Tag Archives: chemistry

The Iodine Clock Reaction Happens So Fast That You Might Not Believe This Video Is Real

If I told you I could make a glass of liquid go from being totally clear to almost completely black in a split second, you would think I was crazy.

But science has a way of making crazy things happen. The iodine clock reaction is very real and very awesome. Check it out in the video below:

So what’s going on chemically? Well basically, it’s all comes down to the iodine and the sulfur.

Mixing ionic compounds into a solution with water causes them to separate into their basic components.

In the first glass, the ionic compound sodium sulfite (Na2SO3) divides itself into two sodium ions (2Na+) and a sulfite ion (SO3).

Na2SO3  → 2Na+ SO3

This sulfite then steals one of the hydrogens from the citric acid (C6H8O7) in the mixture, creating bisulfate, HSO3.

SO3− + H+  → HSO3

In the second glass, the sodium iodate (NaIO3), separates into sodium ions (Na+) and iodate ions (IO3).

NaIO3  → Na+ IO3

When the two glasses are mixed, a number of reactions happen. First, the iodate ions react with the bisulfite (HSO3) to produce hydrogen sulfate (HSO4). This leaves the iodide ions (I) by themselves.

IO3 + 3 HSO3 → I + 3 HSO4

Then the excess iodate reacts with the iodide ions and hydrogen ions to form iodine (I2) and water.

IO3 + 5 I + 6 H+ → 3 I2 + 3 H2O

But just as soon as the iodine is created, it is reduced back into iodide ions by the bisulfite still in the solution from the initial reaction.

I2 + HSO3 + H2O → 2 I + HSO4 + 2 H+

The first two reactions happen relatively slowly, but this third reaction happens almost instantaneously every time an iodine molecule is created.

Eventually though, the supply of bisulfite runs out, allowing the iodine molecules to survive. This gives the iodine an opportunity to react with the starch that was dissolved into the water at the beginning, producing an extremely dark shade of blue.

Adding a little bit of bisulfite back into the mix immediately re-ionizes the iodine (breaking it into separate I−  molecules again) turning the water clear once more until that bisulfite has been used up as well (which is why the water darkens back up).

The experiment is called the “clock reaction” because you can control how long it takes for the dark color to appear by adjusting the amount of bisulfite.

A Mysterious Giant Crater Just Opened Up At the “End of the World” (Video)

Yamal is a peninsula in northern Siberia. In the language of the peninsula’s indigenous inhabitants, the Nenets, Yamal means “end of the world”.

This past week, aerial images of the peninsula posted to YouTube showed a giant, 80m wide crater. Check out the footage below:

Authorities from Yamal have organized a team of scientists from Russia’s Center for the Study of the Arctic, the Cryosphere Institute of the Academy of Sciences and Russia’s Emergencies Ministry to investigate.

At first glance, it just looks like a sinkhole. But experts who have examined the images say the debris around the edge of the hole isn’t consistent with a sinkhole, and the blackened rim of the crater indicates “sever burning”.

This has led to speculation that the hole was the result of an explosion, a space laser, or even the burn-hole left behind by an alien spaceship.

One of the best theories I’ve heard so far comes from an expert at the Sub-Arctic Scientific Research Center in Canada. He theorized that warming temperatures in Siberia could be melting the thick layers of ice and permafrost on Yamal Peninsula.

When that ancient ice is melted, it releases gases that have trapped within it. The theory is that these gases mixed with water and salt closer to the surface, creating an explosive chemical reaction (think vinegar and baking soda, but MUCH bigger) which pushed the earth up out of the crater, kind of like the cork popping off a champaign bottle.

That’s still just a theory though. I’ll definitely be keeping up with this investigation as more information becomes available.

(h/t 9News)

Did You Know… There’s A Rare Medical Condition That Gets People Drunk Off Bread and Pasta

Matthew Hogg is pretty much your average 34-year-old British guy. Except for one thing: eating bread or pasta has the same effect on him that pints of lager and ale have on his friends.

Hogg suffers from a rare condition known as auto-brewery syndrome. The condition causes the body to build up high levels of yeast in the intestines. As a result, carbohydrates are rapidly fermented into ethanol (pure alcohol) during digestion.

Matthew Hogg with his girlfriend (Photo: David Charlton/Caters News)

The result is that sufferers are constantly feeling varying levels of intoxication throughout the day, depending on what they eat (it’s almost impossible to completely avoid sugars and carbs all the time).

Though it may sound like a pretty sweet deal to people who enjoy getting drunk, Hogg says the reality is much more sobering (no pun intended). In a recent interview, Hogg told Vice News,

“It’s had a huge and devastating effect on my life.”

He is chronically fatigued, and often finds himself disoriented or unable to focus.

One of the biggest problems is that the condition is so rare and so strange that many people are often skeptical as to whether the condition is even real at all:

“I’m constantly reading messages from visitors to my website who suffer from the condition, saying their doctor, boss, co-workers, and even friends, family and partners, just don’t understand… People think we’re just making this condition up.”

Brewing yeast under a microscope. Click to enlarge

Yeast are bacteria that are used in a number of different cooking methods. Some types of yeast are used to make bread rise while others are used for fermentation during the alcohol brewing process. The bacteria is found in all types of other foods as well, from fruits and vegetables to milk and cheeses.

Usually, the brewing yeast Saccharomyces passes through the body along with the rest of your food’s components.

However, in some rare cases, like when a person’s immune system is depleted or after a person takes antibiotics (which can wipe out the natural digestive bacteria in your gut), this yeast is allowed to build up, leading to the auto-brewing effects described above.

Hogg’s condition made it hard for him to find a job, but he wasn’t going to give in to it. So, he created his own website, The Environmental Illness Resource, to help inform people about rare conditions like his own.

Well played, Matthew.

(h/t People and NPR)

The Story of the Man Who Only Made $10 for Figuring Out How to Make Diamonds

In 1772, French nobleman and chemist Antoine Lavoisier used a lens to concentrate the sun (magnifying-glass style) on a diamond in an atmosphere of oxygen. The diamond released only carbon dioxide (CO2), proving that diamonds were made up only of carbon.

Then in 1779, English chemist Smithson Tennant further bolstered the findings by burning both graphite (which is also composed completely of carbon) and diamonds, and showing that the amount of gas produced by the two minerals matched the chemical equivalence he had established for them.

Diamond (left) has a complex geometric crystal structure, while graphite (right) is made of more simple haxagonal sheets

From that point on, the race to manufacture a synthetic diamond was on. It become a sort of holy grail for both scientists and scam artists alike at the time.

Individuals claimed to have successfully manufactured diamonds a number of times over the next century and a half, but none of their claims proved to be valid or their experiments reproducible.

Enter Howard Tracy Hall, who typically referred to himself as H. Tracy Hall or simply Tracy Hall.

Hall was born in Ogden, Utah in October of 1919. He was a bright kid: his hero was Thomas Edison and he announced in the fourth grade that he would one day work for General Electric.

A recent picture of Hall

After spending two years at Weber College, he got his bachelors and masters at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City.

He then spent two years in the Navy before heading back to the University of Utah to get his Ph. D. in physical chemistry. He finished the graduate program in 1948.

Just two months later, he realized his childhood dream: GE offered him a position in their Research Lab in New York, working on “Project Superpressure”, which aimed to manufacture a synthetic diamond.

When Hall arrived at the lab in New York, GE was in the process of buying a massive $125,000 press that was capable of generating pressures up to 1.6 million pounds per square inch in a confined space.

Did you know… Ronald Reagan hosted a show on CBS called “General Electric Theater” sponsored by GE’s PR department from 1953 until 1962

Hall wasn’t impressed. He had previously built his own pressure chamber from a salvaged 35-year-old Watson-Stillman press, and thought he could create a better machine with only an additional $1,000.

Unfortunately, GE wasn’t interested. They refused to give him the funds or to even let him use their state-of-the-art machine shop to build it.

But Hall wasn’t going to be stopped. He got a friend and colleague to let him use the machine shop after hours and got a former supervisor to persuade the company to purchase the expensive carboloy (tungsten carbide dispersed in cobalt) that Hall needed to build the chamber.

On December 16, 1954, almost all of the researchers had left for Christmas break. Hall, on the other hand, was in the lab by himself, preparing for final testing of his new pressure chamber. He had  experienced a number of false starts, but was stubborn in his pursuit.

He later described the moment when he unsealed his apparatus:

“My hands began to tremble; my heart beat rapidly; my knees weakened and no longer gave support. My eyes had caught the flashing light from dozens of tiny . . . crystals.”

H. Tracy Hall, 1954

Hall tried the test a couple more times, and got the same result every time. He then had a colleague, Hugh H. Woodbury, reproduce the experiment. He too, created diamonds.

Hall reported his discovery to GE officials. They initially thought his findings were exaggerated, but after being shown the experiment in front of them (with Hall outside the building), they were convinced.

On February 14, 1955, GE announced that it had manufactured the first synthetic diamonds. Media outlets around the world trumpeted it on the front page.

For his efforts, they gave Hall a $10 savings bond. “Big deal,” he said later.

The diamonds weren’t large enough or of high enough quality to be sold as jewelry, but since diamonds are one of the hardest minerals on earth, they were perfect for industrial applications, allowing us to cut and harvest minerals that had been impossible to collect before.

Upset by the lack of credit, Hall left GE for BYU shortly after the announcement. However, the work was so ground-breaking that the government slapped a secret label on Hall’s device, preventing him from using it in his research.

H. Tracy Hall with his synthetic diamond machine. Click to enlarge

Still, Hall refused to be stopped. He designed a new apparatus, called the tetrahedral press, which was even better than the first one and circumvented all of the patents held by GE.

He published his work on the new pressure chamber in a popular scientific journal. The government responded by slapping another secret label on the new device.

However, the government lifted this second secret label a few months later, allowing Hall access to his invention. He and two other colleagues would later start MegaDiamond, which remains one of the largest synthetic diamond providers to this day.

H. Tracy Hall with colleagues and fellow MegaDiamond founders Bill Pope and Duane Horton. Click to enlarge

Since the 1950s, advances in other technologies have improved Hall’s methods, and synthetic diamonds are now used in many electronic devices like laptops and cell phones.

The modern methods are able to create synthetic diamonds as large as 12 carats with much higher quality and clarity, allowing them to be sold for jewelry as well.

After his retirement, Hall became a tree farmer. He passed away at age 88 in July of 2008.

(h/t LA Times)

Superheated Liquid Nitrogen in a Vacuum Does Some Crazy Things… (Video)

Liquid nitrogen has one of the lowest boiling points of any known substance at -321ºF, which is why anything that comes in contact with the substance is usually flash-frozen.

A substance’s boiling point varies with air pressure. For example, at sea level, water boils at 100ºC (212ºF). But at the top of Mt. Everest, where the air pressure is only about a third of what it is at sea level, water will boil at 71ºC (160ºF).

So as the air is sucked out of the vacuum, the liquid nitrogen’s boiling point drops below the substance’s temperature inside the vacuum, making it a superheated fluid. This superheated liquid nitrogen does some crazy things:

The evaporation of the nitrogen during boiling cools it back down until it freezes solid. In an attempt to align its molecules in a more tightly-packed pattern, all of the atoms will reorient themselves in a fraction of a second, causing cracks to spread quickly in fractal patterns across the solid nitrogen.

Liquid nitrogen isn’t just cool for science experiments. It’s widely used in every day life as a refrigerant for the freezing and transportation of food and as a coolant for superconductors. It’s even used to freeze off skin abnormalities like warts.

(h/t IFL Science)

Why It Has Taken 28 Long Years for the EPA to Start Reviewing Chemical Risks Again

Last wednesday, the Environmental Protection Agency published its final risk assessment for the chemical trichloroethylene (TCE).

The assessment found that long-term exposure this chemical (which is used as an industrial solvent by artists, car mechanics, and dry cleaners among others) can cause a number of serious health issues, including cancer.

It probably doesn’t sound surprising that the EPA would review the health risks of a potentially harmful chemical. After all, the agency was created to protect the health of the citizens and environment of the United States by writing and enforcing regulations.

It is surprising however that this is their first assessment in 28 years. So why the long drought?

Enter the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), the legislation which created the EPA in the first place 38 years ago. A loophole in the legislation basically says that any chemicals invented before the law was passed are considered “safe until proven otherwise”.

According to the EPA, that means 62,000 chemicals we regularly use today are essentially un-reviewed. In the press release, the EPA calls for a modernization of the law.

In a recent blog post, Jim Jones, EPA assistant administrator of chemical safety and pollution prevention, said:

“The American public shouldn’t have to wait 28 years between … chemical risk assessments… As the old adage goes, you have to walk before you can run.”

But without the lobbying power of large corporations or political super PACs,  the EPA lacks the political leverage to force Congress into giving it the resources it needs to actually review the thousands of chemicals all around us today.

The chemical industry has become extremely profitable in the last few decades, and has significant lobbying influence in Washington.

In just the first four months of 2014, Dow Chemical, one of the U.S.’s largest chemical companies, spent a whopping $5 million on lobbying, around $2 million more than they did in the same period last year.

Click to enlarge. Courtesy of opensecrets.org

The EPA did announce, however, that it will be reviewing the risks of 83 chemicals that have already been identified as potentially harmful to our health.

The bottom line is that long-term scientific studies on the effects of different chemical substances are expensive, and that money simply isn’t there for the EPA, mostly because it’s really not something the average American is worrying about on a day-to-day basis.

Let’s make sure we don’t let this extremely important issue get drowned out by the howling of partisan politics that has made Congress virtually useless these days.

Read the original story from Al-Jazeera here.

A Honeybee Was In the Clutches of A Spider. Then His Comrade Saved the Day (Video)

I saw this video earlier today and was very intrigued. I’ll let you watch it first before I make any observations.

So what do you think is going on here? Bumble bees, like other insects that live in queen-controlled colonies, are basically just extensions of the queen- pretty much every action they take is because of directions from the queen.

One of the ways these types of insects communicate is with pheromones, chemical substances secreted by the insects which convey specific pieces of information based on their scent.

Personally, I don’t think individual bumble bees are smart enough to recognize that a fellow bee is in danger and then consciously decide to go help it. I do, however, think its possible that the first bee started releasing “distress” pheromones (like those released when a beehive is attacked) when he was ensnared.

Smelling these distress pheromones prompts other nearby bees to become aggressive to protect the hive. I think that the second bee probably smelled the distress hormones of the trapped bee and responded by attacking the closest thing it could find: the spider.

That’s just my guess though. If you have any other theories, please share them in the comments!

(h/t Gizmodo)

Canada Just Opened the World’s First Waste-to-Biofuel Facility and Its A Game-Changer

In Edmonton, Alberta, an idea that could drastically change how we produce energy as well as how we dispose of our waste has finally come to fruition.

Edmonton’s new Waste Management Center converts household garbage into biofuels. The facility is expected to reduce the amount of trash in Edmonton’s landfills by 90% in the next two years, using all of that trash to create biofuels.

The new Edmonton Waste Management facility

Vincent Chornet is the CEO of Enerkem, the company who owns the new plant. He describes their raw materials as,

“a mixture of non-recyclable plastics, non-recyclable fibre, there’s wood, there’s even such things as shingles — that gets shredded down and that’s what we are fed with.”

That shredded non-recyclable waste is converted to gas, which is in turn converted into methanol. The process leaves behind about 10% of the waste, including metal, ceramics and glass which can’t be converted into methanol.

A diagram of the waste-to-biofuel process. Click to enlarge

Methanol has a number of uses. It’s often used in windshield wiper fluid because it won’t freeze in cold weather, but it can also be used as a basic chemical building block for other chemicals. A significant portion of the methanol will be purchased a local chemical company and some will end up in Canadian cars, as Alberta mandates at least 5% methanol in all gasoline.

At $75 per metric ton (~1.1 U.S. tons), the process is only slightly more expensive than transporting the waste to a landfill, and won’t require citizens to change anything about how they dispose of their garbage.

Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson

Edmonton’s mayor Don Iveson (who, by the way, looks like he’s still in high school) calls the new facility a “sexy” topic for the cities inhabitants. He also said,

“I think we are fiercely proud of what we’ve been doing here in this city. It’s one of the things that when people question the commitment of Edmontonians and Albertans to the environment, we point to this as global leadership and we’re very, very proud of it, and we should be.”

Read more from the Edmonton Journal here.

Astronomers Just Witnessed A Massive Cosmic Explosion… 12 Billion Years After It Happened

Supergiants are massive stars with huge amounts of energy, which causes them to expand rapidly. However, all stars eventually reach a limit, after which the gravity of the core is no longer able to hold the star together.

The explosion that follows is known as a supernova (or sometimes a hypernova, if it’s big enough). As the outer portions of the star explode off, the core collapses upon itself.

Nebulas are the remnants of a supernova explosion. This is the Crab Nebula. Click to enlarge

If a star is large enough, the extreme amount of energy produced by this inward collapse forces the star’s core to release high-energy gamma particles. These gamma bursts are the most powerful event so far discovered in the universe. But just how powerful is that?

Well, in just 10 seconds, these gamma ray bursts release more energy than our Earth’s sun will during the entire 10 billion years of its expected lifespan.

On April 19th, in the Davis Mountains of West Texas, the ROTSE-IIIb telescope (owned by Southern Methodist University in Dallas) detected the rare phenomenon in a corner of the sky.

Click to enlarge

The gamma ray burst, classified as GRB 140419A by NASA’s Gamma-ray Coordinates Network, came from a supernova that happened 12.1 billion years ago, not long after the Big Bang (estimated to have occurred 13.8 billion years ago).

Gamma ray burst have only recently been observed. Not only are they at extremely high frequencies, but they also have the shortest wavelengths on the electromagnetic spectrum, making them more difficult to detect. It wasn’t until the 90s that we created a telescope with the technology to detect gamma radiation.

The discovery was published in Science Daily earlier this month. You can read the full story here.

NOTE: The feature image is an artist rendering of a gamma burst. It is, however, based on detailed scientific study of the event.

The Coolest Places On Earth: Fly Geyser, Nevada (Pictures)

On the Hualapai Flat in Northwest Nevada, about a third of a mile off of old Route 34, lies the Fly Ranch. In 1964, energy speculators dug wells into the area, looking for sources of geothermal energy.

The well they dug at Fly Ranch was either capped incorrectly or not tapped at all, because soon after the speculators left, dissolved minerals began to rise from the ground, accumulating into the mounds which continue to grow to this day.

Eventually, the built up pressure from the hot water in the ground was too much to hold back, and the water burst through, creating a geyser and some 30-40 pools in the surrounding 74 acres.

Unfortunately, Fly Ranch is privately owned so you can’t visit the geyser without special permission. You can, however, check out some more pictures of it below. Click an image to enlarge:

The brilliant colors on the geyser are a result of the thermophilic algae that grows on the rocks.

Thermophiles are just one example  of a group of organisms known as extremophiles. These organisms thrive under extreme conditions, such as the boiling hot temperatures of the water coming from the geyser.

Other extremophiles are known to live in extremely acidic, alkaline or even radioactive environments. Many are able to survive without oxygen and some even live in the frigid conditions of ice and permafrost.