Thursday, January 26, 2012


I am currently reading ‘Oxygen: The Molecule that made theWorld by Nick Lane’.  I highly recommend this book as it is well written and very informative although a healthy bit of science will make the reading easier.  I have read some other very good science oriented books recently such as ‘AnOcean of Air’ and ‘The Disappearing Spoon’ that were much easier reads and geared towards less-science focused individuals.  I will review those books in the future.

Let me get back to being out of touch.  While reading ‘Oxygen’, early on in the book Lane mentions the ‘Snowball Earth’ hypothesis.  He describes this as being much more extensive ice age than the recent Pleistocene ice ages that most people are more familiar with.  These ice ages occurred during the Precambrian time are believed to have covered the earth with ice even at the equator.  There is growing evidence for this hypothesis including glacial deposits in equatorial regions, carbon isotope ratios, and banded iron formations to name a few.

I have Master’s Degree in Geology/Geochemistry and was floored by reading this.  I thought I was up-to-date on all the latest since I graduated recently.  Lane was writing this in his book as if it were common knowledge so I did some pecking around and discovered that the hypothesis started gaining traction in 1998 and more acceptance in the years that follow.  

So where was I?  For the last ten years I was teaching Chemistry and occasionally General Science thinking I was not one of the old guys.  As I said, I graduated recently.  High school in 1984, College in 1989, and Graduate school in 1992…  

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Not A Second To Spare

What is time?  Do seconds really matter that much?  These are questions which humans have asked since the beginning of comprehension.  Of course time matters, but it's relative, or so Einstein says.  Does adding a second (i.e. a leap second) from time to time really matter?  Is there a better way?

 discusses this in an article titled in today's NY Times.   

Leap seconds are needed because Earth's rotation is slowing down and the second has been defined most recently by natural vibration of Cesium-133.  It was was first defined as a fraction of a solar day, hence, no need for a leap second. 

Chang's article describes the conflict going on between warring parties, mainly Briton and the U.S., with regard for doing away with the leap second.  There was supposed to be one this year but the governing gurus decided to put this off until 2015 in the hopes that they may come to some agreement.

Before railroad schedules in the late 1800s, time was set in each town by when the sun was directly overhead.  There was no worldwide synchronized time.  I sometimes wish we would switch back to the old method.  But that would be saying time is irrelevant!

Monday, January 16, 2012

ISS Fly By

I was finally able to get a decent photo of the ISS from my backyard.  It was visible for 6 minutes starting at 6:29 am (1/16/12) traveling SW to NE.  The bright red object near the center left in the trees is the planet Mars.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Space Station Question

A student asked asked a wonderful question yesterday while I was mentioning the International Space Station (ISS) will be visible for 6 minutes Monday morning (1/16/12) at 6:29.  He asked why will it be visible at 4:55 am as well.  He, as well as most people, was not aware that it travels around the earth in approximately 1.5 hrs.  The ISS has a velocity of 27,743 km/hr or 17,239 mph.  I am sure he learned something that day.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

"Improper" Naming of Compounds?

I just got through Naming Compounds unit with my students.  We teach the students that if a compound, such as sodium phosphate (Na3PO4), starts with a metal ion then it is an ionic compound and, therefore, prefixes are not used.  These rules were developed decades ago by the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC) in order to standardize chemical names.  However, when I look at label on the back of common household items, I constantly see the names like trisodium phosphate!  Anyone know why?


I plan to share interesting science related items or my own thoughts rants and raves with regard to science via this blog.