What should we name the new elements? Chris Chapman, Chemistry World‘s comment editor, puts forward the case for his favourite…

The news that we have four new elements is, obviously, buttock-clenchingly exciting for chemistry name nerds. The four new confirmed elements – 113, 115, 117 and 118 – will now have a proper name instead of the tongue-twisting ununpentium and the like. This can be proposed by the discoverers, although the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (Iupac) will get the final say. According to its latest rules, currently out for consultation, the elements can be named after a mythological concept or character; a mineral; a place; a property of the element; or a scientist. The endings of the elements are already decided: 113 and 115 will end in ‘ium’, 117 ‘ine’, and 118 ‘on’.

© Everett Collection/REX Shutterstock

Captain America – © Everett Collection/REX Shutterstock

So here’s a suggestion to the Japanese Riken group (discoverers for 113) or the Russian-American collaboration who discovered 115. How about vibranium?

Vibranium, as any comic book nerd knows, is a key element that comprises Captain America’s shield, and gives the irritatingly squeaky clean hero a way to dink bullets away, or a handy Frisbee to take out some bothersome villains. It’s also the element that Tony Stark ‘invents’ in the abysmal Iron Man 2 to end his crippling palladium dependency. Bizarrely, in the movie in turns out the element’s structure was hidden by his father (John Slattery, playing exactly the same character as he did in Mad Men) in a diorama of a 1974 business expo. Tony proceeds to go on a drinking binge, hurl abuse at Don Cheadle and miraculously create the element at his Malibu pad with little more than his raw genius. (more…)

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Guest post by Rowena Fletcher-Wood

When the Children of the Nineties survey discovered that a good number of mothers were feeding their babies cola, the public were shocked. But, believe it or not, Coca-Cola was originally developed as a healthy medicine. Its inventor was John Stith Pemberton, a pharmacist by trade, whose aim was to develop new ‘brain tonics’.

He also had personal motivations. After receiving pain relief treatment as an injured soldier in 1865, Pemberton had become addicted to morphine. This was not an uncommon problem amongst war veterans, but as a pharmacist, Pemberton was especially aware of the dangers of his addiction. He tried many mixtures in the hopes of developing an opium-free alternative, including his amusingly-named, if unprofitable, ‘Dr Tuggle’s Compound Syrup of Globe Flower’. (more…)

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Guest post by Yuandi Li

January’s Chemistry World sees the launch of The Hot Plate, with the first instalment looking at how the addition of malt powder can improve mash. I was tasked with giving the recipe a try in my own kitchen to see if using a little chemistry knowledge would deliver a boost in sweetness and texture. There are few ingredients in the kitchen as useful yet underappreciated as the humble root vegetable, and it was exciting to take these Cinderella ingredients to the ball and give them some overdue attention and respect.


Ingredients

  • 1kg root vegetables
  • 10g diastatic malt powder (1% by weight)
  • Amylase powder can be used as an alternative to diastatic malt powder if unavailable; use the same weights

Instructions

  1. Peel, chop and boil the root vegetables until soft
  2. Mash the root vegetables into a purée along with milk, butter or any other seasoning and allow to cool
  3. Once the purée is at room temperature, stir in the malt powder
  4. Heat to 55°C for one hour using a water bath. (Alternatively, heat in a bowl over a pan of boiling water or bain marie, then put in an insulated container to hold for an hour; the temperature does not need to be exact)
  5. Enjoy!

I tried the recipe with regular potatoes and sweet potatoes. The potato was boiled, mashed and pushed through a sieve to produce as smooth a texture as possible. Still, like all mashed potato, it maintained some granularity. As expected, at this stage it didn’t taste sweet at all. The malt powder was then mixed in and potato was divided into two portions. One portion was heated at 50°C in a bain marie (a bowl placed over a pot of simmering water; you will need to stir the mixture regularly to maintain an even temperature) for one hour. I also made a control batch, which was obliterated in a microwave to denature the amylase. This control sample tasted exactly like normal potato at the end of the experiment, confirming that any changes in taste or texture are due to enzyme action rather than the simple addition of malt. (more…)

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Hopefully, it hasn’t escaped your notice that our December issue had a feature about chocolate in it – one of our tastiest articles this year! As soon as we knew that article was going in the issue, we knew exactly what we wanted on the cover: chocolate, and lots of it. But we’re Chemistry World, not Cadbury World, so we had to shoehorn in some chemistry.

What better way than to make a molecule of theobromine (one of the key alkaloid compounds found in everyone’s favourite cocoa-bean-based confectionery) out of chocolate?

In extensive (and hunger-inducing) discussions among the team, we came down to a couple of options: make a model ourselves out of shop-bought chocs or get a pro to do it. So armed with £20 out of the magazine’s budget, I headed to the shops to try the first option. (more…)

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Guest post by Heather Cassell

As we get deeper into December, it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas, holiday season festivities, and researchers are thinking about having some time away from the lab. But for some December can lead to a blue Christmas; the approach of the holidays can fill certain groups of lab denizens, especially students, with fear. Students have to contend with coursework deadlines approaching rapidly – and there are the January exams to consider – so they’re rarely heard to say ‘thank God it’s Christmas.’ This also means it’s not the most wonderful time of the year for those who have to mark the coursework too.

And so, the start of December ‘tis the season for careful lab work planning; you must make the most of the time you have left in the lab before you leave, otherwise you’ll risk abandoning an experiment or driving home for Christmas with work on your mind. Worse still, poor planning means you may have to come in at awkward times over the holidays, or even miss the opportunity to be rockin’ around the Christmas tree, enjoying the mistletoe and wine at the lab Christmas party!

When it comes to Christmas decorations offices are fairly easy to decorate. There are very few restrictions on what you can put up (it’s more down to taste, or in some cases lack of taste), so you can deck the halls with pretty much whatever you like. But health and safety rules in the lab mean that many decorations are not suitable for use, as they constitute a fire hazard. This means the offices tend to get all of the silver bells, the holly and the ivy, but the labs can seem so very bare in comparison, the non-scientists might ask even each other ‘do they know it’s Christmas?’ (more…)

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Chemistry World was pleased to sponsor a poster prize at ISACS18 (Challenges in Organic Materials and Supramolecular Chemistry), held in Bangalore, India, last month. PhD student Emmanuel Etim from the Indian Institute of Science, India, was the winner with his poster titled: Interstellar hydrogen bonding

Emmanuel Etim

Emmanuel explains his work:

‘We are interested in understanding the chemistry of interstellar molecules – ie molecules that exist in the space between the stars – because of their importance in astrochemistry, astrophysics, astrobiology, astronomy and related fie

Over 200 of these molecules have been detected in different astronomical sources largely via their rotational spectra. Isomerism is a conspicuous feature of these molecules with over 40% of the known molecules (excluding the diatomics and other special species like the C3, C5, which cannot form isomers) observed in more than one isomeric form.

(more…)

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Kathryn Harkup, science communicator and one of the judges for the upcoming Chemistry World science communication competition gives her advice for entering the competition.

I am very excited to see the entries for the Chemistry World competition. This year’s fantastic theme of public attitudes is a really good opportunity to show how we can get the general public enthusiastic about chemistry. So what am I looking for from the entrants?

© Courtesy of Kathryn Harkup

There is no set way of being a good science communicator. You can be funny or serious, spectacular or straightforward but the most important thing me is be interesting. Tell people nuggets of information they will want to share with their friends. Tell stories with a clear beginning, middle and end so an audience or reader can follow your train of thought and relate it back to others later. Keep it simple. Don’t get bogged down in details. If it isn’t relevant to your topic, ditch it. Think of some science communicators who inspire you and try to figure out what it is that makes you read their books or watch their TV shows.

Think carefully about who your audience is. Chemistry sometimes sounds like a foreign language to those who don’t speak it every day. Avoid using technical terms and describe things in everyday language. Chemistry can be complex, but you don’t need to dumb it down for your audience, you just need to explain it well. Use analogies to explain tricky concepts.

Get non-chemists to read your work and hear your presentations and watch and listen to them carefully for feedback. Learn from your audience. If something you do doesn’t get the reaction you wanted, think about what you can do to change it. And most important of all, emotions can be contagious, so enjoy yourself.

Kathryn Harkup is a trained chemist and freelance science communicator who swapped the fume hood to deliver talks and workshops on the quirky side of science. Kathryn’s book A is for arsenic: the poisons of Agatha Christie was published by Bloomsbury in September 2015.

If you are passionate about science and science communication, the 2015/16 Chemistry World science communication competition on the topic of public attitudes to chemistry offers a fantastic opportunity to demonstrate your skill, win £500 and be published in Chemistry World.

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Sue Nelson, science journalist and one of the judges for the upcoming Chemistry World science communication competition gives her tips for communicating science effectively.

Science communication combines a number of skills. In print it’s a potent mix of good writing with a key understanding of the science involved and the ability to explain a story or concept in language that makes the reader wish they’d thought of that phrase.

Sue Nelson

© Courtesy of Sue Nelson

An article must be written for the appropriate audience and so even when not aimed at scientists, the science must always be correct. Simplifying something often involves understanding the concepts to a much higher level in order to get it right.

A good headline and introduction is your sales pitch. Make them memorable and interesting. This is not the place to give the names of whoever funded any research.  Ensure that whoever reads that opening paragraph will want to keep on reading to the end of the piece. So structure it well. Know where you are starting and ending before you begin writing.

The choice of quotes is essential. Quotes provided on press releases are often written by committee and most journalists – including myself – can tell. The words don’t always read right because it’s unlikely anyone would talk that way in real life. The solution? Don’t make quotes up. Interview a scientist, researcher or as many as you think are needed for your story and encourage them to expand upon their work. Get the facts and the colour. How scientists feel about research, or the lengths they’ve gone to get some data, keeps people reading and maintains a reader’s interest. If there’s a human interest aspect, get that too.

When making a film for the competition, have fun with it. We want to see who you are and what you’ve got to say, not who think you ought to be presenting like. There’s only one Brian Cox or Alice Roberts so be yourself. When addressing the camera directly, imagine you are talking to someone you know and like (we will hear it in your voice and see it in your face). This will help with a natural delivery.

We walk and talk all the time but doing so on camera is surprisingly difficult and can look stilted and unnatural. If you find it difficult, don’t do it. But if you want to include any walking and talking, or a demonstration, rehearse it until it’s second nature. And choreograph your movements. Check the angles on camera – sometimes you need to hold your hand differently if fingers are covering something you want us to see. It might not feel natural but it will look better on screen.

From a technical point of view, do the same as what you’d do with a camera on a smartphone. Don’t film yourself in front of a window or we will only see your silhouette. Make sure you are well lit and we can hear you clearly. Get the basics right and then concentrate on what you’d like to say. There’s no need to memorise everything. Just remember key points and keep it natural and free flowing.

I can’t wait to read your entries and see your videos. Good luck!

Sue Nelson is an award-winning science journalist and broadcaster and a director of Boffin Media. She makes short films for the European Space Agency, produces and presents podcasts and radio programmes, and is former BBC science and environment correspondent. Sue has also written on science for most of the UK’s national newspapers.

If you are passionate about science and science communication, the 2015/16 Chemistry World science communication competition on the topic of public attitudes to chemistry offers a fantastic opportunity to demonstrate your skill, win £500 and be published in Chemistry World.

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Steve Cross, science stand-up and workshop leader for the upcoming Chemistry World science communication competition writes about what he looks for in a great communicator.

I’ve been in science communication full-time for 14 years, and I’ve seen hundreds of science performances at Science Showoff and Bright Club over the last few years. The ones that have really impressed me have always had some things in common.

Steve Cross

© Courtesy of Steve Cross

I’m really interested in honest science. Don’t just tell us something’s great and expect us to go along with you. Don’t just say this research might make all of our lives amazing (without telling us how likely that is!). Instead take us underneath the surface. Help us to see people and stories and places and where this science has come from. Bring it to life so that it has the kind of powerful narrative and great characters of our favourite TV shows, instead of creating something that just sounds like the exhortations to buy stuff that go between them. Don’t tell us how interesting this science is, because we’re savvy 21st-century media consumers and we won’t believe you. Instead show us things that make us decide for ourselves that what you care about really matters.

When it comes to seeing you talk about science in person or on tape I really want to connect with you. You can get along with hiding a lot of emotion when writing but as soon as I’m seeing you talk I need to feel like this is something you’ve chosen to talk about, and something you’ve decided that I personally need to hear. Don’t forget who your audience is (I for one don’t have a PhD in high-energy physics, so please don’t assume that I do!), and even more importantly don’t forget who you are. You could have talked about any one of millions of pieces of research. So why did you choose this?

Steve Cross is a public engagement consultant, stand-up comedian and Wellcome Trust Engagement Fellow. He runs Science Showoff and travels around the world making experts funny.

If you are passionate about science and science communication, the 2015/16 Chemistry World science communication competition on the topic of public attitudes to chemistry offers a fantastic opportunity to demonstrate your skill, win £500 and be published in Chemistry World.

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Guest post by Heather Cassell

In general, labs are large, light and airy places, filled with racks of consumables, glinting glassware that reflects and enhances the light, large bits of kit that you use in your day to day experiments, and – most of the time – other people. But occasionally (or quite frequently, depending on the nature of your project) your work requires you to visit a piece of rarefied, specialist equipment that lives in a room all of its own.

© OJO Images Ltd / Alamy Stock Photo

There are many reasons why kit may be placed in solitary confinement. There are the large, sensitive and fabulously expensive devices that necessitate careful handling. There are those that require the use of light sensitive reagents, or are themselves light sensitive, and exist in state of permanent darkness. Others are separated from the main lab for researchers’ own health and safety. (more…)

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