Jon Edwards


David Bradley and family have been testing out science-based Top Trumps games, including the RSC’s own Visual Elements Trumps.

He says his daughter enjoyed learning about chemistry while having fun with the game, quickly picking up the chemical concepts and being surprised to learn that even hydrogen has a boiling point.

Now on Sciencebase there’s a chance to win a pack of your very own! Just vote in the poll, subscribe to Sciencebase’s email feed and leave a comment explaining why you would pick the Visual Elements Trumps over other kinds of trumps listed.

If you’re of a biological bent, there is another option in the competition: Centre of the Cell‘s Cell Trumps.

Full details are on the post here.

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Note: this post has nothing to do with Jamie Oliver.

From seasoned, learned scholars to impressionable school students, the taint of nanofear is still present – and it’s due to misrepresentation of nanotechnology. Everyone knows that. Tiny self-replicating robots will breed in your body and eat you from the inside out! Grey goo and disaster will be the legacy of Richard Feynman, if we’re not careful.

Flicking through a GCSE science revision book from a well-known exam board, I was impressed by the inclusion of a small section on nanotechnology – it’s important to update the syllabus to include new science.

However, I was frankly staggered to see the associated image: that tired, entirely fictional artist’s impression – the one with complicated looking robots clinging onto, and injecting something into, red blood cells – with a misleading caption explaining how millions of these nanobots may one day be injected into you to combat disease.

‘Nanorobots’ would generally consist of one molecule, or maybe a few, specifically engineered to perform molecular scale manipulations. The pictured ‘bots appear to be made out of stainless steel, and look like they were designed by Audi. Vorsprung durch nanoTechnik.

It goes on to say how ‘many scientists’ think the world will be swallowed by self-replicating nanobots. There’s a bit of a counter-argument, saying most scientists disagree, which is nice.

I understand that graphic representations will grab the minds of school children and draw them into learning about nanotechnology – this is good. I don’t think it’s so good to entirely mislead them – they’re a discerning audience, but an impressionable one – you might as well print pictures of flying cars being a byproduct of biofuels.

No wonder everyone’s scared of nanorobots and grey goo – the fear is part of the GCSE syllabus.

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A chemical which breaks down in the body to something similar to GHB, a.k.a. liquid ecstasy, is the latest unbelievably dangerous substance found in toys manufactured in China. Several children have been taken ill in Australia and New Zealand, and now some have fallen into comas in the US.

The toy in question is, in Australia, known as Bindeez, and comprises small beads which can be used to make patterns, then glue together when sprayed with water. Normally the glue in question is 1,5-pentanediol, which is completely harmless. Some faulty batches contained 1,4-butanediol, which breaks down into something similar to gamma hydroxy butyrate, or GHB.

It’s only been a fortnight since Mattel announced it had thousands of bath toys on the market with lead painted logos.

Surveys have shown that up to 33 per cent of American shoppers are avoiding Chinese-manufactured toys altogether this Christmas.

Similar toys are available in the UK, branded Aquabeads from Flair Leisure Products, but they are made by a different formula and are completely harmless, said the toy distributor’s chief executive Peter Brown.

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In 2005, 33 per cent of pop songs had in them references to substance abuse, according to research presented at the American Public Health Association’s Annual Meeting and Exposition.

Apparently alcohol and marijuana are the two most referenced drugs, often associated with such evils as sex and partying. Astonishingly, the report said that ‘rap music’ had the highest hit rate, so to speak, with 77 per cent of songs having references to substance abuse in them – and the majority of those were portraying the drugs ‘with more positive than negative consequences of use.’

Rock and pop music were good little boys and girls, with only 14 and 9 per cent respectively. Fortunately the only thing System of a Down sing about is overthrowing the US government, so no subversive anti-social messages there.

The lead researcher in the study, Brian A. Primack, said that previous research ‘has shown that exposure to substance use messages in media is linked to actual substance abuse in adolescents.’ Whereas the doctors are all well-adjusted human beings who were only exposed to The Beach Boys, The Beatles and the Rolling Stones – who certainly would never have even dreamed of taking or singing about any illicit drugs.

Good thing The Verve are reforming eh? They’ve got the right message.

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Further to our story on how cracks caused by radiation travel through materials at the nanoscale, we have an exciting video showing you exactly how it works! Well almost. The video shows the crack, or defect, moving in one dimension along the surface of gold. For more info on how it actually works and the implications, see the story above, but here’s the vid:

Never let it be said that Chemistry World doesn’t bring you top quality entertainment.

If you can’t see the video, check it out on YouTube here.

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A US Government Accountability Office report shows that alternative methods of fusion are being nudged out in favour of the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER), to be built in Cadarache, France.

The US Department of Energy (DOE) told the GAO that its research budget is focused on inertial fusion, the kind to be used in ITER. This means that research opportunities into other fusion methods, like magnetic fusion, are difficult to find and fund. These alternative technologies might lead to cheaper, safer or faster nuclear fusion reactors, but may never get the chance due to the one-track approach by the DOE.

See a summary of the report, or if you have a few spare days the full report, on the GAO website.

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A study in the British Medical Journal showed that of 1000 people surveyed over the phone, few (11.7 per cent) were concerned about being affected by polonium-210 poisoning following Alexander Litvinenko’s fatal dose in central London.

The survey, conducted by researchers at King’s College London and the Health Protection Agency (HPA), was a representative sample of adults living in London. Most people felt that the response by the HPA was ‘appropriate or about right’.

It is interesting to see that radioactive contamination in the centre of London didn’t concern that many people. 71 per cent knew that if they hadn’t been to the contaminated area, they weren’t at risk. The public were generally happy with the levels of information given by the HPA.

Overall it means that the British public are predominantly unflappable in the face of danger – better than expected, in fact. The reporting of the story by the media is a significant factor: the international spy story, a targeted attack on one man, made people feel disconnected from the potential hazard. Had it been portrayed as terrorism, the researchers say, the public concern would have been much greater.

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Chemical Sciences Scotland is a new collaborative venture between academia, industry and the public sector in Scotland, launched last night by Jim Mather, Scottish Minister for Enterprise, Energy and Tourism.

Chairman Sandy Dobbie said ‘The chemical sciences are the foundation of modern life and the cornerstone of Scotland’s industrial economy’. The partnership hopes ‘to ensure a vibrant and competitive chemicals industry exists in Scotland in 20 years’ time.’

The chemical sciences industry contributes £3.5bn and supports over 70,000 jobs in Scotland, the Chairman added.

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Dr EvilI’m fairly content shooting the bad guys with “lasers” in computer games – they explode in a most satisfying way. Father and son research combo Tsen and Tsen, from Arizona State University and John Hopkins, US, respectively, have taken it one step further: they actually blast viruses with their own laser. Neither is pictured, if you’re wondering; this is Dr. Evil, who also likes destroying things with lasers.

They’ve shown you can damage and destroy viruses with ultrafast (80fs) laser pulses – not only that, but these same pulses do not damage a variety of mammalian, including human, living cells.

They propose that this will be immediately useful for sterilising banked blood, amongst other things, where viruses are difficult to detect and get rid of. While many viruses become drug resistant, I’m yet to come across an example in the literature of a virus becoming laser resistant…

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But this one is really cool. We blogged a radio with a nanotube component a couple of weeks ago – since then scientists at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and University of California Berkeley have been busy.

This device is an antenna, a tuner, an amplifier and a demodulator all in a single nanotube! The mode of action is apparently quite different from your standard radio, being far more mechanical in its method of receiving and processing the signals.

This video may not have as much charisma as the previous work, but certainly is very cool.

‘At the beginning of each video, the nanotube radio is tuned to a different frequency than that of the transmitted radio signal. Thus, the nanotube does not vibrate, and only static noise can be heard. As the radio is brought into tune with the transmitted signal, the nanotube begins to vibrate, which blurs its image in the video, and at the same time, the music becomes audible.’

The song is “Layla” by Derek and the Dominoes.

Unfortunately, the nanotube has to be tuned beforehand by altering its length – permanently – so it can only operate at one frequency.

If you can’t see the video, check it out on YouTube here.

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