C. Everett Koop.
Catalyzed by a report issued last week by Surgeon General C. Everett Koop indicting nicotine as an addictive drug, health groups and their supporters in Congress have launched a new assault on the tobacco industry, linking the war on cigarettes to the war on illegal drugs. The 639-page study focuses on the pharmacologic basis of addiction to tobacco. It asks why people smoke and use other tobacco products despite the known health hazards. Koop gives three simple answers: “Cigarettes and other forms of tobacco are addicting. Nicotine is the drug in tobacco that causes addiction. The pharmacologic and behavioral processes that determine tobacco addiction are similar to those that determine addiction to drugs such as heroin and cocaine.”
… “We should give tobacco use and tobacco addiction the serious attention it deserves,” Koop stresses. “Shouldn’t we treat tobacco sales at least as seriously as the sale of alcoholic beverages, for which a specific license is required, and revoked for repeated sales to minors? Our nation has mobilized enormous resources to wage a war on drugs—illicit drugs. We should also give priority to the one addiction—tobacco addiction—that is killing more than 300,000 Americans each year.”
-Richard Seltzer
Nicotine Indicted as an Addictive Drug
Chemical & Engineering News, May 23, 1988

C. Everett Koop.

Catalyzed by a report issued last week by Surgeon General C. Everett Koop indicting nicotine as an addictive drug, health groups and their supporters in Congress have launched a new assault on the tobacco industry, linking the war on cigarettes to the war on illegal drugs.

The 639-page study focuses on the pharmacologic basis of addiction to tobacco. It asks why people smoke and use other tobacco products despite the known health hazards. Koop gives three simple answers: “Cigarettes and other forms of tobacco are addicting. Nicotine is the drug in tobacco that causes addiction. The pharmacologic and behavioral processes that determine tobacco addiction are similar to those that determine addiction to drugs such as heroin and cocaine.”

… “We should give tobacco use and tobacco addiction the serious attention it deserves,” Koop stresses. “Shouldn’t we treat tobacco sales at least as seriously as the sale of alcoholic beverages, for which a specific license is required, and revoked for repeated sales to minors? Our nation has mobilized enormous resources to wage a war on drugs—illicit drugs. We should also give priority to the one addiction—tobacco addiction—that is killing more than 300,000 Americans each year.”

-Richard Seltzer

Nicotine Indicted as an Addictive Drug

Chemical & Engineering News, May 23, 1988

Atom age brothers Revere (11) and Sam Little (13) turn on world’s largest light bulb using atomic energy, signalling the opening of the nuclear congress in Cleveland. Gamma rays from the pistol hit Geiger counter to trigger lamp.

“The path is well defined; attaining success will be a matter of much hard work by a great many people.” This informed opinion as to the economic practicality of commercial nuclear power was expressed to C&EN by National Carbon’s Clarence E. Larson, a pioneer in the atomic energy field. There have been substantial technological developments in the nuclear power field within recent years, Larson points out, giving scientists and engineers much greater confidence that the goal of “competitive” nuclear power is attainable.

As guest speaker before the Cleveland Section of ACS at a dinner meeting held in conjunction with the Nuclear Engineering & Science Congress and the International Atomic Exposition, Larson had recommended a switch from fossil fuels to atomic energy as soon as possible. Since fission of uranium yields 50 million times as much energy, atom for atom, as the combustion of carbon, Larson observes, it no longer makes sense to burn the carbon in our fossil fuels for energy. And since reserves of nuclear fuels are authoritatively estimated to be at least 25 times those of conventional fuels, Larson says, wisdom dictates using atomic energy as extensively as possible—saving fossil fuels for future generations for the manufacture of synthetic organic chemicals, plastics, and even food.

Nuclear Power—Success Assured: Confidence in nuclear power’s future mounts as technology shaves costs, improves efficiency

Chemical & Engineering News, December 26, 1955

Scanning electron micrographs of wood samples taken during repair work on three old violins show remnants of microorganisms. Well-exposed hyphae of fungi are visible (top) at a magnification of 1000x on a sample taken from a Stradivarius, the Betts, of 1704, as is a channel etched by fungal growth in a wood cell wall. The photo (bottom left), at 2000x, of a sample from a Guarneri violin of 1735 shows several hyphae, one of them growing from an intercellular opening, and numerous round particles. A sample from a violin made by Guadagnini in 1750 (bottom right), at 7000x, shows the area of an intercellular opening, a favorite target of bacteria, the remnants of which are present in large numbers in this specimen. In his memoirs, Count Cozio di Salabue, the patron of Guadagnini, warned future violin makers against using wood from the shipyard of Venice. The high salt and microbe content of this sample suggest, however, past exposure to saltwater. Deliberate misinformation could have been a device for guarding craftsmen’s secrets.

A milder and more easily controllable treatment—microbial modification of green wood in water—can achieve desirable effects without causing the deleterious results of high temperature. In the 17th and 18th centuries, such treatment may have been the spontaneous result of the delivery of wood by floating or barging it down rivers.

The great violin makers of northern Italy benefited from such treatment. Their choicest wood was cut in northern forests and might have been carried downriver to Venice, there to remain floating in the lagoon until needed. Such wood would become extensively colonized by bacteria and fungi, but its degradation was minor and selective. Mainly, it is the system of cellular valves or openings in the walls of the long tubular cells of the wood—openings that permit the flow of liquids between two cells—that are degraded by microbial enzymes, along with the cell membranes and other exposed surfaces. However, extraction of some hemicellulose also is likely.

This results in a 50-fold increase in the permeability of the wood over that of wood that has been dried aseptically, although the mechanical strength of the wood remains practically unchanged. When wood is simply air dried, the cell wall holes close. In the more permeable wood that has soaked in seawater, air moves freely through the open holes from cell to cell, thereby removing internal pressures. In addition, the overall stiffness and damping characteristics of the wood can be affected because the open holes allow deep penetration of varnish or filler materials.

What does this have to do with the violins made by the Italian master craftsmen of the 18th century? An analysis of old Italian instruments might add credence to the notion that microbes had a role in making great violins. Unfortunately, authentic wood samples from such instruments are rarely available for testing. However, I have acquired six spruce specimens from instruments made by Stradivari, Guarneri, Joannes Baptista Guadagnini, and Francesco Ruggeri and examined them by scanning electron microscopy. Filaments of fungi are clearly preserved in all of these samples, while remnants of bacteria are present in some of them. More open or damaged holes are present in the cell walls of the wood in the six samples than in modern commercial wood used for violins. Also present are many mineral deposits, including clay and calcium carbonate. Concentration of salt in the six samples also is high, ranging from 10 to 50 times that found in wood that has not been immersed in seawater.

-Joseph Nagyvary

The Chemistry of a Stradivarius

Chemical & Engineering News, May 23, 1988

Lavoisier designed and used the equipment shown above for fermentation experiments; this setup is displayed at the Museum of Technology of the Conservatory of Arts & Measurements in Paris (Frederic L. Holmes).

Chemistry textbooks that credit Lavoisier with having been “the first chemist to realize the importance of the principle of the conservation of mass” sometimes substantiate that generalization by quoting all or part of the following passage translated from “Traité élémentaire de chimie,” the textbook in which Lavoisier presented a synthesis of his chemical system in 1789:

"For nothing is created, either in the operations of art, or in those of nature, and one can state as a principle that in every operation there is an equal quantity of material before and after the operation; that the quality and the quantity of the [simple] principles are the same, and that there are nothing but changes, modifications.

"It is on this principle that the whole art of making experiments is founded. One must suppose in every case a true equality or equation between the principles of the bodies one examines, and those which one obtains through the analysis."

With a few changes in terminology to modernize the language, Lavoisier’s declaration provides so impeccable a statement of what present-day chemists mean by the conservation of matter that its repeated appearance in textbooks written two centuries later seems, at first, unproblematic. Why then did one of the leading Lavoisier scholars, Henry Guerlac, write in 1962 that the belief that Lavoisier had ushered in the “age of quantitative chemistry,” enunciated “for the first time the principle of the Conservation of Mass in chemical reactions,” and “inaugurated the use of the balance,” was only a “cliché of histories of chemistry”—a cliché that was, according to Guerlac, “to say the least … a gross oversimplification?”

-Frederic L. Holmes

Antoine Lavoisier and the Conservation of Matter: Delving deeper than the thumbnail sketches often found in chemistry textbooks into the way this seminal 18th-century French chemist designed and conducted his experiments reveals a scientist very recognizable to practicing chemists today

Chemical & Engineering News, September 12, 1994

Top: At the Kenya Medical Research Institute in Nairobi, Lugar looks at unidentified bacteria. Middle: A Ugandan facility that Lugar visited lacks the proper tools to handle samples carrying deadly diseases such as anthrax and Ebola virus. Bottom: A handwritten logbook at a lab in Uganda notes a “suspected case of ANTHRAX outbreak.”  

The Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR) program is a U.S. initiative that began two decades ago to help secure and destroy nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in the republics of the former Soviet Union. Now, the program is being expanded to confront the threat of bioterrorism in other regions of the world.

Specifically, some of the world’s deadliest diseases—including the Ebola, Marburg, and Rift Valley Fever viruses—occur naturally in Africa, a volatile region of the world where civil upheaval and terrorism are widespread.

CTR program investigators found that during the Cold War, Soviet scientists used pathogens from Africa to make biological weapons. The U.S., with the assistance of the Russian government and military, shut down these programs. Those pathogens, though, are endemic to East Africa, where samples of the same diseases are studied today in research facilities that often lack basic security systems.

“Those weapons are being destroyed. Now we have to secure their sources,” says Sen. Richard G. Lugar of Indiana, the ranking Republican member and former chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “Al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups are active in Africa, and it is imperative that deadly pathogens stored in labs there are secure. This is a threat we cannot ignore.”

-Glenn Hess

Biosecurity Effort Expands to Africa: U.S. seeks to secure deadly pathogens to prevent their use in bioterror attacks

Chemical & Engineering News, April 11, 2011

Tungsten evaporated crystals and 1cm3 cube (Alchemist-hp (www.pse-mendelejew.de)).

Tungsten is an incredible material. It is dense and hard, and it has the lowest vapor pressure and highest melting temperature of all metals. This combination of properties makes tungsten extremely valuable for a myriad of applications, while at the same time creates great challenges in the processing of the metal.

As a child, I was fascinated by how things work and spent a lot of time taking things apart. As with most budding engineers, I rarely reassembled them. Incandescent bulbs were one of my first quarries, carefully disassembled to reveal a hidden treasure: a tungsten filament. It was amazing that this tiny wire could be heated to white-hot temperatures to produce light.

Also at an early age, I was introduced to vacuum tubes, and to this day they are magical in my eyes. When a tungsten filament is heated in a vacuum, the electrons near the surface become energetic enough to be emitted into the surrounding space. Additional tungsten conductors, in the form of grids and plates, can be added to the bulb, and the electrons can then be manipulated to switch, rectify and amplify These electronic switches were crucial in the development of modern electronics.  

Tungsten at a Glance: Name: From the Swedish tung sten, meaning heavy stone. The symbol is from mineral wolframite, from which the element was originally isolated. Atomic mass: 183.84. History: Isolated in 1783 by Spanish chemists Juan Jose and Fausto Elhuyar. Occurrence: China has 75% of the world’s tungsten ores. Appearance: Silvery white metal. Behavior: Tungsten has the highest melting point and highest boiling point of all metals. Uses: Tungsten is used in high-temperature applications such as heating.

-Rick Lowden  

It’s Elemental: Tungsten  

Chemical & Engineering News, September 8, 2003 

X-ray structure of two copies of Zaire Ebola virus protein (green, blue) shielding viral RNA (pink).

A new molecular view sheds light on how the Ebola virus evades recognition by the immune system: It uses a cloaking mechanism to mask a telltale sign of its invasion (Nat. Struc. Mol. Biol., DOI: 10.1038/nsmb.1765). The finding could lead to treatments for Ebola hemorrhagic fever, the severe and often fatal disease that follows infection with the virus.

Ebola is a wily infectious agent for which there is no cure, explains Gaya K. Amarasinghe, a biochemist at Iowa State University. It leaves a calling card in cells upon infection: its double-stranded RNA. Usually, that RNA would trigger the human immune system. But the virus makes a protein called VP35 that masks the RNA, thereby squelching the immune response.

To learn more about how the masking works, Amarasinghe, virologist Christopher F. Basler of Mount Sinai School of Medicine, and colleagues determined the X-ray crystal structure of a double-stranded Ebola RNA bound to VP35 from the deadly Zaire species of the virus. They find that multiple copies of VP35 assemble to cloak the RNA. One copy uses a pocket of hydrophobic amino acids to recognize the RNA backbone and cap the end of the double-stranded RNA. Another copy binds to the backbone through a patch of basic amino acids. Changes to two of those basic residues are enough to destroy the virus’s disease-causing ability in guinea pigs, the team recently found (J. Virol., DOI: 10.1128/ JVI.02459-09).

-Carmen Drahl

Ebola’s Clever Cloak: Protein that hides viral RNA prevents immune system’s detection of deadly virus

Chemical & Engineering News, January 25, 2010

Rocket engine. Bruce Schmitz examines a rocket engine being developed for NASA by Rocket Research Corp. It will be designed to deliver highly reproducible thrusts for making small corrections in the speed and direction of spacecraft. The propellant will be pure hydrazine or mixtures of hydrazine, nitric acid, and water, so the propellant’s freezing point can be reduced to -20° F.

Chemical & Engineering News, January 17, 1966

Is there a limit to the size of the molecule that can be characterized directly by x-ray crystal diffraction? There is, says A. L. Patterson of the Institute for Cancer Research and the Lankenau Hospital Research Institute. With considerable struggle one can do a molecule with 25 to 50 atoms, he declares, but the boundary of practically solvable molecules is about 100 atoms.

"There is almost no doubt that continuation of x-ray diffraction work on crystals of simple proteins will lead to the elucidation of their atomic arrangements within the next few years." This side of the coin is advocated by David Harker of Brooklyn Polytechnic Institute. Such giant molecules as hemoglobin and the nucleic acid derivatives can be mapped accurately by diffraction methods, he claims. In a goodnatured disagreement during the symposium on crystal structure by diffraction, Harker told the Division of Physical and Inorganic Chemistry that full characterization of large molecules is simply a matter of time and hard work.

-Chemical & Engineering News, September 27, 1954

Turns out Harker won this argument, judging from the rich array of structures in our special issue celebrating 100 years of X-ray crystallography. You can add your favorite crystal structure to the mix here.

Hugh M. Browne’s physics class at Hampton Institute, c. 1898.

"Science experiments are talks with Nature in her own language. … The white race has been questioning Nature for centuries and has grown powerful thereby in every particular." —Hugh M. Browne,  professor of physics, Hampton Institute, Hampton, Va., 1889 

The visitor [to the exhibit “Science in American Life” at Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History] encounters highlights of early efforts in the U.S. to involve minorities in the sciences. By using the methods of experimental science, Browne believed that blacks could command the same power as whites. Hampton Institute was founded in 1868 to help former slaves adjust to life as free men and women. It was a model for other schools that emphasized the practical value of science.

Browne believed that learning physics was the best way to acquire knowledge and discipline, and he made science the basis of his philosophy of racial uplift.

… “If science had been confined to academic research laboratories, it would not have had so profound an influence on society. Scientists were teachers and public servants who improved education, the food supply, public health, and sanitation. Because of their work, science became more familiar to society at large and became the basis for many technical jobs in a rapidly changing economy,” says Arthur P. Molella, chairman of the museum’s department of history of science and technology and chief curator of the exhibit.

-Linda Romaine Ross

Science in American Life

Chemical & Engineering News, March 7, 1994

The things which stand out in my memory in connection with the San Francisco meeting in 1910 are: the visit to the Petrified Forest on the way out; the wonderful purple light on the Colorado Canyon, with which we were favored by holding the train until sunset; the train wreck between Los Angeles and San Francisco and marvelous escape of the members of our company; and, most valuable of all, the friendships made during the trip.

-W.A. Noyes, Urbana, Ill., May 10, 1935

Reminiscences of American Chemical Society San Francisco 1910 Meeting

Chemical & Engineering News, June 20, 1935

This week, we’re celebrating 100 years of X-ray crystallography with a special issue full of structures that changed the world. New technology introduced in the 1960s gave the field an enormous boost, as this story from our archives shows:

Until recently, nearly all crystallography studies were based on experimental methods established during the 1920’s, although there had been a steady improvement in technique, particularly since 1945. But in the past few years, automation procedures have been applied to intrinsically superior experimental methods. This development, together with corresponding advances in computing techniques, undoubtedly portends a sharply improved flow of crystallographic information, in quality as well as in quantity. 

Each atom in a crystal has the power of scattering an x-ray beam incident on it. The sum of all the scattered waves in the crystal results in the x-ray beams diffracted from each allowed crystal plane; and the intensity of each “reflection” forms the basic information required in crystal structure analysis.    

The traditional photographic technique can be compared with the automatic diffractometer method by considering a typical series of intensity measurements. Let us assume that the average single crystal is characterized by 1000 independent reflections. Then, for a complete analysis, about 100 photographic records would be needed to measure these reflections in the popular multiple film technique. Collection of the films would take at least a month, and then each would have to be “read” by an experienced observer who estimates the intensity of each spot. These values would be placed on a common scale and averaged, and finally they would be reduced to a single collection of 1000 intensity values.

…Using an automatic diffractometer, the corresponding times depend directly on the statistical precision and overall accuracy desired. With a precision of better than 1% and an accuracy of 5 to 10%, it is easy to measure about 200 reflections in 24 hours; thus, the total measurement time is reduced to less than a week. The integrated intensities are extracted from the diffractometer output record by a high speed computer, the systematic corrections are applied, and the final set of structure factors is obtained on a common scale, all in less than half an hour of computer time.

-S.C. Abrahams

Automation in X-ray Crystallography

Chemical & Engineering News, June 3, 1963

Induction. Edmond Domboski of Pennsalt Chemicals checks an inductively heated reactor in the high-temperature laboratory. The device, seen in the foreground, is used in studying gaseous reactions at 1000° to 2000 °C. The copper coil surrounding the glass container receives radio-frequency energy, which is transferred to the graphite tube in the center of the vessel. This system eliminates the need for internal electrical connections and reduces some problems associated with experiments carried out under vacuum or in controlled atmospheres.

Chemical & Engineering News, January 17, 1966

Top, equipment used by Priestley in his experiments on gases (Wikimedia Commons). Bottom, Scheele, Mme. Lavoisier, and Priestley in “Oxygen” simulate Lavoisier’s famous experiment on oxygen’s role in respiration (courtesy of Carl Djerassi).

Today in 1774, Joseph Priestley isolated oxygen. Here are some musings on the invaluable element from scientist and playwright Carl Djerassi:

One need not be a chemist to know that without oxygen a human life would cease in seconds or minutes rather than decades. But as an organic chemist who has practiced his art for more than half a century, I must concede that without oxygen I would not have published a single paper, because most of my chemical life was spent grazing in steroid pastures. Few classes of organic molecules are as interesting as steroids—covering the gamut from sex hormones, oral contraceptives, bile acids, corticoids, vitamin D, and cardiac glycosides to anabolic drugs of abuse—yet this panoply of biological diversity is based on a single chemical template: the tetracyclic C17H28 steroid skeleton. A thin paperback written solely in two letters (C and H) becomes the steroid “Bible of Life” through addition of a third letter, O, that nature—and occasionally clever chemists—introduce into select places on that template.

… But as a chemist turned playwright, let me end with some lines from “Oxygen”—a play I wrote with Roald Hoffmann:

ASTRID: First to the discovery: No one will question that oxygen confers great benefit on mankind, right?

BENGT: Oxygen was good for people before it was “discovered!”

And then Mme. Lavoisier’s conclusion of the play: “Imagine what it means to understand what gives a leaf its color! And how it turns red. What makes a fever fall, a flame burn. Imagine!”

It’s Elemental: Oxygen

Chemical & Engineering News, September 8, 2003

Signs of life. Harvard astronomer Carl Sagan says that “had the Mariner IV vehicle passed the same distance from earth that it did from Mars … no sign of life on our planet would have been uncovered.” At bottom left is a shot of Mars from 6000 miles above its surface. At bottom right is a panoramic view of the U.S. from 430 miles above earth. Above: A Mariner spacecraft is checked out by NASA technicians. Objective of Mariner missions is to collect data in interplanetary space between earth and Mars and in the vicinity of Mars. Mariner program will run through 1969.

Search for Life on Mars Faces Delays From Squeeze on Nonessential Spending

Chemical & Engineering News, January 17, 1966