Look and listen. Hughes Aircraft scientists show their miniature radiation detector. In top photo, one of them takes a close look at the heart of the new device—a thin wafer of highly pure silicon. When a charged particle strikes the silicon, it emits a pulse that can be measured and analyzed. In lower photo, Dr. S.S. Friedland listens to the response of a detector packaged in a cigarshaped tube with battery and amplifier. Hughes believes the detector will be useful in exploring space, in nuclear research, therapy, and industrial processing.
Finger-tip control. An operator demonstrates the space gloves developed by Lockheed-California Co. and now being tested by the Air Force as an astronaut propulsion system. The gloves, equipped with air jets, can control the body movements of astronauts working outside a spacecraft. The astronauts’ hands are left free for repair work or other tasks. The required compressed air, which can provide either forward or backward thrust, can come from a back pack or from an umbilical cord connected to the space ship.
In a rare philatelic tribute to a scientist, a new 29-cent U.S. stamp commemorates the late black chemist Percy Lavon Julian. The stamp, released for nationwide sale on Jan. 30, puts Julian in the company of W. E. B. Du Bois, Sojourner Truth, Jackie Robinson, Martin Luther King Jr., and others honored in the U.S. Postal Service’s black heritage commemorative series.
Julian’s story is one of a grandson of slaves who overcame prejudice, blatant job discrimination, and two bombings of his home to become a pioneer in the chemical synthesis of medicinal drugs, an industrial research manager—and eventually a millionaire entrepreneur.
"He was the first black research director of any chemical concern of note," says emeritus chemistry professor Donald J. Cook of DePauw University, Greencastle, Ind., Julian’s alma mater. "In fact, I would call him the first black research chemist that America turned out."
Among Julian’s most significant scientific accomplishments were the first total synthesis of the glaucoma drug physostigmine, the discovery of an economical way to produce sex hormones from soybean oil, and the development of a low-cost synthetic method for making a form of the antiarthritis drug cortisone.
Black Chemist Percy Julian Commemorated on Postage Stamp: Julian overcame prejudice, discrimination, and violence to become first major black research chemist in U.S. and millionaire entrepreneur
"Stacked neatly in a cardboard box, Eric Woodward has exactly 699 pages of decades-old notes written by his father. Most people would describe a box of their parents’ old notes as little more than sentimental ephemera or even junk bound for the trash bin. But most people aren’t the children of Robert Burns Woodward, the acclaimed Harvard University chemistry professor and 1965 Nobel Laureate in Chemistry.
Many of the pages have yellowed with age, but to those in the chemical community, the contents of that modest cardboard box are a veritable treasure trove. They are Woodward’s notes on conducting materials—a project that he clearly spent a considerable amount of time thinking about but that resulted in only two papers, the latter of which was published posthumously.”
Liner laminate. Operator welds a joint between a polypropylene laminate sheeting that has been cold bonded to a mild steel tank. Dunlop Chemline Services, Manchester, England, claims its Dunclad P.L. polypropylene/rubber laminate can be used at temperatures from 0° to 100° C. The rubber interlayer minimizes the effect of shear stress at the laminate/metallic surface so that the lining does not become detached.
Left, Inspector Ashley Rhodes uses a circular gage to check measurements of a part of a precision burner for applying gas-fired heat at Selas Corp.’s Dresher, Pa., plant. The fire-resistant-ceramic parts will be used to fabricate components for satellite communications equipment.
Right, Agricultural engineer Paul James and assistant Delia Harden demonstrate a nuclear device which measures the strength and thickness of eggshells. The gage, developed jointly by USDA and AEC, uses a radioisotope to hurl harmless beta particles at the egg, then measures the backscatter.
Chromosomes. Dr. Robert S. Ledley (right), president of National Biomedical Research Foundation, and executive treasurer Louis S. Rotolo examine digital reproductions of chromosomes in a human cell. The reproductions were developed from micro- and X-ray photographs and printed on an IBM/360 Model 44. Scientists at the Silver Spring, Md., foundation use the technique to study chromosomes in relation to hereditary diseases.
Space glare. Lockheed Missiles & Space Co. research engineer William K. Kincaid uses models to demonstrate the problems of intense glare and shadows which may plague astronauts during maneuvers in space. As part of its solar illumination docking study for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Lockheed will give models a mirrorlike finish to duplicate the light-reflecting properties of spacecraft.
Workers clean oil offshore after spill on Alaska’s Prince William Sound. Credit: Reuters/Bettmann Newsphotos
Who is to blame for the devastating and still expanding impact of the 10.9 million gal oil spill let loose two months ago in Alaska’s pristine Prince William Sound?
Fingers point obviously to Exxon, owner of the tanker Exxon Valdez that hit Bligh Reef at four minutes after midnight on Good Friday, March 24, and started the disaster. However, there is more than enough blame to go around for Exxon, Alyeska Pipeline Service Co., and federal and state governments, says a report just sent to President Bush by William K. Reilly, administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, and Samuel K. Skinner, Secretary of Transportation.
“Government and industry plans, individually and collectively, proved to be wholly insufficient to control an oil spill of the magnitude of the Exxon Valdez incident,” the report finds. “Initial industry efforts to get equipment on scene were unreasonably slow, and once deployed the equipment could not cope with the spill. Moreover, the various contingency plans did not refer to each other or establish a workable response command hierarchy. This resulted in confusion and delayed the cleanup.”
Alaska Oil Spill: Cleanup efforts found slow, confused
Master of disguise. Can you find the cuttlefish? Credit: Dreamstime. Check out this video of a camouflaged octopus in action.
At first glance, the algae-covered rock sitting on the ocean floor could not be more unremarkable. With its leafy fronds waving gently in the current, it’s little more than undulating background in the underwater world. But as a diver approaches, a curious thing happens: The fronds stretch and soften, changing color and shape as a spooked octopus emerges from the surface, shedding its disguise before it darts off into the deep.
Cephalopods—octopus, squid, and cuttlefish—are experts in the art of camouflage. They can make themselves look like fish, rocks, and coral, thwarting predators thanks to the highly evolved camouflaging mechanism of their skin. Scientists are trying to decipher the secrets of cephalopod skin, hoping to find the mechanisms that make the creatures masters of disguise. Studying their artful concealment could also provide new camouflage strategies for military applications.
Cephalopods have evolved complex camouflaging mechanisms because almost every creature that they encounter finds them to be delicious, explains Lydia Mäthger, a research associate in Roger Hanlon’s group at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Mass. “They’re basically just a big chunk of protein out in the sea,” she says. Consequently, the animals spend their entire day camouflaged, shifting their form to hide from predators.
Each layer of a cephalopod’s skin has a specific function for concealing the creature. The innermost layer uses light-scattering leucophore cells to reflect ambient light. Under white light, for example, the leucophores look white. These give the cephalopods a sort of base coat that helps them to match their surroundings.
The outermost layer of a cephalopod’s skin allows the animal to change color. It’s full of chromatophores, which are “essentially little balloons, perhaps a millimeter in diameter, that are filled with red, yellow, or brown pigment,” Mäthger explains. When the muscles attached to each chromatophore contract, they pull the pigment sack outward, expanding regions of color on the skin. When the muscles relax, the chromatophores close back up.
Hide and Seek: Cephalopod camouflage inspires materials research
In clover. Marge Lalor of Chemetron’s National Cylinder Gas division looks through shamrock shape, perhaps appropriate for this week’s celebration of St. Patrick’s Day. Shape was cut in metal plate by flame cutting machine that electronically follows drawing on metal (Chemical & Engineering News, March 16, 1970).
Happy St. Patrick’s Day! Here’s a blast from the past on the chemistry of the New York parade’s signature green stripe:
Heliogen Viridine Y, General Aniline & Film’s new yellow-green pigment, rode into town on St. Patrick’s coat tails March 17. It provided the color in the traditional green stripe (54 blocks long) that New York City paints down the center of Fifth Avenue every St. Patrick’s Day.
The new product represents the first shift of the phthalocyanine spectrum into the yellow, GAF says. Phthalocyanines, though long noted for their stability to light, heat, and chemical attack, have violently resisted attempts to extend their color spectrum outside the blue-green range. But now, 10 years and some $1 million after tackling the project, GAF has turned the trick, has eight patents in the works.
Robert Brouillard, manager of the pigment department in GAF’s Dyestuffs & Chemical Division, grabbed a paint brush and put down the first couple of feet of the bright green stripe by hand. A New York City painting machine did the rest of the job.
Mathematicians have come up with hundreds of ways to calculate pi. Calculations usually include the law of cosines, the Pythagorean theorem, and a boatload of other jargon that can be hard to comprehend. However, the website www.wikihow.com serves up an entirely different—and tastier—approach…
The earliest known portrait of Joseph Priestley, known as the “Leeds” portrait (c. 1763). Credit: Wikimedia Commons
Today we celebrate the birth in 1733 of Joseph Priestley, discoverer of oxygen, with a look at how his discovery has been celebrated by chemists over the years:
In August, 1874, a group of 74 American chemists, called together by Dr. H.C. Bolton, then dean of the School of Mines at Columbia University, met at the grave of Joseph Priestley in Northumberland, Pennsylvania, to mark the one-hundredth anniversary of the discovery of oxygen. At that inconspicuous grave and within the hospitable walls of the mansion built by Priestley on the banks of the Susquehanna eighty years before, associations were formed which led two years later to the organization of the American Chemical Society.
On Sunday, September 5, after fifty years of tremendous growth, the Society will make a pilgrimage to the same grave and will meet again at the Priestley house, now preserved as a shrine of American chemistry by the chemical alumni of the Pennsylvania State College. Only three of the original group survive. Of these Dr. S.A. Goldschmidt of New York City, a member of the Society for fifty years, and Prof. A.A. Breneman also of New York City are expected to be present. Dr. F.W. Clarke, of the U.S. Geological Survey, is at present in England. Though only two of the original seventy-four can be present, there will be hundreds of their scientific heirs who will make the pilgrimage to mark the double anniversary. Some of them will be looking forward to their part in the next great pilgrimage in 1974.
United Cigar Stores Company poster, 1918. Source: Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, WWI Posters/Wikimedia Commons.
Do daylight-standard time shifts change accident rates?
Gerald Schiller of New York City has pointed out an assertion that “insufficient sleep and disrupted circadian rhythms are a major public health problem” [New Eng. J. Med., 334, 924 (1996)]. The author is Stanley Coren of the University of British of Columbia. An example of the problem, he points out, is a report by others that in the U.S. in 1988 the cost of accidents related to sleep deprivation exceeded $56 billion and included 24,318 deaths and 2,474,430 disabling injuries.
To examine the effects of minor disruptions of circadian rhythms on normal activities, Coren turned to annual shifts from standard to daylight savings time and back again…. The Canadian scientist cites a report that “measurable changes in sleep patterns persist for up to five days after each time shift.” Therefore, he reasons, the loss of an hour’s sleep in the spring might increase the number of lapses of attention during ordinary activities and so increase the probability of accidents. Conversely, the hour of sleep time gained in the fall would reduce the probability of accidents.
To test this idea, Coren and his colleagues used data on traffic accidents in Canada reported to the Ministry of Transport for 1991 and 1992. Their data covered all of the nine provinces that observe daylight savings time (only Saskatchewan does not). The analysis was restricted to accidents on the Monday preceding the week of the time change, the Monday immediately after the change, and the Monday one week after the change. The analysis of the spring shift included 9,593 accidents, and the analysis of the fall shift, 12,010 accidents.
Sure enough, Coren’s statistical analysis shows that “the spring shift to daylight savings time, and the concomitant loss of one hour of sleep, resulted in an average increase in traffic accidents of approximately 8%, whereas the fall shift resulted in a decrease in accidents of approximately the same magnitude immediately after the time shift.”
The catastrophic technological disasters of the late Soviet period, of which Chernobyl is the most obvious, can be linked directly to the intellectual emasculation of the engineering profession. This is not to suggest that massive technological failures can’t happen in the U.S., nor is it to belittle the positive accomplishments of Soviet engineering. But in the Soviet system before 1985, technical solutions once accepted by the political leadership couldn’t legitimately be questioned. In most cases, the pressure to overlook or conceal mistakes in design overwhelmingly outweighed professional integrity. Restoring this integrity to the Russian engineering community should be high on the agenda of anyone interested in Russia’s future.
Gary R. Waxmonsky, reviewing “Science in Russia and the Soviet Union: A Short History,” by Loren R. Graham