I am a Christian. I believe in the God of the Bible, in God the Father, in His Son Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Spirit. I believe in Genesis 1:1 - "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. (NIV)" I am a biochemist and a pharmacist by education. As such I have a desire to understand nature. I am writing this blog as my way to express the facts of true science as I understand them, from the perspective of one who believes that all things were created by God, for God and for His purposes.

Feel free to comment, to offer your perspective, or to give suggestions for subjects.
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Saturday, December 31, 2011

A New Years Resolution - The Chemistry of New Beginnings

Tonight at Midnight, for most of the World anyway, the year will click over to 2012. And with it the opportunity for a fresh start, a new beginning if you will. In our physical world of time and space everything has a beginning. The day has a beginning, as does the month and the year. We had a beginning at our conception and then our birth. Our Nation and all of the nations of the world had beginnings at some point in the history of mankind. And all creation had a beginning, at the Big Bang when God spoke the Universe into existence - Genesis 1:1ff (NIV).

For many, tonight will be a night to celebrate - party with friends, watch the ball drop in Times Square or the fireworks in Sydney or Hong Kong. Some will party too much and regret it tomorrow. For some they will meet their end before they can even begin the new year. For all of us, we need to look at the new year and this time of new beginnings as an opportunity for change. Change for the world (World Peace), change for our country (an improving economy) and change for ourselves (make a lifestyle improvement).

Every year many of us make new years resolutions, and many of us fail to keep them, in spite of our best efforts. Estimates show that about 62% of all adult Americans make at least one new years resolution. Of these 75% last a week, 64% a month and 46% last for 6 months. Only 8% keep their resolution for the full year. Even with the poor odds of keeping your resolution for the full year research shows that people who make resolutions are 10 times more likely to attain their goals than people who don't. There is something about having specific, written goals that helps to keep us on track. It gives us an identified target to reach and a sense of hope that when we do reach it, we will be better for having made the effort.

Character is the ability to carry out a good resolution
long after the mood in which it was made has left you.
Cavett Robert

To keep a resolution well made requires hard work and determination. As the quote implies, many a resolution is made without forethought as to how it will be carried out. We have all heard the story of "the boy who cried wolf." When he finally spoke the truth he was not believed. If we make lighthearted resolutions and then do not keep them, it is a reflection on our character.

The concept of character implies a variety of attributes including the existence or lack of virtues such as integrity, courage, fortitude, honesty, and loyalty, or of good behaviors or habits. The Bible defines character as any behavior or activity that reflects the character of God. The Book of Genesis (Genesis 1:26ff NIV) says that God created man in His own image. Consistency of character is regarded as integrity - the honesty and truthfulness or accuracy of one's actions. We are judged to "have integrity" to the extent that we act according to the values, beliefs and principles we claim to hold.

So as we make those same resolutions again this year - lose weight, get fit, quit smoking/drinking - lets make a resolution together much like the one expressed on the left side of the card above: Live a simple, sincere life... cultivate cheerfulness and charity... be frugal in expenses, careful in conversations, diligent in service... and have a child-like trust in God to care for us in all things.

Happy New Year!

Ephesians 4:31-32 - "Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. 32Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you. (NLT)"

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Atomic Glue - The Force That Holds the Atom Together

The concept of an atom was first proposed centuries ago, as far back as the 5th or 6th century BC. Democritus, an Ancient Greek philosopher coined the term "átomos" (Greek: ἄτομος) in 450 BC, which means "uncuttable" or "indivisible." Until the 1800s it was thought that this was the smallest particle of matter. Indeed atoms are if you consider matter to be restricted to the elements of the periodic table. We discussed the basic structure of the atom back in June in the "Of Atoms and Elements" blog.

Then it was discovered that atoms were composed of protons, neutrons and electrons. Protons and neutrons make up the nucleus and have the most mass and the almost weightless electrons orbits the nucleus in an empty cloud shell. An atom is really 99.999%+ empty space. In 1874, G. Johnstone Stoney postulated a negatively charged electron and in 1897 J. J. Thomson discovered it, the first subatomic particle. Ernest Rutherford's 1907 gold foil experiment showed that the atom is mainly empty space, with almost all of its mass concentrated in a tiny atomic nucleus. Thus the quantum theory was born. In 1918, Rutherford confirmed that the hydrogen nucleus was a single positively charged proton and he speculated that all other atomic nuclei contain charge-less particles, which he named neutrons. James Chadwick discovered the neutron in 1932.

Even more recently two of the three particles were found to be made up of even smaller particles. Electrons are a type of Lepton, an elementary particle. Protons and Neutrons are Baryons, composite particles made of three Quarks each. A Proton is composed of two up quarks (2/3+) and one down quark (1/3-). A Proton is positively charged. A Neutron is composed of two down quarks (1/3-) and one up quark (2/3+) and has no charge. A quark is also an elementary particle, one of only 18 predicted to exist. And thus begins the very complex world of Particle Physics.

Credit: Wikipedia

Now with the nucleus of an atom made up of positively charged particles and neutral particles, and since like charges repel one another, what holds the nucleus together?

To explain this we need to look at the four fundamental forces of nature, the strong nuclear force, the weak nuclear force, electromagnetism, and gravity.

Now most of us understand the concept of gravity - what goes up must come down, Newton's apple and all that. There is really much more to it than that but for today's discussion this is enough. Basically gravity is what holds objects of mass together, particularly objects of large mass, such as the planets and the stars. We also know the basics of electromagnetism. Who among us has not played with a magnet and iron filings to see the patterns we can create. But again there is more to that story as well, suffice it to say electromagnetism is the force that holds atoms together (the force behind chemical bonds).

The other two forces act at the very close distances of the nucleus of the atom. The weak nuclear force is what holds the individual particles together to prevent radioactive decay and the strong nuclear force is what actually holds the whole nucleus together, bonding the protons and the neutrons. The strong nuclear force is a form of atomic glue. The ability of the strong nuclear force to hold an atom’s nucleus together exceeds the protons’ natural tendency to push apart when acting at the very close distances found between the nucleons. As the spacing gets larger, the electromagnetic force takes over and the protons repel each other.

The Strong Nuclear Force
Holds the Atomic Nucleus Together

The strong nuclear force is created between nucleons by the exchange of particles called mesons. The nucleons must be within the diameter of a proton or neutron of each other for the exchange to happen. If they can get this close, the exchange of mesons can occur, and the particles will stick together. If they are further apart, the strong nuclear force is too weak to hold them and other forces move the particles apart. The formation of elements requires a great deal of energy like that found in the stars where almost all of the natural elements were created.

Without this force to hold the atomic particles together, matter could not exist. Could this force be the hand of God? None of this explains how particles have mass. Without mass, even with the strong nuclear force, matter would not exist. There is yet another force predicted in quantum physics described by the Higgs Mechanism, a theory that states the Universe is filled with a type of electromagnetic field which induces the appearance of mass in particles as they pass through it. Scientists are working as we speak to find the "God particle", the Higgs boson, which will validate that the field of the Higgs mechanism does indeed exist. All of this leading up to the ultimate goal - the Theory of Everything. We will look at the Higgs boson in a future blog.

Colossians 1:17 - "He existed before anything else, and He holds all creation together. (NLT)"

And when He lets go:

2 Peter 3:10 - "But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up. (NKJV)"

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Tungsten and the Invention of the Electric Light Bulb

The first light was easy, Genesis 1:3 says "And God said, Let there be light: and there was light. (KJV)" God spoke it into existence. But the making of the first electric light was not so simple. If you ask most people, they would probably say that Thomas Edison invented the electric light bulb. If they do, then they are wrong. The light bulb came about through a series of inventions that ultimately ended with a glass enclosed glowing filament, what we would consider a true light bulb.

The story started in 1809 when Humphry Davy, an English chemist, invented the first electric light. Davy connected two wires to a battery and attached a charcoal strip between the other ends of the wires. The charged carbon glowed making it the first arc lamp. In 1820 Warren De la Rue enclosed a platinum coil in an evacuated tube. This light worked but the platinum was too expensive to be practical. In the years following a number of inventors developed different systems using charcoal or carbonized fibers as filaments. Finally, in 1854, Henricg Globel, a German watchmaker, invented the first true light bulb. He used a carbonized bamboo filament placed inside a glass bulb. Edison actually developed his light bulb from work he did based on the 1875 patent for a light bulb he purchased from inventors, Henry Woodward and Matthew Evans.

Thomas Edison was a prolific inventor,
earning 1093 patents during his lifetime.

Edison work was mainly around the development of a longer lasting filament in combination with removing oxygen from the sealed bulb. He experimented with thousands of different filaments to find just the right materials to glow well and be long-lasting. He discovered a filament that lasted 40 hours and he demonstrated it publicly in 1879. He went further and also developed the first electric utility in Manhattan to power his lights. His success in spreading the use of his invention made him the most most well known of the "inventors" of the light bulb. Edison was a prolific inventor, earning 1093 patents in the United States alone during his lifetime.

Filaments made of many different materials were tried until a long lasting and inexpensive filament material was discovered. Edison tried metal and carbonized materials. His first success was with carbonized cotton which lasted 40 hours. He later produced a filament from bamboo fibers that lasted 1200 hours. Different metal filaments were made from the group 5 metallic elements Molybdenum (atomic number 42), Ruthenium (44) and Rhodium (45) and the group 6 metals Tantalum (73), Tungsten (74), Osmium (76), Iridium (77) and Platinum (78). In 1910, William David Coolidge (1873-1975) invented a Tungsten filament which lasted even longer than the older filaments and is much like what is used today.

Tungsten is a dense, hard, rare metal found naturally only in chemical compounds. Of all the elements, Tungsten's melting point is second only to carbon. Tungsten is the only metal from the third transition series that is known to occur in biomolecules, where it is used in a few species of bacteria. It is the heaviest element known to be used by any living organism. Because of its hardness, Tungsten is used in ordinary small arms bullets designed to penetrate body armor as well as military artillery uses. Its density, similar to that of gold, allows Tungsten to be used in jewelry as an alternative to gold or platinum. Tungsten filaments contain very small amounts of potassium, silicon, and aluminum oxides to improve their life and durability.

The invention of the electric light, and the development of a central electric utility changed our world dramatically. But in the end we will not need this light for God will be our light.

John 8:12 - "When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, 'I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.' (NIV)"

Revelation 22:5 - "There will be no more night. They (the saints) will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever. (NIV)"

Monday, December 12, 2011

Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh - King, Priest and Savior

In our last blog, we talked about the Star of Bethlehem, the Wise Men, and the three Gifts they brought to Jesus - Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh. So what were these gifts and why did the Wise Men choose them to give?

We know that Gold is the metal of Kings as was mentioned in a previous blog. It was, and still is, a precious metal due to its relative scarcity, its unusual color and lustre, and its malleability. It is well suited for ornamentation and decoration in art or jewelry and for signifying wealth, things important to kings and princes (and princesses!). The Magi brought Gold to recognize Jesus' kingship.

Matthew 2:1-2 - "After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem 2 and asked, "Where is the one who has been born King of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him. (NIV)"

How about Frankincense? Frankincense is an aromatic resin obtained from trees of the genus Boswellia. The trees are striped and the resin exudes and dries into pearls that are then harvested. The pearls are burned as incense in a fire to release the fragrance of the resin. Frankincense was an important part of the Temple service in Jerusalem. The incense was burned by the priest as part of the offering.

The essential oil of Frankincense, produced by steam distillation of the tree resin, contains monoterpenes, sesquiterpenes, monoterpenoles, sesquiterpenols, and ketones. Terpenes are a class of molecules that typically contain either ten or fifteen carbon atoms built from a five-carbon building block called isoprene. These are volatile aromatic hydrocarbon esters used in incense and perfumes. Frankincense has a good balsamic and sweet fragrance. Many terpenes such as menthol (found in throat lozenges) and camphor also have medicinal values.

Exodus 30:34-35 - "Then the LORD said to Moses, Take fragrant spices--gum resin, onycha and galbanum--and pure frankincense, all in equal amounts, 35 and make a fragrant blend of incense, the work of a perfumer. It is to be salted and pure and sacred. (NIV)"

Leviticus 6:15 - "He shall take from it his handful of the fine flour of the grain offering, with its oil, and all the frankincense which [is] on the grain offering, and shall burn [it] on the altar [for] a sweet aroma, as a memorial to the LORD. (NKJV)"

Frankincense, which was often burned, symbolized prayer rising to the heavens like smoke. The Magi brought Frankincense to acknowledge the holiness or divinity of Jesus, our Divine High Priest.

Myrrh is a reddish resin that comes from the species Commiphora myrrha, a plant native to northeast Africa and the adjacent areas of the Arabian Peninsula. It is gathered in the same fashion as Frankincense, as pearls of dried resin from striping the tree. Myrrh is an aromatic oleoresin consisting of sterols and volatile oils. It can also be found in a liquid form. So valuable was it at times in ancient history that, ounce for ounce, it was more costly than gold. Because Myrrh was used in the embalming or anointing of the dead, it came to represent mortality, suffering, and sorrow.

The Magi brought Myrrh to symbolize the hardship, suffering and death that Christ would endure as our Savior.

Jesus Christ, the Messiah
Our King, Priest and Savior!

Thus these three gifts foretell of the three destinies of Jesus - King, Priest and Savior. Jesus came 2000 years ago as our pure and spotless lamb of God, offered up for us on a cross, a Savior for us, dying for the forgiveness of our sins. Myrrh symbolized His impending death.

1 Peter 1:18a-19 - "Knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things,... 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot. (NKJV)"

John 19:39-40 - "And Nicodemus, who at first came to Jesus by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about a hundred pounds. 40 Then they took the body of Jesus, and bound it in strips of linen with the spices, as the custom of the Jews is to bury. (NKJV)"

He is now our Great High Priest in heaven, interceding for us with His Father. Frankincense symbolized His Priesthood and prayers for us.

Leviticus 2:2 - "He shall bring it to Aaron's sons, the priests, one of whom shall take from it his handful of fine flour and oil with all the frankincense. And the priest shall burn [it as] a memorial on the altar, an offering made by fire, a sweet aroma to the LORD. (NKJV)"

Gold symbolized His Kingship. He will return as a King, ruling and reigning over the Earth in the millennium that follows His return.

Luke 1:31-33 - "And behold, you [Mary] will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name JESUS. 32 He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. 33 And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end. (NKJV)"

He is coming soon!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

We Three Kings of Orient Are... Or Were They?

At Christmas we sing the carol: "We three Kings of Orient are..."

We three Kings of Orient are
Bearing gifts we traverse afar
Field and fountain, moor and mountain
Following yonder Star

But were they Kings? Were there just three? Did they come from the Orient? Did they really follow a star? Did they bring Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh? We talked of Gold in the last blog being the metal of Kings. So what are the other two? Over the next few blogs we will look at the three Kings, the three Gifts and the three Destinies of Jesus.

So what about the three Kings? The Bible calls them Wise Men, not Kings. The word for Wise Men in the Greek is magos, where we get the term Magi. Were there three? The Bible does not say how many came. It speaks of three Gifts but those Gifts could have been brought by one or many. Magos is a plural noun so there was most likely more than one. It is also unlikely that they would travel so far in such a small group.

The Bible says the Magi came from the East. But does the East mean the Orient? The Bible does not say the Orient specifically, just from the East. The word magos, however, was a name given to teachers, astrologers, seers and interpreters of dreams by the Babylonians (Chaldeans), Medes and Persians. This could put the Wise Men as coming from Babylon (east of Bethlehem) where Daniel had been in captivity almost 500 years earlier. Daniel was made the ruler of the Wise Men in that day when he interpreted the King's dream. (Daniel 2)

Daniel 2:48 "Then the king promoted Daniel and gave him many great gifts; and he made him ruler over the whole province of Babylon, and chief administrator over all the Wise Men of Babylon. (NKJV)"

The Wise Men knew when the Messiah
was to be born and watched for His Star

A number of years later Daniel remembered that God had said the Jews would be in captivity for 70 years, a time that was nearing completion, and he set himself to pray to God to keep His covenant. The Angel Gabriel came in response to his prayer and prophesied the birth of the Messiah in 69 weeks (of years) from the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem. The 69 weeks of years would mean 483 years from the rebuilding of the Temple the Messiah would be born, precisely the time when the Magi arrived following the star. Could it be because of Daniel and this prophesy that the Magi knew of the star that would point them to the birthplace of Jesus? (Daniel 9)

Daniel 9:25 "Know therefore and understand, [That] from the going forth of the command to restore and build Jerusalem until Messiah the Prince, [There shall be] seven weeks and sixty-two weeks; The street shall be built again, and the wall, Even in troublesome times. (NKJV)"

And the Star? Was it a real star or something else? The website Star of Bethlehem describes in detail one possible explanation - a conjugation of the star Regulus and the planet Jupiter with cameos by the sun and the new moon. It is an intriguing, scientific study of how these celestial bodies could have moved together to point the way to the birthplace of the Messiah.

Matthew 2:9-10 "When they heard the king, they departed; and behold, the star which they had seen in the East went before them, till it came and stood over where the young Child was. 10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy. (NKJV)"

And the Three Gifts? What do they mean? They signify the three Destinies of Christ - King, Priest and Savior.

Matthew 2:11 "And when they had come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshiped Him. And when they had opened their treasures, they presented gifts to Him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. (NKJV)"

We will examine the Gifts and Christ's destiny in the next blog.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Are Those Metals Really Precious?

What does Precious mean? We define it as something of great value or high price, possibly even priceless, such as a rare diamond. Or it might be someone highly esteemed or cherished, such as a good friend or loved one. It could even be considered something extravagant. When we talk of precious metals, we generally refer to their economic value but there is more to it than just that.

A precious metal is a rare, naturally occurring metal that is less reactive than most elements, has a high lustre, is softer or more ductile, and generally has a higher melting point than other metals. These qualities attract us to the metal and thus we place a significant value to it. In general, the rarer something is, the more people will be willing to pay for it. Precious metals are rare and highly desirable. In Biblical times there were two precious metals, Gold and Silver. That has changed over time as we have been able to mine and refine more metals.

At one time aluminum was considered a precious metal since it was so difficult to extract from its ore. Napoleon III's most important guests were given aluminum cutlery, while those less worthy dined with mere silver. The pyramidal top to the Washington Monument, constructed in the late 1800s, is made of 100 ounces of pure aluminum. At the time of the monument's construction, aluminum was as expensive as silver. Today the period 5 and 6, group 8 through 11 metals are considered precious. These are most notably the group 10 and 11 elements - Gold and Silver, Platinum and Palladium with the group 8 and 9 to a lesser extent - Ruthenium and Osmium, Rhodium and Iridium.

Precious Metals are valued for their
Rarity, Inertness, Lustre, Ductility and Purity

So lets look more closely at what makes a precious metal. The list of characteristics goes like this:

  • Rare - Either in quantity or difficult to refine
  • Low Reactivity - Relatively Inert
  • High Lustre - Can be highly polished
  • Ductile - Easily shaped
  • High Melting Point - Solid at reasonable temperatures

The first on the list is "Rare." An element can be rare because it is exists in limited quantities or because it is difficult to obtain as the free element. As an example Aluminum does not exist as the free element naturally so was considered a precious metal until such time as it could be extracted easily from its main ore, bauxite. It is not "rare" in abundance, being the third most common element and most common metal in the Earth's crust, making up 8% by weight. Gold, on the other hand, is found almost exclusively in the elemental form as nuggets or flakes but only makes up less than 0.000003% by weight of the earth's crust. Gold is truly one of the rarest of the naturally occurring metals. Platinum, Palladium and others are even less abundant.
                   Gold Nugget
Low Reactivity is next. This means the metal generally does not tarnish or form oxides on its surface. But it also relates to the formation of other minerals naturally, such as with Aluminum being most commonly found as bauxite. Noble metals are those metals that are resistant to corrosion and oxidation in moist air, unlike most base metals. Although a noble metal is not necessarily a precious metal, all of the metals listed above as considered precious today are noble metals. Platinum is the least reactive of all metals. Iridium is the most corrosion-resistant metal and is used to make crucibles and high temperature lab equipment. A unique property of Palladium is that one cubic centimeter can absorb 900cc of hydrogen. Platinum and Palladium are used extensively as catalysts.

The third point is that the metal, when pure, has a high lustre or polished appearance. Lustre is a description of the way light interacts with the surface of the metal. Generally the metal will act as a mirror when polished. Glass mirrors are sometimes made with a thin layer of silver bonded to the glass with tin chloride. Lustre is generally appreciated when the precious metals are used for jewelry. Gold, Silver and Platinum, either alone or as alloys, are all highly valued for use in wedding rings, pendants or chains due to their color and reflectivity. Rhodium is often used to plate Gold and Silver to increase lustre and reduce tarnishing due to its very high optical reflectivity and low reactivity.

Next is ductility or malleability. These two characteristics speak to a metal's ability to deform under stress. Ductility relates to tensile stress or stretching and malleability refers to compression stress or being hammered or rolled into thin sheets. Many of the precious metals can easily be bent or shaped by hand if thin enough, unlike iron or steel which is difficult to bend, even in thin sheets. Gold is both ductile and malleable. One gram of it can be drawn into a wire almost 1 mile and a half long. It can be pressed into sheets only a few atoms thick. When pressed so thin it becomes transparent and is used on the visors of the astronaut's spacesuits to reflect infrared light. Gold is so soft that it generally can not be used in jewelry in its pure form (24 karat) but must be alloyed with other metals such as copper or silver (14 or 18 karat). Osmium is the densest natural element and is sometimes used in the tips of fountain pens to increase durability.

Lastly is the high melting point of the precious metals. Metals in general have high melting points. The precious metals all melt at temperatures above 1760o F, with Silver being the lowest (1763o F) followed by Gold (1948o F). In Biblical times silver would be refined by melting and then skimming off the dross, or contaminants, from the top of the molten metal. Gold would be refined in the fire by burning off any contaminants. Proverbs 25:4 - "Remove the dross from the silver, and out comes material for the silversmith. (NIV)"

Point (o F)
Ruthenium441 ppb4233o FSilvery White
Rhodium451 ppb3567o FSilvery White
Palladium4615 ppb2831o FSilvery White
Silver4775 ppb1763o FLustrous White
Osmium761.5 ppb5491o FSilvery Blue
Iridium771 ppb4471o FSilvery White
Platinum785 ppb3215o FGrayish White
Gold794 ppb1948o FMetallic Yellow

Gold is considered the metal of kings. It has been treasured since antiquity. It was used for jewelry, in coins, decorative ornamentation and art. It signified wealth. The biblical record shows that it appeared to be relatively abundant (Solomon had tons of gold in his treasury!) and was used extensively in Solomon's temple at God's direction (1 Chronicles 28, ff). It represented wealth, purity and quality - "Worth it's weight in gold", "The Gold Standard" and "The Golden Rule." Its unique color, malleability and purity direct from the source (as nuggets or flakes) were prized characteristics. Even the streets of Heaven are lined with gold!
(Revelation 21:21b)

Zechariah 13:9 - "I will bring that group through the fire and make them pure. I will refine them like silver and purify them like gold. They will call on my name, and I will answer them. I will say, 'These are my people,' and they will say, 'The LORD is our God.'(NLT)"

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thanksgiving - The Chemistry of a Blessing

A few years back, in 2000, there was a movie out called "Pay It Forward." The premise of the movie was to pass on a blessing to someone, with nothing expected in return. In the movie Trevor McKinney, troubled by his mother's alcoholism and fears of his abusive but absent father, is caught up by an intriguing assignment from his new social studies teacher, Mr. Simonet. The assignment: think of something to change the world and put it into action. Trevor conjures up the notion of paying a favor not back, but forward--repaying good deeds not by payback to the original person, but with new good deeds done to three new people. As he works on his assignment, it transforms his life and all of the lives of those touched by the ever-growing circle of good deeds.

Thanksgiving is a day to remember all who "Paid It Forward" to and for us. Before 1863 it was being celebrated separately in many states on different dates to commemorate the original Thanksgiving from 1621 when the Pilgrims and Indians gathered for a harvest celebration. The day was established by Abraham Lincoln as a national day for our country to celebrate all of the blessings we have. He set forth a proclamation on October 3rd, 1863, in the middle of the Civil War no less, to set apart the last Thursday of November "as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise."

Thanksgiving was set apart by Abraham Lincoln "as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens"

Here is the Proclamation:

"The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God.

In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theater of military conflict; while that theater has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union.

Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defense, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle or the ship; the axe has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom.

No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People.

I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and Union."

We in America are truly blessed. We have all we need and then some. Even the poorest among us are generally richer than many in other countries. We have much to be thankful for. Recently with the "Occupy Wall Street" movement and a general sense of entitlements that seems to be growing in our country, we are putting our blessings at risk. Paul states in 2 Corinthians - "Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. 2 Corinthians 9:6-8 (NIV)"

Remember today to thank God for all that He has done in your life and in the lives of those around you. He is the giver of the day and the source of our strength. Remember the blessings you have received and "Pay It Forward" to all around you, with no expectation of return.

2 Chronicles 7:14 - "If My people, who are called by My name, will humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land. (NIV)"

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Diabetes and Insulin

Strictly, diabetes is defined as any of several disorders characterized by increased urine production. Generally when we think of diabetes, we are thinking of Diabetes Mellitus, a form of diabetes where insulin production or action is reduced, resulting in hyperglycemia or elevated blood sugar. This elevated blood sugar increases our bodies urine output as we try to eliminate the excess sugar in our urine.

There is another form of diabetes, Diabetes Insipidus, where increased urine production is caused by inadequate secretion of vasopressin by the pituary gland. It is not respond to insulin so we will not be discussing this form of diabetes. When we mention the word diabetes, we will be referring to Diabetes Mellitus.

Diabetes is either the lack of insulin in our bodies (Type I Diabetes) or our bodies are resistant to the insulin we produce (Type II Diabetes). Here is a more clinical definition:

Diabetes Mellitus (DM) – A general term referring to all states characterized by hyperglycemia.
  • Type 1 – An autoimmune mediated destruction of insulin producing beta cells in the pancreas, resulting in an absolute insulin deficiency.
  • Type 2 – A multifactoral syndrome with the combined influence of genetic susceptibility and of environmental factors, the best known being obesity, age, and physical inactivity, resulting in insulin resistance in the cells requiring insulin for glucose absorption. This form of diabetes is strongly inherited.

A person with type I diabetes must inject insulin since the body produces minimal or no insulin. In type II diabetes, the beta cells produce insulin, but our body's cells do not respond normally to it so more insulin is needed. This extra insulin can come by stimulating the beta cells to produce more, the goal of oral diabetic medications, or by supplementing with injected insulin. Type II diabetes is usually first treated by lifestyle changes, such as losing weight, healthy eating and exercise. Type I diabetes is always treated with injected insulin.

As we mentioned in a previous blog entry, Insulin - The Sugar Police, Insulin is remarkably similar in a number of animal species and can be used directly to treat diabetes. In fact, it was not too many years ago that all insulin was from animal sources. The two primary sources were bovine or beef insulin and porcine or pork insulin. Bovine insulin differs from human in only three amino acids, and porcine insulin differs in only one. Biosynthetic "human" insulin is now manufactured by recombinant DNA (rDNA) technology using bacteria to produce human insulin.

Diabetes is the 6th leading cause of death
in the United States

Insulin generally comes as rapid acting, long acting or delayed acting forms. Regular (rapid onset, short-acting) and NPH (slower onset, longer duration) human insulins are the most commonly-used preparations. Others are Lente and Ultra-Lente (much slower onset and longer duration). A mix of NPH and Regular Insulin called 70/30 is also available.

Modified forms of human insulin, changing the amino acid sequence slightly or adding other molecules to the insulin chain, are also available. The modifications improve the absorption or duration of action characteristics of the insulin to give better overall glucose control. They are usually referred to as "insulin analogues". The rapid acting analogs are modified to prevent the formation of dimers and hexamers, making the insulin molecule more quickly absorbed and faster acting. The extended release analogs have additional molecules attached to the insulin chain, resulting in slower absorption and increased duration of action.

Examples include:

Rapid acting (response in 15 minutes or less)
  • Insulin lispro
  • Insulin glulisine
  • insulin aspart
Long duration (last for 18 - 24 hours)
  • Insulin glargine
  • Insulin detemir

Both long duration analogues are taken only once daily, and are used in treating type I diabetes as the basal insulin. A combination of a rapid acting and a long duration insulin is used to achieve an insulin profile that mimics that of the body´s own insulin release.

Unlike many medicines, insulin currently cannot be taken orally. It is destroyed in the gastrointestinal tract and must be given subcutaneous injection. Pre-filled insulin pens and pumps are available to simplify the injection regimen. Work is ongoing to develop an insulin nasal spray and stem cell researchers are looking to create replacement beta cells.

By reducing the concentration of glucose in the blood, insulin is thought to prevent or reduce the long-term complications of diabetes, including damage to the blood vessels, eyes, kidneys, and nerves. Everyone's body reacts to insulin in different ways. The onset, peak and duration of the different types of insulin will vary by individual.

Some Myths about diabetes:
Myth I: Sugar or eating sweets is the cause of diabetes. - It's not the sugar, it's too many calories and a lack of exercise for type II diabetes. Type I is due to a loss of insulin producing cells.

Myth II: Type I diabetics can't have anything sweet. - Fast-acting insulin therapies and intensive monitoring protocols can allow for the occasional treat.

Myth III: Type I diabetes, or juvenile diabetes, only affects the young. - Type I diabetes can affect anyone at any age although it is more common in younger people.

Myth IV: Only obese people get diabetes. - Obesity is the leading risk factor for type II diabetes but patients with type I diabetes are often otherwise very healthy.

Myth V: There is no treatment for Type II diabetes. - Type II diabetes can be delayed and even prevented with lifestyle modifications including exercise and a healthy diet.

There are a number of famous people with type I diabetes. The list includes:
  • Ernest Hemingway - Author (For Whom the Bell Tolls; A Farewell to Arms; The Sun Also Rises)
  • James "Catfish" Hunter - MLB Baseball Hall-of-Famer (baseball)
  • Nick Jonas - Jonas Brothers
  • Jackie Robinson - Baseball player
  • Mary Tyler Moore - Actress (Dick Van Dyke Show, Mary Tyler Moore Show, Ordinary People); diabetes advocate

The prevalence of diabetes is increasing every year. It is the 6th leading cause of death in the U.S. and 36% of American families cope with diabetes. Hopefully with continued advances in insulin, a trend towards healthier lifestyles and other new therapies, we will be able to get this disease under control.

Proverbs 16:24 - "Kind words are like honey — sweet to the soul and healthy for the body. (NLT)"

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Was "Mitochondrial Eve" the Eve of Genesis?

So last time we looked at Eternal Productions Scientific Fact number 37 from 101 Scientific Facts & Foreknowledge - "God has created all mankind from one blood (Acts 17:26; Genesis 5)." In their comment about this fact, they identified a study about men coming from a single ancestor. I stated studies show that 90% of all men descended from a single male ancestor. But nothing was said about women.

In 1987, a surprising study was published in the journal Nature.­ Looking at the mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) of 147 people from across all major racial groups, researchers found that all people alive today descended from one of two genetic branches. One branch contained only families of African origin, the other covered all other groups, including some from Africa. In most species, including humans, mtDNA is inherited solely from the mother. The study showed that both branches came from one woman.

Every single person on Earth today can trace their origin back to a single common female ancestor

­The geneticists concluded from the study data that every single person on Earth today can trace their origin back to a single common female ancestor. Because both branches contained African lineage, the authors concluded that Africa was this woman's home. They called this common female ancestor "Mitochondrial Eve." The idea for this research was based on a discovery made in 1980 that when you compare the mtDNA of two humans th­e samples are very similar, more similar than with any other primate. This finding suggested that humans share a more recent common ancestor.

The 1987 study authors stated they were not implying that Mitochondrial Eve was the first or only woman on Earth at the time she lived, she was just the most recent person to whom all people can be traced. In other words, many women lived before her and many after, but her life was the point from which all modern human families grew.

So why did the study say that Eve is humanity's most recent common ancestor, and not the first woman? Science will not claim a Creator since such a statement cannot be proven scientifically. Biblically, this study would support at least the concept that all humans descended from one man and one woman. Scientifically, an evolutionary bottleneck is used to explain why Mitochondrial Eve was just the most recent ancestor. An evolutionary bottleneck is a situation where most, if not all, members of a species suddenly die out, bringing the species to the verge of extinction. This sudden decrease is most likely the result of some kind of catastrophe. Afterward, just a few members remain to repopulate the species. Such a Biblical event would have been the Flood (Genesis 6, ff). Instead of being the first woman, the study states that Mitochondrial Eve was one of only a few survivors of a near complete human destruction.

Even decades after the Mitochondrial Eve study was published, the results are still hotly debated in the scientific community. The 1987 study pointed out that somewhere down the line of history, we are all related with East Africa as the place of our origin. Although this does not prove "Adam and Eve" and there are other issues to examine, clearly this is in line with the Biblical text. If not "Mitochondrial Eve", the Bible states there was another "Eve" somewhere in our human history.

Genesis 1:27 - "So God created man in His own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female He created them. (NIV)"

Monday, November 14, 2011

Male and Female He Created Them - Can We Prove It?

Did God create them male and female? Was there really a single man and a single woman who together produced the human race? Can we tell this from our DNA? We are going to take a look at the Biblical truth from Genesis 1:27-28a: 27 "So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. 28 God blessed them and said to them, 'Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it'. (NIV)"

Do the "facts" in the Bible ring true? Are the statements made by the Biblical authors foreknowledge and facts of scientific truths? A group called Eternal Productions produced a book listing 101 scientific facts claimed to be reported first in the pages of the Bible. This book chronicles examples of Biblical words of knowledge about some seemingly accepted scientific facts. The book is entitled "101 Scientific Facts & Foreknowledge," and enumerates the Biblical facts with a reference to the appropriate verses and a short explanation and justification for the "fact" in light of the referenced verse.

There are several websites that give a counterpoint to each of the 101 Facts, showing how they either are not true science, how Eternal Productions has twisted the Bible or true science to fit their point, or how the Bible was not the first reference to the specific scientific fact being discussed. One is RationalWiki and a second is a now defunct blog entitled Science and the Bible Archive.

So today we will look at Eternal Productions Scientific Fact number 37. Here is how it reads in 101 Scientific Facts & Foreknowledge. "God has created all mankind from one blood (Acts 17:26; Genesis 5). Today researchers have discovered that we have all descended from one gene pool. For example, a 1995 study of a section of Y chromosomes from 38 men from different ethnic groups around the world was consistent with the biblical teaching that we all come from one man (Adam)."

Now the "Science and the Bible Archive" rebuttal goes like this: "Science does not identify an 'Adam' in the Biblical sense of the word, and does not say that there was anyone like 'Adam' who was created by a God, of course…. but the logic of evolution it certainly does accord with the idea of humanity ultimately have common ancestors in Africa, a suggestion put forward in a number of Creation stories – not just the Biblical one. Hence, we find that the Bible on this occasion is at best not making a unique claim."

RationalWiki states its disclaimer like this: "Acts 17:26 says 'And hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation;' Genesis 5 is here (a reference to the genealogy of Adam). But what the research shows is that one strain of male DNA became dominant. Looking further into the research, we find that rates of mutation in DNA indicate the originator of the strain lived about 60,000 years ago, yet creationists claim the earth is 10,000 years old. Even worse for their argument, that 60,000 number is too small, according to some scientists, as the H. sapiens exodus from Africa took place over 100,000 years ago."

So the rebuttals state two main objections: 1) that the suggestion of common ancestors is not unique to the Bible, and 2) that the DNA strain mentioned was dominate but not necessarily from one man. It is also mentioned that Creationists claim the age of the earth is about 10,000 years old, not old enough for what the scientific record shows. On this third point, not all Creationists are "young Earth" directed and many believe that the Earth is millions of years old, just as most secular scientists. We will ignore this argument in our current discussion.

Lets examine the two main points. They both say the same thing but in different ways, that the concept of "Adam" as the father of all is not supported but common ancestors are indeed possible and compatible with evolution.

More than 90% of all males have a single common ancestor

The hypothesis that humans have a single origin (mono-genesis) was published in Charles Darwin's Descent of Man in 1871. It was later supported, in the 1980s, by a study of present-day mitochondrial DNA samples combined with evidence from the physical anthropology of primitive specimens. In one study of DNA it was observed that more than 90% of all males not native to Africa descended in a direct male line from the first bearer of a specific type of DNA, haplogroup F. Haplogroup F originated some 45,000 years ago, either in North Africa or in South Asia. In human genetics, haplogroup F is a very common Y-chromosome haplogroup spanning all the continents.

What this means is that more than 90% of all males have a single common ancestor, the first bearer of haplogroup F. Could this be "Adam?" Maybe, but it is only a 90% coverage. If Adam was the sole forefather of all men, then shouldn't all men have this DNA type? Now we have a lot to learn yet about DNA and there could still be more to this story but for now, there does not appear to be enough evidence to confirm (or deny) that we all came from a single man.

But the arguments don't say anything about "Eve." Could we all have come from a single woman? There seems to be more evidence in support of that hypothesis. We will look at that next time.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Veteran's Day -The Chemistry of Freedom

About a month ago my wife and I visited her Aunt in San Antonio. She had recently moved to a new home and her brother was visiting from Brazil for the first time in about five years. It was a great family reunion. At one point the talk turned to her husband who had passed away a few years back. He had been an Air Force pilot in WWII and had flown 42 missions, many over Germany during a number of fierce air battles. She had a picture that was taken from one of the planes in his squadron showing bombs exploding, sending deadly chunks of metal shooting in all directions, aimed at taking out the low flying planes. He was in one of those planes.

My uncle was a rear gunner in the same war, fighting over the Pacific during the battle of Midway. He was only 19 at the time. Both of our uncles survived, living into their 80's. We were lucky they made it home to tell their stories.

Since that war we have had Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan to name a few. Before WWII there were numerous wars as well, WWI, the Civil War and of course the Revolutionary War, our original call for freedom. All of these battles, right or wrong, were fought in the name of freedom. A freedom America continues to fight for, all over the world, for all of those oppressed by tyranny.

Today is Veteran's Day. A day we remember those who fought to establish and protect the freedoms we can so easily take for granted. It takes a special kind of individual to risk their life in the defense of another. If you see a soldier, thank them for their service. If you know a family who has a loved one deployed overseas, spend some time with them. If there is a family in your circle who has lost a loved one in the line of duty, comfort them. Most of all say a prayer and thank God for the blessing of these brave men and women. Without their courage and dedication, both past and present soldiers, we might not have the rights and freedoms we now enjoy. We owe a debt of gratitude to them all.

Isaiah 53:12a - "I will give him the honors of a victorious soldier, because he exposed himself to death. (NLT)"

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Enriched Uranium - Peaceful Power or Powerful Weapon?

Enriched uranium is uranium that has a higher concentration of uranium-235 than is found naturally, having been increased through isotope separation. Natural uranium is 99.3% uranium-238, with uranium-235 accounting for only about 0.7% of its weight. Uranium-235 is the only nuclide existing in nature that is capable of sustaining a chain reaction of nuclear fission. Enriched uranium is a critical component for both nuclear power generation and military nuclear weapons. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) attempts to ensure nuclear power generation safety and control nuclear weapons proliferation by monitoring enriched uranium supplies and generation.

Enriched uranium is created as two main types, low and highly enriched.
Low-enriched uranium (LEU) has less than 20% uranium-235. It is used in light water reactors (LWR), the most prevalent power reactors in the world. Uranium is most commonly enriched to 3 to 5% uranium-235 for use in these reactors.
Highly enriched uranium (HEU) has greater than 20% uranium-235. At this concentration, HEU is called weapons-usable although this would be a less than sufficient weapon. When used in nuclear weapons HEU usually contains 85% or more uranium-235. This grade of enriched uranium is known as weapons-grade. There is a process called downblending that turns highly enriched, weapons-grade uranium into low enriched, reactor-grade uranium. It is a major feature of the Megatons to Megawatts Program, converting uranium-235 to peaceful uses. It is estimated that there currently is approximately 2000 tons of enriched uranium (both reactor and weapons grade) in existence around the world.

Currently there are two main methods utilized for enrichment: gaseous diffusion and gas centrifuge. The gas centrifuge method consumes only 6% of the energy required for gaseous diffusion. Other methods are being developed but none have been scaled up to production levels. Gaseous diffusion works by forcing natural uranium through another substance, causing the uranium-235 to be separated out. Gaseous diffusion accounts for approximately 1/3 of all uranium enriched today. Most enriched uranium is currently produced by the gas centrifuge. The centrifuge spins gaseous uranium around rapidly, using centrifugal force to separate the heavier isotopes from the lighter ones.

Iran is suspected of being only "months" away from building a nuclear bomb

Iran has been in the news lately due to its development of enriched uranium and the building of numerous nuclear facilities. In June, Iran installed a new generation of centrifuges in its uranium enrichment sites and tripled its 20-percent enriched uranium output. Last August, Iran started transferring the nuclear enrichment centrifuges from its Natanz nuclear facility to their Fordo atomic site.

The Western world suspects that Iran's uranium enrichment program may be meant to produce nuclear weapons. Iran is now under sanction by the United Nations Security Council and the United States, the European Union and other western countries over its controversial nuclear program. Just this week the IAEA reported that Iran is building "hi-tech precision detonators which would be essential for a nuclear device, and developing a uranium core for a nuclear warhead." Iran is also suspected of testing weapons capable of carrying a nuclear payload and is only "months" away from building a nuclear bomb. Iran has denied all this, stating its nuclear program is for peaceful power generation purposes only.

Only time will tell if Iran truly has only peaceful intentions in mind.

2 Peter 3:10 - "But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up. (NKJV)"

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Vinegar Is Not Just For Catching Flies

"Tart words make no friends; a spoonful of honey will catch more flies than a gallon of vinegar"
~ Benjamin Franklin (January 17, 1706 - April 17, 1790)

Ben Franklin was comparing the tang of vinegar to the acid sharpness of terse words. I prefer it on my salad! Vinegar has been in use since man first made wine, in fact the word comes from the Old French "vin aigre", which translates into "sour wine." Vinegar is a liquid produced from the fermentation of ethanol yielding its key ingredient, acetic acid. Ninety percent of Americans buy vinegar, using it mainly for salads, in cooking, home canning and for cleaning.

Acetic Acid is an organic compound with the chemical formula CH3COOH. It is a colorless liquid called glacial acetic acid when pure. Acetic acid is the main component of vinegar (diluted in water), and has a distinctive sour taste and pungent smell.

Vinegar is made from the oxidation of ethanol in an alcoholic liquid, such as wine, fermented fruit juice, or beer. There are two processes of fermentation that differ by speed of production, fast and slow. Fast fermentation takes only hours to days but requires the use of equipment to oxidize the ethanol. Slow fermentation is a natural process taking weeks or months. During this time a nontoxic slime composed of cellulose and acetic acid bacteria called mother of vinegar accumulates in the liquid. Also a part of the fermenting vinegar may be the non-parasitic nematodes called vinegar eels, which are free-living creatures that feed on the mother. While they have been shown to be harmless to humans, they are usually filtered out before bottling.

Vinegar can be made from many alcoholic liquids. Some examples include:
  • Malt Vinegar - Made by malting barley, causing the starch in the grain to turn to maltose. Then an ale is brewed from the maltose and allowed to turn into vinegar. In the United Kingdom, salt and malt vinegar is a traditional seasoning for chips and crisps.
  • Wine Vinegar - Made from red or white wine, it is the most commonly used vinegar in Mediterranean countries and Central Europe. Better quality wine vinegars are matured in wood for up to two years, and exhibit a complex, mellow flavor. Wine vinegar tends to have a lower acidity than that of white or cider vinegars.
  • Apple Cider Vinegar - Made from cider or apple must, it has a brownish-yellow color. It often is sold unfiltered and unpasteurized with the mother of vinegar still present. Due to its extra acidity, cider vinegar may be very harsh, even burning, to the throat. It is usually used diluted and sometimes sweetened with sugar or honey.
  • Balsamic Vinegar - An aromatic, aged type of vinegar traditionally crafted in Italy from the concentrated juice, or must, of white grapes. It is a very dark brown color, and has a rich, sweet, and complex flavor. True balsamic vinegar is aged for 12 to 25 years. The commercial balsamic sold in supermarkets today is typically made with concentrated grape juice mixed with a strong vinegar and laced with caramel and sugar. Balsamic vinegar has a high acidity level, but the tart flavor is usually hidden by the sweetness of the other ingredients.
  • Rice Vinegar - The most popular in East and Southeast Asia, it is available in white, red, and black varieties. White rice vinegar has a mild acidity and a somewhat "flat", uncomplex flavor. Red rice vinegar is colored with red yeast rice. Black rice vinegar, made with black glutinous rice, is most popular in China. Some varieties of rice vinegar are sweetened or otherwise seasoned with spices or other added flavorings.
  • Distilled Vinegar - Any type of vinegar may be distilled to produce a colorless solution of about 5% to 8% acetic acid in water. This is variously known as distilled spirit, virgin, or white vinegar, and is used for medicinal, laboratory and cleaning purposes. It can also be used in cooking, baking, meat preservation, and pickling. The most common starting vinegar, because of its low cost, is malt vinegar.
  • Spirit Vinegar - The term 'spirit vinegar' is sometimes reserved for the stronger variety (5% to 20% acetic acid) made from sugar cane or from chemically produced acetic acid.
The more common kitchen uses of vinegar include:
  • Salad Dressing - Many dressing recipes call for a vinegar and oil base.
  • Condiment for fish and chips — in the UK and Ireland salt and malt vinegar is sprinkled on chips.
  • Flavoring for potato chips — many manufacturers of packaged potato chips and crisps feature at least one variety flavored with vinegar and salt.
  • Vinegar Pie — a farm favorite made with common kitchen ingredients, it is flavored with a small amount of cider vinegar and may contain raisins, spices and sour cream.
  • Pickling — any vinegar can be used to pickle foods.
  • Apple cider vinegar - Usually placed on the table in small bowls or cups so that people can dip crab meat. Also mixed with water and used to steam crabs.
  • Substitute for fresh lemon juice — cider vinegar can usually be substituted for fresh lemon juice in recipes and obtain a pleasing effect.
  • Saucing roast lamb — pouring cider vinegar over the roasting lamb, especially when combined with honey or sliced onions, produces a sauce.
Vinegar has been used medically over the millennia and in many different cultures, however, few uses have been verified through controlled medical trials. Even uses shown to be effective have side effects and may cause serious health risks. Some medical uses include:
  • Soothing for sunburns - White vinegar applied as a spray to a tissue draped over a sunburn helps restore the lost acidity of the skin, and gives a cooling effect.
  • Possible cholesterol and triacylglycerol effects - Reduced risk of fatal ischemic heart disease was observed among participants in a trial who ate vinegar and oil salad dressings frequently.
  • Blood glucose control and diabetic management - Small amounts of vinegar added to food, or taken along with a meal, have been shown by a number of medical trials to reduce the glycemic index of carbohydrate food for people with and without diabetes.
  • Diet control - Several trials indicate that taking vinegar with food increases the feeling of fullness and thus reduces the amount consumed.
  • Antimicrobial use - Vinegar has been used to fight infections since Hippocrates prescribed it for curing persistent coughs. As a result, vinegar is popularly believed to be effective against infections.
White vinegar is often used as a household cleaning agent, usually diluted with water. Being acidic, it dissolves mineral deposits from glass, coffee makers, and other smooth surfaces. Vinegar sprinkled onto crumpled newspaper is a traditional, and still-popular, method of cleaning windows and mirrors. It is also used for polishing brass or stainless steel. Vinegar is an excellent solvent for cleaning epoxy resin and hardener, even after the epoxy has begun to harden. It is also an eco-friendly urine cleaner for pets and a weed killer. Vinegar has been marketed as an environmentally-friendly solution for many household cleaning problems. You can learn more about vinegar at The Vinegar Institute and see other unique uses for vinegar at 131 Uses for Vinegar.

Matthew 27:48 - "Immediately one of them ran and got a sponge. He filled it with wine vinegar, put it on a stick, and offered it to Jesus to drink."

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Insulin - The Sugar Police

As I mentioned in a previous blog, Glucose - Ah, Sugar Sugar!, man does not live by cheesecake alone. Our cells can only get energy from glucose. Glucose is absorbed directly from the intestines or is created in the body from the foods we eat. It is primarily generated by a breakdown of simple sugars or carbohydrates but can be formed by other pathways. But glucose cannot be absorbed directly into our cells without the help of Insulin.

Insulin is a proteinaceous hormone secreted by a special group of cells in the pancreas called the islets of Langerhans. The pancreas also releases other hormones as well as digestive enzymes, which are released into the intestinal tract and help with the breakdown and absorption of proteins and fats. Insulin controls the level of glucose in our blood and permits cells to absorb and utilize glucose. You can eat lots of food but be in a state of starvation without the action of insulin. As carbohydrates are absorbed into the bloodstream after a meal, insulin is secreted in response to the increased blood sugar. The insulin then attaches to cell receptors where it enhances the absorption of the glucose into the cells. The cells use the glucose for energy or convert it to glycogen for storage. The level of glucose in the blood is thus reduced and maintained at an appropriate level to support bodily functions.

You can eat lots of food but be starving without insulin

The beta cells in the islets of Langerhans release insulin in two phases. The first phase releases insulin rapidly in response to increased blood glucose levels. The second phase is a sustained, slow release of insulin triggered independently of blood sugar levels. If too much insulin is produced and blood glucose levels drop too low a release of hyperglycemic hormones (mostly notably glucagon from the islet of Langerhans' alpha cells) stimulates the release of glucose into the blood, primarily from glycogen stored in the liver. If we do not produce enough insulin, the sugar stays in our bloodstream and is unable to nourish our cells.

Insulin - Created by Isaac Yonemoto

Insulin is composed of two peptide chains referred to as the A and B chains. These two chains are linked together by two disulfide bonds. In humans, the A chain consists of 21 amino acids and the B chain of 30 amino acids. Within vertebrates, the amino acid sequence of insulin is extremely well-preserved. Bovine (beef) insulin differs from human in only three amino acid residues, and porcine (pork) insulin differs in only one. Even insulin from some species of fish is similar enough to human to be clinically effective.

The actions of insulin on our cells include (partial list):
  • Increased glycogen synthesis – increased storage of glucose in the liver and muscles
  • Increased lipid synthesis – fat cells take in blood lipids, converting them to triglycerides
  • Decreased proteolysis – decreased protein breakdown
  • Decreased lipolysis – reduced conversion of fat cell lipids into blood fatty acids
  • Decreased gluconeogenesis – decreased production of glucose from non-sugar substrates
  • Increased amino acid uptake – increased absorption of circulating amino acids
  • Increased potassium uptake – increased absorption of serum potassium
As you can see insulin helps regulate many bodily functions beyond just blood sugar. But insulin is probably best known for the disease where we do not have enough - Diabetes. I am sure all of you have heard of Diabetes. It is a disease where we do not produce enough insulin or our bodies resist the insulin we do produce. This lack of insulin activity is why diabetics have high blood sugar. We will take a closer look at how insulin is used in the treatment of Diabetes in a future blog.

Proverbs 25:27 - "It's not good to eat too much honey, and it's not good to seek honors for yourself. (NLT)"

Monday, October 31, 2011

Halloween - The Chemistry of Darkness

When I was young, many years ago, we would dress up as cowboys and Indians, soldiers and cartoon characters. We would go around to the neighbors we knew and they would tell us how cute we were and give us a simple bit of candy or gum. It seemed so innocent at the time. Now the houses are decorated as graveyards and ghosts and vampires roam the streets. We have violent movies and vampires made to look like everyday people. The more horrible the act, the more we want to see it on screen. The more devious and grotesque the better.

Halloween is not just an innocent bit of fun any longer. It is an opportunity for the enemy to get a hook into our lives and make us think it is OK to dwell on the occult. The more we sink into his darkness, the easier it is to think of it as normal and acceptable and the harder it is to see the need for the light of God in our lives. Ephesians 5:11 says "Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. (NIV)" We need to keep our eyes on the light of His truth and not on the darkness of deception and evil.

2nd Corinthians 4:6 says "For God, who said, 'Let light shine out of darkness,' made His light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. (NIV)" Isn't interesting that we cannot say Merry Christmas or Happy Easter because we might offend someone but it is OK to say Happy Halloween because no one should be offended? Bring His light into your life today and let it shine brightly to expose the darkness of reveling in the spirit of perdition that is all around us on this day. It may seem like harmless fun, but underneath it all lays the potential destruction of our spirit. Do not let it capture your soul.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Glucose - Ah, Sugar Sugar!

I love a good meal. Cooking is one of my favorite pastimes. I especially like to make cookies and cakes. I prepare a mean cheesecake! It is always a holiday favorite. But man does not live by cheesecake alone. Our cells primarily use sugar, or more specifically glucose, as food. We take in proteins, fats and carbohydrates as food or calorie sources and our body uses them as building blocks or as a means to supply or store glucose.

Glucose is a simple sugar with a chemical formula of C6H12O6. The name "glucose" comes from the Greek word glukus, meaning "sweet" and the suffix "-ose" denoting a sugar. It exists in a number of isomers but the one we utilize is D-glucose or dextrose. You might remember this as the main building block of cellulose from the Cotton-Picking Carbohydrate blog. Our bodies can not metabolize cellulose to produce glucose as ruminants (animals that chew the cud) can due to their multiple stomachs. We get our glucose from other sugars, most notably sucrose or table sugar, or from more complex carbohydrates such as starches.

In our bodies glucose is metabolized by cells either through aerobic or anaerobic respiration. Aerobic (with oxygen) is the most utilized and yields the most energy as Adenosine triphosphate or ATP. Anaerobic is only used when insufficient oxygen is available to support aerobic respiration. The complete cellular respiration reaction includes glycolysis, pyruvate decarboxylation and the Krebs Cycle. Ultimately, glucose is metabolized to just water and carbon dioxide.

Glucose metabolism and various forms of glucose during the process
  • Glucose-containing compounds are digested and taken up in the intestines, including starch, glycogen, di- and mono-saccharides.
  • Glucose is stored mainly in the liver and muscles as glycogen.
  • Glucose is distributed and utilized in tissues as free glucose.

Now just because glucose is our primary energy source, it is not a license to eat another donut. Our body is using glucose constantly, more or less at any moment depending on our metabolic rate. Thus when we are asleep, our metabolic rate and our use of glucose is down. When we are running a marathon, it goes up considerably. It would be impossible to supply a steady stream of glucose to our cells under all situations by just eating sugar. Our bodies need to store and release the glucose in just the right amounts and at just the right time. Thus some of the calories we eat are stored as glycogen, a protein with many branched chains of glucose molecules attached, waiting to be used as glucose. Glycogen is synthesized in the liver and muscle tissue as a storage depot for quick release glucose.

Our bodies also store fat as adipose tissue to be used as a slow release energy source. Fat in the form of triglycerides, an ester derived from glycerol and three fatty acids, can be used to generate glucose. Fat also is metabolized by the Krebs Cycle to generate ATP without glucose.

In order for our bodies to use glucose, it must get into the cell. This is the job of insulin, a protein hormone created in the pancreas and released as needed to maintain proper blood sugar concentration. Our cells can not absorb the glucose from the blood unless insulin is present. When a cell has insulin attached to its surface, the cell activates other receptors designed to absorb glucose from the bloodstream into the inside of the cell.

As you can see our bodies would not be able to go without glucose. It is the starting point for energy creation for almost all of our bodies functions. Without it, life would not be so "sweet!"

Psalm 119:103 - "How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth! (NIV)"

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Quick Facts about the Period III Elements

There are 92 naturally occurring elements in the Periodic Table. I started this blog in June going through those elements and provided a small sampling of interesting facts about them. I also recently reviewed the first two Periods, elements Hydrogen to Neon. I thought I would hit a few more elements, those in Period III, here quickly.

Sodium - Room temperature sodium metal is soft enough that you can cut it with a butter knife.

Magnesium - A thin film of magnesium fluoride (MgF2) is applied to optical lenses to help reduce glare and reflections.

Aluminum - Rubies and Sapphires are gemstones of Aluminum Oxide (Al2O3). The different colors are caused by trace amounts of other elements such as iron, titanium, or chromium.

Natural Ruby crystals - GNUF

Silicon - To make wafers for computer chips, silicon is chemically processed until it is 99.9999% pure.

Phosphorus - As phosphate (-PO4), phosphorus is a component of DNA, RNA, and ATP (a primary biological energy source), and also the phospholipids that form cell membranes.

Sulfur - When combined with water, sulfur dioxide (SO2 - generated by burning sulfur) forms sulfurous acid (H2SO3), a weak acid that is a major component of acid rain.

Chlorine - Chlorine was used as a chemical weapon in World War I, first in 1915 by the German army and then by the Western Allies. It was not very effective because chlorine has a strong smell and is water soluble; soldiers could protect themselves from the worst of its effects by breathing through damp cloths.

Argon - Argon is used in SCUBA diving to inflate a drysuit for diving in cold water. Argon provides better insulation (1.5 times) from the cold than plain air.

Once again each successive element is different from the ones before, both in form and function. From so many small parts has the universe been made.

Hebrews 11:3 - "By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God's command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible. (NIV)"

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Cellulose - That Cotton-Picking Carbohydrate!

When my kids were young we went to carnivals and fairs and would often get that sticky pink web of sugar called cotton candy. It consisted of air that dissolved on your tongue with the sweet taste of spun excitement. Well it got its name because the soft fluffy appearance of the sugary stuff looks very much like an open cotton boll, the seed capsule of the cotton plant. Cotton and cotton candy have more in common than just their good looks, however. Cotton is primarily cellulose, a carbohydrate made up of thousands of glucose molecules and cotton candy is made from sucrose, a disaccharide made from glucose and fructose.

Cotton is the soft, fluffy fiber found inside that cottonseed capsule. The cotton plant is native to tropical and subtropical regions of the world, including the Americas, Africa, and India. Cotton has been spun, woven, and dyed since prehistoric times. It clothed the people of ancient India, Egypt, and China. Cotton was domesticated over 7000 years ago but was not widely used until the invention of the Cotton Gin, a device for removing the seeds from the fibers, in 1793 by Eli Whitney. The cottonseed, which remains after the cotton is ginned, is used to produce cottonseed oil that can be consumed like any other vegetable oil. Cotton fiber is now most often spun into yarn or thread and used to make a soft, breathable cloth. It is the most widely used natural fiber in clothing today.

There are two species of cotton that account for 98% of all cotton production. They are Upland cotton (90%), native to North and Central America, and Egyptian or Pima Cotton (8%), native to South America. The remaining cotton comes from Africa and the Middle East. Although the name Egyptian cotton is sometimes associated with a higher quality product, most products bearing that name are not made with the finest cottons from Egypt. The five leading exporters of cotton are the United States, India, Brazil, Australia, and Uzbekistan. The largest importers are Korea, Taiwan, Russia, Hong Kong and Japan.

Cotton is 91% cellulose (plus 8% water), compared to 40-50% for wood. Cellulose is a polysaccharide consisting of linked glucose units with the formula (C6H10O5)n. Cellulose from wood has typical chain lengths between 300 and 1700 glucose units; cotton and other plant fibers have chain lengths ranging from 800 to 10,000 units. Cellulose is the principal structural component of the cell wall of green plants with 33% of all plant material being made of cellulose. It is the most common organic compound on Earth.

By the mid-1800s, cotton had become the chief plantation crop in the southern United States. Cultivating and harvesting cotton was the leading occupation of slaves. Cotton remained key even after the end of the Civil War as cotton plantations required vast labor forces to hand-pick cotton. It was not until the 1950s that reliable harvesting machinery was introduced into the South.

In North America, the most economically destructive pest affecting cotton is the boll weevil. The cotton industry relies heavily on chemicals, such as herbicides, fertilizers and insecticides. Genetically modified cotton, produced by Monsanto, was developed to reduce the heavy reliance on pesticides and to resist Roundup®, used to control weeds, also sold by Monsanto. Monsanto thus controls the cotton market by selling the seeds and the chemicals used to improve the crop yields.

A very small number of farmers are now moving to organic production, and organic cotton products are available for purchase in limited numbers. Organic cotton is considered cotton from plants that are not genetically modified and are grown without the use of any synthetic fertilizers or pesticides.

Cotton has a number of "competitors" that have been developed over the last hundred years. The first was rayon, developed in France in the 1890s. Rayon is derived from natural cellulose, but requires extensive processing. A succession of synthetic fibers were then introduced by the chemical industry. Acetate fiber was developed in 1924. DuPont introduced nylon in 1936, followed by acrylic in 1944. It was not until the introduction of polyester in the early 1950s, however, that cotton came under threat of market share. While many fabrics are still made completely of cotton, some materials blend cotton with these other fibers to produce a wide variety of fabric choices. Check them out at your favorite department store soon but be sure to wait for the next sale!

"Besides, who would patch old clothing with new cloth? For the new patch would shrink and rip away from the old cloth, leaving an even bigger tear than before. Mark 2:21 (NLT)"

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Wine - More Than Just Two Buck Chuck

A good meal, coupled with a great wine, is one of life's simple pleasures. We have been enjoying wine for thousands of years but the sciences of Vinification and Oenology have blossomed only in the last several hundred years or so.

Although it can be simply enjoyed, the process of making wine from grapes is a demanding process. It is a delicate dance of storage, temperature, yeast and oxygen (or lack thereof) with time. The flavor and the alcoholic strength depends greatly on the control the winemaker exercises over these variables. The primary reaction is the conversion of the natural sugars in the grapes by yeast into acetaldehyde, with the release of CO2 (think sparkling wines), and then the anaerobic breakdown of the acetaldehyde into ethanol (alcohol). Acetic acid is also produced and can cause the wine to sour (turn to vinegar) if it develops in excess.
Fir0002/Flagstaffotos  -  GFDL

Other volatile chemicals are also formed in the fermentation process. These chemicals include aldehydes, esters, ketones, terpenes and phenols and give each wine its own subtle and distinctive flavors and aromas. A well made wine is a complex chemical blend of these many ingredients which produces one of the most sophisticated tastes in the whole world. A well trained Sommelier can identify the type of wine, the grapes used, the region where they were grown and possibly even the vintage year just from "experiencing" the wine with all of his senses.

Jesus chose as His first miracle, at the request of His mother, to change water into wine. The master of the feast, the Sommelier if you will, tasted the wine and reported to the bridegroom, "you have kept the best until now! John 2:10 (NIV)."

There is more to wine than just the alcohol. Wine can be subtle but bold, a complex mixture of many distinctive flavors. When enjoyed with a well matched meal, it lightens and lifts the spirit. But when consumed just for its alcoholic content, it will eventually bring the body to destruction. Enjoy it responsibly.

Ephesians 5:18 - "Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit. (NIV)"

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Is God Left-Handed?

I am sure most of you have seen Michelangelo's "The Creation of Adam" Fresco in the Sistine Chapel where God reaches out with His right hand to touch the finger of Adam. Well I have it on good authority that God is ambidextrous if not left-handed. Did you know that all of the proteins in your body are made from only left-handed amino acid isomers?

In chemistry, certain molecules with the same chemical formula can be formed in two or more configurations or isomers. In my last blog, I mentioned the "cis-" and "trans-" isomers of fatty acids. These are "Diastereomers", isomers that are not mirror images of each other. Enantiomers, sometimes called Optical Isomers, are mirror image isomers and cannot be superimposed on one another, much like your right and left hands. Your hands are the same but opposite much like the two optical isomers of an amino acid. This property of "handedness" is called Chirality.

Did you know that all of the proteins in your body are made from only left-handed amino acids?

Now in laboratory chemical reactions, the formation of a molecule that is chiral will result in a 50/50 mixture of the two isomers. But in the body, only one form, the L-amino acid is synthesized or used. This is because the function of a protein is determined by its shape and its shape is determined by the amino acid isomers in its sequence. If the protein consisted of mixed L- and D- amino acids, the protein could not fold properly and would not function as intended in our systems.

Now before you go and say that God is left-handed, lets look at the other major structures in our system, DNA and RNA. Proteins are derived from these two nucleic acids and the nucleotides that make up DNA and RNA are right-handed! Not only that but the DNA double helix spiral is also right-handed and the secondary structure of proteins is a right-handed coil called an alpha helix. So in the body, all of the amino acids are "left-handed' or L-amino acids and all of the nucleotides are "right-handed" D-nucleotides. God is indeed ambidextrous!

Mark 16:19 - "After the Lord Jesus had spoken to them, He was taken up into heaven and He sat at the right hand of God. (NIV)"

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Fats - Trans-lating the Lingo

There is a group of compounds that are a bane to all of us right now. They are fats. Our bodies take them in as a source of calories and for use in other metabolic processes and use them for long-term storage of energy as adipose tissue. But if we store too much, we can become overweight or obese and it is a health risk. In the USA, we are fat! 33% of all Americans are overweight and another 30% are downright fat! We see the words saturated, mono and polyunsaturated, and trans-fats thrown around on products everywhere telling us what to eat and what to avoid. What does it all mean?

Lets look at a typical fat. Fats consist of a number of different chemicals, most notably triglycerides and fatty acids and are part of a larger category called lipids. Fats can be solid (such as butter, shortening, lard or margarine), or liquid (such as any number of vegetable oils - olive, canola, peanut or corn). They can be saturated or unsaturated. Unsaturated fats can be mono (one) or poly (many) unsaturated and also be cis- or trans-isomers. Then we hear about omega-3 oils too!

Types of Fats (Fatty Acids)

Saturated (Myristic Acid)
Unsaturated (Oleic Acid, Mono- & Cis-)
TriglycerideUnsaturated (Linoleic Acid, Poly- & Cis-)
Oleic Acid - MonoUnsaturated
Cis- & Trans-

Fat Types
  1. Saturated
  2. Unsaturated
    • Double Bonds
      • Mono-(single)
      • Poly-(many)
    • Chain Location
      • Cis-(same side)
      • Trans-(opposite)

Saturated fats are usually solid and have no carbon-carbon double bonds. Unsaturated fats are generally liquid and can be mono- or polyunsaturated - referring to the number of carbon-carbon double bonds that exist in the fatty acid chain. These double bonds can also be cis-isomer (the carbon chains are on the same side of the bond) or trans-isomer (the chains are on opposite sides). The cis-isomer is the naturally occurring unsaturated fat. Trans-isomers are created by chemical processing of foods and have a higher melting point than that of their cis-isomer cousins. They are also more difficult to metabolize.

Fats are essential in our diet. However, we need to consume fats in moderation and need to especially limit our intake of certain fats because they present a greater health risk. In general saturated fats are considered less healthy than unsaturated fats. Since saturated fats are solid at room temperature, they are less soluble in body fluids and can create globules in our system, which, with time, can clog our arteries resulting in strokes, heart attacks and embolisms. In general, the more unsaturated a fat is, the better it is for us. Thus poly-unsaturated fats were all of the rage years ago. Many products would boast of being higher in poly-unsaturated fats. These fats were more likely to be trans-fats. Now the emphasis is on limiting fats overall and trans-fats specifically. Trans-fats are by definition unsaturated and can be mono- or polyunsaturated. They are more likely to be solids and are not easily metabolized so they too increase the risk of heart attacks.

Another fat in the news is omega-3 Fish Oil. You may be taking a supplement from fish oil or other source with Omega-3 somewhere in the name. This refers to unsaturated fatty acids with the carbon double bond at the number 3 position (third carbon from the beginning of the chain). The fatty acids in these oils are essential fatty acids, primarily linolenic acid, which is used in numerous metabolic processes. Other essential fatty acids include linoleic acid, which is an omega-6 fatty acid. These can both be obtained in sufficient quantities in a regular diet from vegetables and many common cooking oils such as canola, flax or safflower. Taking extra can be beneficial if your diet is low in these essential fats but only a small amount of these are needed each day, the recommended intake being under 2 grams.

The ingestion of too many calories as fats, carbohydrates (sugars) or protein without a corresponding amount of exercise will result in weight gain. Proper diet and physical activity are necessary to maintain good health. Keeping our weight under control is just one factor in an overall healthy lifestyle.

Job 15:27 - "Though he has covered his face with his fatness, And made his waist heavy with fat, (NKJV)"