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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Sunday, February 26, 2012

Making Gold from Lead - The Chemistry of Alchemy

Gold - Todd HelmenstineBack before the "good old days," the middle ages and before, chemists were known as alchemists. They combined chemistry and philosophy. Theirs was the search for the Philosopher's Stone and the making of Gold from Lead. They did not have the advantages we have today with particle accelerators and such, in fact, they did not even really know quite what an element was. (Alchemy Symbol for Gold, Todd Helmenstine)

Lead - Todd HelmenstineAlchemy was an influential philosophical tradition with early practitioners’ claiming profound powers. In the West, alchemy is recognized as a precursor to the development of modern chemistry and medicine. Alchemists incorporated a spectrum of knowledge of chemical properties and practices from ancient times, establishing a framework of theory, terminology, experimental processes and laboratory techniques that is still recognized today. An alchemists' shop was often the place where everyone would go for medicine. Even today in many parts of Europe you still go to "the chemist," for medicine, rather than to a "drug store." Alchemy differs from modern science by the inclusion of Hermetic principles and its practices related to mythology, religion, and spirituality. (Alchemy Symbol for Lead, Todd Helmenstine)

The 8th-century alchemist Jabir ibn Hayyan analyzed each element relative to the four basic qualities; Fire, Earth, Water and Air. Fire was both hot and dry, earth cold and dry, water cold and moist, and air hot and moist. He theorized that every metal was a combination of these four principles and the transmutation of one metal into another could be affected by the rearrangement of its basic qualities, thus the possibility of turning Lead into Gold. By the 17th century alchemy was practiced by the scientists of the day. This included Isaac Newton - the man most often cited as the father of modern physics, who devoted considerably more of his writings to the study of alchemy than to the laws of physics. The career of Robert Boyle also illustrates the more respected view of alchemy. Boyle has long been considered the first major modern chemist, one whose quantitative and careful laboratory practice made him the supposed antithesis of alchemy. But some 17th century documents show that Boyle was an avid alchemy practitioner.

Alchemists searched for the Philosopher's Stone
To Turn Lead into Gold
And to Find the Elixir of Life

The philosopher's stone is a legendary alchemical substance said to be capable of turning Lead into Gold. The Elixir of Life, a legendary potion that grants the drinker eternal life and/or eternal youth, was also sometimes equated with the philosopher's stone. For centuries, it was the most sought-after goal in Western alchemy. The philosopher's stone was the central symbol of the mystical terminology of alchemy, symbolizing perfection at its finest. However, making new Gold was of great concern to the kings since it would have reduced their wealth. Thus transmutation was considered a crime - and why alchemists often had to do their research in secret.

Lead (atomic number 82) and Gold (79) are defined as elements by the number of protons they possess. Gold is one of the seven metals of alchemy (gold, silver, mercury, copper, lead, iron and tin). For the alchemist, it represented the perfection of all matter on any level, including that of the mind, spirit, and soul. Lead is the first and oldest of the seven alchemic metals. Changing one element into another requires changing the number of protons in the nucleus. The number of protons cannot be altered by any chemical means. However, protons may be added or removed using physical means (high energy particle collisions) thereby changing one element into another. Because lead is stable, forcing it to release three protons requires a vast input of energy, such that the cost of transmuting it greatly surpasses the value of the resulting gold.

The synthesis of noble metals enjoyed brief popularity in the 20th century when physicists were able to convert Platinum atoms into Gold atoms via a nuclear reaction. However, the new Gold atoms, being unstable isotopes, lasted for under five seconds before they broke apart. Today particle accelerators routinely transmute elements. A charged particle is accelerated using electrical and/or magnetic fields. The accelerated particle impacts a target material, potentially freeing protons or neutrons and making another element or isotope. Nuclear reactors also can be used to create new elements, adding protons and neutrons to an existing element high in the Periodic Table.

Although the alchemist was never successful in creating new Gold, his efforts helped us better understand God's creation. As is mentioned at the top of my blog in Deuteronomy 29:29, God has revealed some of His creation to us and we are to use that knowledge to learn and grow in our understanding if Him, our Great and Infinite God.

Ecclesiastes 7:25a & 27b (NLT) - "I searched everywhere, determined to find wisdom and to understand the reason for things."... 27b "looking at the matter from every possible angle."

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Mixing It Up - The Chemistry of Emulsions

Ever hear the saying "Oil and Water don't mix."? If you have ever cooked a turkey and had to pour off the fat to make a gravy or just tried to make a vinegar and oil dressing or wash greasy dishes with water alone, you have seen how this is true. Oils are lighter than water and are non-polar hydrocarbons so they generally float on top of the water or broth. But that does not mean you cannot get them to mix, you just need to know how. You have to use chemistry in the kitchen.

Oil and water don’t mix because oil is made up of non-polar molecules while water molecules are polar. You have to make an emulsion to combine them. An emulsion is a mixture of two liquids which normally cannot combine smoothly - oil and water being the classic example. One liquid (the dispersed phase) is dispersed in the other (the continuous phase). Oil and water can form Oil-in-Water and Water-in-Oil emulsions. Emulsifying is done by slowly adding one ingredient to another while at the same time mixing rapidly.
A. Two immiscible liquids, not yet emulsified (oil & water)

B. An emulsion of Phase II dispersed in Phase I (oil-in-water)

C. The unstable emulsion progressively separates

D. The emulsifier (purple outline around particles) positions itself on the interfaces between Phase II and Phase I, stabilizing the emulsion
This disperses and suspends minute droplets of the slowly added liquid throughout the other. Sometimes another ingredient is also added to aid in the mixing, an emulsifier.

An Emulsion is a mixture of two or more liquids
that normally don't mix.

An emulsifier is typically a chemical that has both polar and non-polar properties. Soap cleans by acting as an emulsifier. The fatty acids in soaps act as emulsifiers because they have a polar acid ligand at one end and a non-polar hydrocarbon chain on the other. The acid is hydrated by the water and pulls the non-polar oils with its hydrocarbon chain into solution. This results in a oil in water emulsion and allows the oil to be washed away with the water. Detergents are primarily surfactants, acting to break down the surface tension of water. They essentially work in a similar fashion to soaps by allowing the oils to be held in suspension and washed away with the rinse water.

Emulsions and emulsifiers are frequently used in foods. Mayonnaise, an uncooked combination of oil, egg yolks (as emulsifier) and vinegar or lemon juice, is one of the best-known food emulsions.

Some common Oil-in-Water emulsions found in food:
  • Brewed Coffee – Coffee oil in Water
  • Mayonnaise and Hollandaise sauce – Stabilized with Egg Yolks
  • Vinaigrette – Vegetable oil in vinegar (usually unstable - shaken before use to create an emulsion)
  • Homogenized Milk – Milk fat in water (stabilized with milk proteins)

These chemicals can act as emulsifiers in foods, having both a polar component and a non-polar chain.
  • Lecithin – Phospholipids found in Egg Yolks and Soy Beans
  • Mustard
  • Proteins – Egg whites and milk proteins
  • Fatty Acids – Butter
  • Triglycerides – Cooking oils and fats

Emulsions are also frequently used in pharmaceuticals, personal care products and cosmetics. These are usually oil and water emulsions, varying between oil-in-water and water-in-oil depending on the desired result. Oil-in-water emulsions are usually liquids or creams and do not have an oily texture. Water-in-oil emulsions tend to be oily and are frequently thicker, as with an ointment. Many are topical dosage forms, to be used on the skin's surface, or used transdermally, ophthalmically, rectally or vaginally. Popular medicated emulsions include calamine lotion, cod liver oil, hydrocortisone cream and Vitamin A & D ointment.

Phopholipid emulsifier layers in aqueous solution
An Oil-in-Water emulsion
The hypnotic and anesthetic Propofol®, recently popularized as the agent that caused Michael Jackson's death in 2009, is an intravenous emulsion. The manufacturers emulsify the lipid-soluble Propofol® in a mixture of water, soy oil, and egg lecithin. Since our blood is primarily water, making an oil-in-water emulsion of the drug allows it to mix easily with our blood as it is injected.

Emulsions are even used to feed us intravenously. The intravenous preparation Intralipid® is a 20% intravenous fat emulsion administered as a source of calories and essential fatty acids for individuals on long term intravenous feedings. It is a sterile emulsion made from 20% soybean oil, 1.2% egg yolk phospholipids (lecithin) and water.

So oil and water can mix after all, when you have an emulsifying agent to suspend one inside the other. In our lives too, without something to cover our sins, we do not mingle well with the grace and mercy of God. But He has provided a way to do just that, in His Son. We only need to ask.

Matthew 27:34 (NIKJV) - "They gave Him sour wine mingled with gall to drink. But when He had tasted it, He would not drink."

Friday, February 17, 2012

Mirror, Mirror on the Wall, Who's the Rarest of Them All?

I was watching Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) with my grand-kids the other day and, being a chemist, I wondered not who was the "fairest in the land," but what element was the rarest in the land. I know, I know... a pretty boring thought but when you have seen these Disney movies over and over your mind wanders.

Anyway I did some research and it turns out that it depends. It depends on how you define the elements and what you mean by the rarest. First I need to define what I consider as an element for this discussion. In my head I wanted to know the rarest of the naturally occurring elements but even that is a question all its own. It is generally considered that any element with an atomic number of 92 (Uranium) or less is a naturally occurring element. This means it is not synthetically created but can be found on Earth in a natural state, either as the free element or in a compound. But there are a couple of elements with atomic numbers less than 92 that are not found naturally - specifically Promethium(61) and Technetium(43). But for my analysis, I will consider all elements from Uranium on down.

So now that we have decided what constitutes a naturally occurring element, what makes it rare? Well that is a tougher proposition. I want to study the quantity on Earth at any given time since the elements we are evaluating are all radioactive. But this does not acknowledge their place in the Universe where several are relatively abundant. Just to keep things simple and consistent, I am only considering the amount on Earth.

Which Element Would You Choose?
Astatine, Polonium, Francium,
Promethium or Technetium

Lets look at what we are left with. These assumptions narrow down our search to the following five elements - Astatine(At - 85), Polonium(Po - 84), Francium(Fr - 87), Promethium(Pm - 61) and Technetium(Tc - 43). We will review some facts about these elements individually.

A radioactive element with the symbol "At" and an atomic number of 85. It occurs naturally on the Earth only as the result of decay of heavier elements. It is also made by bombarding bismuth(83) with energetic alpha particles. Thirty two isotopes are known with the six having mass numbers from 214 to 219 being the only ones found naturally. The isotope with the longest half-life is 210Astatine, lasting just 8.1 hours.

Astatine is the heaviest known halogen, with melting and boiling points higher than those of the lighter halogens. 211Astatine is the only isotope used commercially, being employed as an alpha emitter in medicine. Because of its short half-life and small particle run, Astatine is considered preferable to 131Iodine in the diagnosis of disease. Similar to Iodine, Astatine is collected by the thyroid gland but, unlike Iodine, it does not destroy the neighboring parathyroid gland. Less than 28 grams (1 oz) exists naturally on Earth at any given time.

A highly radioactive element and a metalloid with the symbol "Po" and an atomic number of 84. It was first discovered by Marie and Pierre Curie in 1898 and occurs in Uranium ores as a by product of nuclear decay. Polonium is in the Oxygen family, along with Sulfur, Selenium and Tellurium.

Polonium has 33 known isotopes, all radioactive. The most stable is 208Polonium with a half-life of 2.9 years. 210Polonium is highly toxic, with a toxicity of about 250,000 times that of Hydrogen Cyanide (HCN). The most common production of Polonium is by synthetically making it. 210Polonium is a decay product of 210Bismuth. The main use of Polonium is to eliminate static charges in manufacturing. An estimated 100 grams of Polonium is produced yearly (by natural means).

The densest of the Alkali Metals and also radioactive. It has an atomic number of 87 and a symbol "Fr." Francium was discovered by Marguerite Perey in France in 1939. Found in Uranium ore, only about 1 atom of Francium is found for every 1 × 1018 Uranium atoms. It is calculated that there is at most 30 gm of Francium on Earth at any time. Francium’s most stable isotope, 223Francium, only has a half-life of 22 minutes. Because Francium is mainly created synthetically for research, it has no known use outside the laboratory.

Has atomic number 61 and symbol "Pm." It is most useful in nuclear reactors as an alpha emitter. It is one of the rarest of the Rare Earth Metals, and has only been detected naturally in the constellation Andromeda. It has never been found naturally on Earth, being generated by bombarding enriched Uranium. Its most stable isotope is 145Promethium with a half-life of 17.7 years. The only isotope used in industry is 147Promethium, which is used in radioionizators and in atomic batteries for guided missiles.

Atomic number 43 and symbol "Tc," has five isotopes, the two most common being 98Technetium and 99Technetium. 98Technetium is one of the most stable radioactive elements, with a half-life of 4.2 million years. 99Technetium is synthetically produced by the beta decay of 99Molybdenum. Only very minute amounts are found on Earth. Technetium's short-lived isotope 99mTechnetium ("m" indicates a metastable nuclear isomer), with a half-life of 6 hours, is used in nuclear medicine for a wide variety of diagnostic tests.

How do we pick the one that is the "Rarest in the Land?" All are found in only the smallest of quantities. All are radioactive with most decaying quickly into other more stable elements. I think my vote would go to Francium since at most only 30 grams exists at any moment and its longest living isotope has a half life of only 22 minutes. Astatine is a close second. Technetium is the most unusual with one isotope that has a half life of 4.2 million years and it is chemically surrounded by stable elements on the Periodic Table. These five elements are definitely some of the rarest and most unusual in God's Chemistry Set.

Now which element would you choose?

Proverbs 24:3-4 (NIV) - "By wisdom a house is built, and through understanding it is established; 4 through knowledge its rooms are filled with rare and beautiful treasures."

Monday, February 13, 2012

Happy Valentine's Day - Chocolate Sweets for Your Sweetheart

"Drop the Chocolate and step away.  S-T-E-P  A-W-A-Y!"

Most all of us love the taste of chocolate, but for some it means someone may get hurt! Chocolate is a traditional Valentine's Day gift, in a heart shaped box, or in a heart shaped candy, wrapped in red foil. As Charles M. Schulz said: "All you need is love. But a little chocolate now and then doesn't hurt."

Chocolate comes from the seed of the tropical Theobroma cacao tree. Cacao has been cultivated for at least three thousand years in Mexico, Central and South America. The Aztecs made it into a beverage known as xocolātl, a word meaning "bitter water". The seeds of the cacao tree have an intense bitter taste, and must be fermented to develop the full flavor of chocolate.

Much like coffee beans, the cocao beans are then dried, roasted, and ground to form cocoa mass, a pure chocolate called chocolate liquor. The liquor contains two principle ingredients: cocoa solids and cocoa butter. Cocoa solids contain theobromine, a methylxanthine alkaloid chemically similar to caffeine with like physiological effects.

"Life is like a box of chocolates.
You never know what you're gonna get."
Forrest Gump (1994)

There are numerous types of chocolate made by mixing four ingredients, cocoa solids, cocoa butter, sugar, and milk solids in varying proportions. Additional agents such as lecithin (an emulsifier), vanilla and vegetable oils increase the possible formulations. Here are some of the most common forms used:

André Karwath- Wikipedia Commons    
Unsweetened chocolate: Also known as “bitter” or “baking” chocolate. It is unadulterated chocolate: the pure, ground, roasted cocoa beans rendering a strong, deep chocolate flavor.

Bittersweet chocolate: A dark chocolate that contains at least 35% cocoa solids. Most bittersweet bars contain at least 50% chocolate liquor, with some bars pushing 70-80% chocolate liquor. This chocolate has a deeper, more bitter flavor than sweet dark or semi-sweet chocolate.

Semi-sweet chocolate: A dark chocolate containing at least 35% cocoa solids but is sweeter than bittersweet due to additional sugar.

Sweet dark chocolate: A “dark chocolate” as it does not contain milk solids, but with a high percentage of sugar so it is much sweeter than other types of dark chocolate. Many brands of sweet dark chocolate have only 20-40% cocoa solids.

Milk chocolate: In addition to containing cocoa butter and chocolate liquor, milk chocolate contains either condensed milk or dry milk solids. Milk chocolate must contain at least 10% chocolate liquor, 3% butterfat, and 12% milk solids. Milk chocolates are typically much sweeter than dark chocolate, and have a lighter color.

White chocolate: White chocolate does not contain chocolate liquor or any cocoa products other than cocoa butter. It must contain a minimum 20% cocoa butter, 14% milk solids, and a maximum of 55% sugar.

Chocolate has become one of the most popular foods in the world. It is also used to produce chocolate milk and hot chocolate. The Europeans were the first to sweetened and fattened it by adding refined sugar and milk, two ingredients unknown in the Americas at that time. In the 19th century, Briton John Cadbury developed an emulsification process to make solid chocolate, thus creating the modern chocolate bar.

Chocolate off the store shelf can have whitish spots on the dark chocolate. This is called chocolate bloom and is not an indication of chocolate gone bad. Instead, this is just an indication that the sugar and/or fat has separated due to poor storage. Chocolate must be tempered at specific temperatures to create the right crystalline structure and then properly stored to maintain its composition. Heating or cooling the chocolate outside of its temperature profile can result in this type of separation. Chocolate can also absorb flavors from other foods so should be stored in tightly sealed containers.

A big plus for all of us chocolate lovers is that dark chocolate and cocoa butter have been linked with multiple positive effects. Scientific evidence suggests dark chocolate can help decrease the possibility of a heart attack or other cardiovascular problem when consumed regularly in small amounts and reduces blood pressure in both overweight and normal adults. Finally, studies have shown dark chocolate as part of a low-fat diet can lower cholesterol levels in adults.

So I hope you did not forget your sweetheart this Valentine's Day and bought her a box of her favorite health food, Chocolate!

Song of Songs 7:6 (NKJV) - How fair and how pleasant you are, O love, with your delights!

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Taste - Nip It in the Buds

So it is your 25th wedding anniversary, or maybe your son or daughter graduated from that expensive college. Or maybe it was just a bad day at the office and you have decided to open up that $600 bottle of a red Bordeaux you have been saving oh, these many years!

You open up the bottle and pour a small glass. You admire the deep red color and the clear smooth legs it leaves on the glass. The aroma is an intense but enjoyable bouquet. You take your first sip and the wine is well balanced and expressive. It is a true Bordeaux. As you finish the wine, letting it saturate your taste buds, the complexity of the wine is savored as you enjoy the multiplicity of its flavors. You have just experienced the fullest gustatory profile available to the human palate.

There are five basic steps in tasting wine: color, swirl, smell, taste, and savor. These are also known as the "five S" steps: see, swirl, sniff, sip, savor. Our sense of taste works together with our other senses to give the full enjoyment of a wine's flavor but it is primarily the chemical reactions in the taste buds that we consider when we ascribe a taste to a certain food or drink. (Read about Wine in a previous blog)

Taste Buds
Making Foods our Friends

Taste Buds - InformationIsBeautiful.net    
David McCandless & Willow Tyrer    
Taste Buds are the chemical receptors on our tongue (and elsewhere in our mouth) that suck in the juices and savor the sweetness. No, these are not a popular brand of beer or our BFFs, although we might consider them as friends since without them food would be bland. Ever wonder what it would be like to loose your sense of taste? Food would be boring - all that chewing and no flavor.

Taste is one of the traditional five senses, the ability to detect the flavor of foods and almost anything else we can put into our mouths. Taste can sense both harmful and beneficial substances. There are about 100,000 taste buds that are located on the back and front of the tongue. Others are located on the roof, sides and back of the mouth, and in the throat.

The sensation of taste can be categorized into five basic tastes: sweet, bitter, sour, salty, and umami. These basic tastes contribute only partially to the sensation and flavor of food in the mouth — other factors include texture, temperature, and "coolness" or "hotness."

The Five Basic Tastes and an example chemical stimulant:
  • Sweet - Sugar
  • Salty - Sodium
  • Bitter - Quinine
  • Sour - Citric Acid
  • Umami - Glutamate (MSG)

Bitterness is the most sensitive of the tastes, and is perceived by many as unpleasant, sharp, or disagreeable. Common bitter foods and beverages include coffee, unsweetened cocoa, marmalade, beer, olives, citrus peel and lemons. Quinine is also known for its bitter taste and is found in tonic water.

A large number of naturally bitter compounds are known to be toxic. The ability to detect bitter-tasting, toxic compounds at low thresholds provides an important protective function.

The bitterness of substances is rated relative to quinine, which has an index of 1. The most bitter substance known is the synthetic chemical denatonium, with a bitterness index of 1,000. It is used as an aversive agent that is added to toxic substances to prevent accidental ingestion.

Saltiness is a taste produced primarily by sodium ions. Other alkali metal ions also taste salty, but the further removed chemically from sodium, the less salty the flavor. The saltiness of substances is rated relative to sodium chloride (NaCl), with a saltiness index of 1. Potassium chloride (KCl), the principal ingredient in salt substitutes, has a saltiness index of 0.6.

Other monovalent cations, such as ammonium (NH4+), and divalent cations, such as calcium (Ca2+), generally elicit a bitter rather than a salty taste even though they pass directly through the tongue's ion exchange channels.

Sourness is the taste that detects acidity. The sourness of substances is rated relative to dilute hydrochloric acid (HCl), with a sourness index of 1. By comparison, tartaric acid's index is 0.7, citric acid 0.46, and carbonic acid an index of 0.06.

Sour taste is detected by a small subset of cells that are distributed across all taste buds in the tongue. The mechanism detecting the taste sour is still not completely understood. There is evidence that the protons abundant in sour substances directly enter the sour taste cells and elicit a response.

Fruits are the most common food group that contains naturally sour foods. Examples include lemon, grape, orange, and some melons. Wine also can have a sour tinge to its flavor, and spoiled milk develops a sour taste. Sour candy, usually containing citric acid, is especially popular in North America.

Sugars are the most frequent chemicals that elicit the taste of sweetness. At least two different types of "sweetness receptors" must be activated for the brain to register something as sweet. Taste detection thresholds for sweet substances are rated relative to sucrose, which has an index of 1. Lactose (milk sugar) has a sweetness index of 0.3.

Umami is described as a savory or meaty taste. It can be tasted in cheese and soy sauce, and is also present in tomatoes, grains, and beans. Monosodium glutamate (MSG) produces a strong umami taste. Umami comes from the Japanese and means "good flavor" or "good taste." It is considered fundamental to many Eastern cuisines and was first described in 1908, although it was only recently recognized in the West as a basic taste. Some umami taste buds respond specifically to glutamate in the same way that sweet taste buds respond to sugar.

Spicy is not a true basic taste. The kick you get from spicy foods is a function of how much pain it inflicts on the nerve fibers in your mouth. These pain fibers, located in the tongue's papillae, are actually wrapped around the taste buds.

Taste is so complex that there are those who make a living tasting and testing foods to be sure they have just the right flavor. Such a position is the Wine Steward or Sommelier, who is trained in all aspects of wine. Now go back and finish off that bottle from Bordeaux before it goes sour!

Psalm 34:8 (NKJV) - Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good; Blessed is the man who trusts in Him!

Monday, February 6, 2012

The God Particle - Does it Exist?

What comes to mind when you hear of the country Switzerland? Swiss Miss® hot chocolate or Swiss banks? The Swiss Alps or the Sound of Music? Maybe the Geneva Accord? What about 500 feet underground? Well below your feet there is a ring 5 miles in diameter - a circular tunnel called the Large Hadron Collider (LHC). The LHC is hunting for the God Particle - the Higgs boson. The name the God Particle comes from Leon Lederman's book by the same name. He gave it the nickname "The God Particle" because this particle is "so central to the state of physics today, so crucial to our understanding of the structure of matter, yet is so elusive. For a little more background, refer to our discussion of Atomic Glue in a previous blog.

The Higgs Boson - The Answer to
The Theory of Everything?

The Large Hadron Collider is a circular ring 17 miles (27 kilometers) around that's buried beneath the Franco-Swiss border. It is thought to be scientists' best chance of finding the Higgs boson, because the explosions the collider creates smashing protons together pack more energy than anything else on Earth. This energy, when converted to mass, should be enough to produce one of the most elusive particles in nature. Scientists expect that the collider will either demonstrate or rule out the existence of the Higgs boson, thus validating the Standard Model or possibly extending the search for the Theory of Everything. The Higgs boson is an elementary particle that is predicted to exist by the Standard Model of particle physics.

One of the theories of particle physics combines two of the four fundamental forces, the weak nuclear force and electromagnetism, and predicts the Higgs boson. Finding it will attest to the existence of the Higgs mechanism. The Higgs mechanism is critical to understanding the basic properties of matter. It suggests that the Universe is permeated with a field, similar to an electromagnetic field, which gives the appearance of mass to sub-atomic particles. Without mass, we would have no atoms and thus no Universe. This field can be pictured as a pool of molasses that "sticks" to the otherwise massless fundamental particles traveling through the field, giving them mass and converting them into the components of atoms. If the Higgs boson is discovered, then the Higgs mechanism would be considered more than just a theory. Its discovery would further substantiate the Standard Model as essentially correct, as the Higgs boson is the only elementary particle predicted by the Standard Model that has not yet been observed.

In December 2011, the two main experiments at the LHC independently reported that their data pointed to the possibility that the Higgs boson may exist. It has not been confirmed as of today. Although no conclusive answer exists yet, it is expected that the LHC will provide sufficient data by the end of 2012 for a definitive report. Theories that do not need the Higgs boson also exist and will be considered if the existence of the Higgs boson is ruled out. They are described as Higgsless models. One such Higgsless model proposes that spacetime isn't curved only by volumes, or only by mass, but by a special type of volumes: "Volumes with mass".

All of these theories are very interesting but difficult for the average person to grasp. I will leave it to the particle physicists to do the theorizing and I will stick with molecular chemistry. Finding the Higgs boson is not going to change the way I drink (or don't drink) my coffee.

2 Corinthians 4:18 (NIV) - "So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal."

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Random Chemical Facts on a Thursday

Thursdays can be slow, as a day in general and for those of us waiting for this weekend it seems like an eternity. So I just spent some idle time surfing on the web. This led me to a number of sites with random science facts and I chose a few to share today. Enjoy!

As was mentioned here before, the atom is made up of protons, neutrons and electrons. It is 99.9999% empty space. But if you take just the neutrons and pack them tightly you get...
  • A neutron star, made up almost entirely of neutrons with no space in between. A thimbleful of this star would weigh over 100 million tons (on Earth).

Random Chemistry Musings
on a Thursday Evening
Waiting for the Superbowl Weekend

Water, mentioned in a number of previous blogs (a total of eight entries), is always a good place to wet your appetite for unusual factoids. Here are a few interesting droplets...
  • An inch (2.5ml) of rain water is equivalent to 15 inches (38.1ml) of dry, powdery snow.
  • The fastest speed a falling raindrop can hit you is 18mph (29kph).
  • Sound travels about 4 times faster in water than in air.
  • When hydrogen burns in the air, water is formed.
  • The oceans contain enough salt to cover all the continents to a depth of nearly 500 feet.

And then here are a few arbitrary musings...
  • Sterling silver contains 7.5% copper.
  • There are more than 1000 chemicals in every cup of coffee.
  • No matter its size or thickness, no piece of paper (cellulose) can be folded in half more than 7 times.
  • The only letter not appearing on the Periodic Table is the letter “J”.

All of these facts can be related to an earlier blog entry (or two, or more) that you might find worth a few minutes of your time. Click on a few of the links above and check them out. If you find any of them interesting, leave a comment and let me know what you think.

Proverbs 2:9-10 (NLT) - "Then you will understand what is right, just, and fair, and you will find the right way to go. 10 For wisdom will enter your heart, and knowledge will fill you with joy."