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)"