironic?  The videocasette that the film is on is probably made guessed it:  PVC.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

To celebrate the release of the latest Harry Potter movie....

....Daniel Radcliffe sings the periodic table song.

Here's the song sung by the author, Tom Lehrer.  Frankly, he does it better.  But he's not Daniel Radcliffe!

My favorite song about elements is a little newer....TMBG does the Elements

Thursday, November 11, 2010

more cosmetic chemistry

The masks they refer to deep within this article are surely not respirators....but I can imagine little cute filter masks. I'm presuming of course, but if that's what they're talking about they're not going to do a bit of good protecting people from volatile solvent vapors.

Can you imagine going into a nail salon where the employees are wearing respirators? Yeah. That would be bad for business. Yeah.


Here's a good one. I caught this story a few weeks ago, when it was still a pretty unformed thing, but it appears that the situation is heating up.

Ah, formaldehyde, you disgusting stuff.....

Monday, November 8, 2010

what's the value of a penny?

Rare earth elements include Scandium, Yttrium, and the collection of elements with atomic numbers from 57-71: also known as the lanthanides. While their names are probably pretty unfamiliar to many--Prasiodymium, Promethium, Samarium, etc--their use has been increasing and their interesting magnetic and chemicals are increasingly exploited in high technology applications.

There has been some news recently about the global supply of these elements. While we have deposits of them in the U.S., recent supplies have been coming out of China. Until really recently, that is, since there have been issues with supply and allegations of price controlling.

Now the New York Times reports on another potential source of these elements. Manganese nodules on the surface of the ocean apparently contain not only valuable copper in significant amounts, but also rare earths. If the combined value of the materials in these rocks makes the economics work out, maybe people will start mining the sea floor for them.

Somewhere deep in the article the author mentions that the concentration of copper in the ore mined in the San Jose copper and gold mine in Chile (you know the one) is only half that of these nodules, which contain a paltry 1% copper.

That leaves me wondering why someone doesn't just collect all the pennies I have accumulated over the years and extract the copper from them. They're surely more than 1% Cu and it would be easy to get hold of them.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

good news in the land of AIDS

Well, it's not news that I'm getting older, but at least I am doing so at the same rate as everyone else. I remember the world when telephones had cords, reheating food meant putting it on the stove, and nobody knew of AIDS. Around 1986 I was working at the University of Iowa Hospitals when I encountered my first AIDS patient. I was doing phlebotomy. He was a haemophiliac. He had contracted the disease from injections of Factor VIII, used to control his disease.

We had to monitor his level of Factor VIII and it was a huge deal to go into his room and get the blood. Lots of precautions. He was a very sick man, and died within weeks. I learned right away how horrifying the disease was.

Years later things are much different for AIDS patients. We have retrovirals that make their lives much better, and their lifetimes much longer. But it is still an awful thing, and it is still great to hear about advancements in AIDS research.

NPR tells of just such a story, which references some work published in Science. Yay.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

I think I want some tonka beans

A great story about food, drugs, and chemistry is available online over at the Atlantic.

A quick look at the structures of coumarin and the drug known commercially as coumadin, both available from Wikipedia, will reveal their obvious similarities and differences. I remember reading about the history of the drug and the story of sweet clover disease in cows in my text books many years ago. Until I read the Atlantic story here, I didn't realize that coumarin itself has no anticoagulant activity.

So now, after reading the article, I would really love to try some tonka beans. Like many people I love vanilla, and I also love the smell of fresh mown hay.