Tag Archives: Chemistry

Channeling a Passion for Chemistry to Help Others

ACS CHEMMATTERS

Ask Brandon Presley about any twist and turn in his chemistry journey, and he’ll tell you about people: The high school teacher who gave him the courage to sink his teeth into chemistry; the family and friends who encouraged him; and the mentors and colleagues who gave him focus when he’d spread himself too thin. For Presley, that deep connection between chemistry and people motivates him every day.

Read the full story and Q&A in ACS ChemMatters (Printed in the April 2021 Issue)

Researchers Levitated a Small Tray Using Nothing but Light

WIRED

One day a “magic carpet” based on this light-induced flow technology could carry climate sensors high in the atmosphere—wind permitting.

IN THE BASEMENT of a University of Pennsylvania engineering building, Mohsen Azadi and his labmates huddled around a set of blinding LEDs set beneath an acrylic vacuum chamber. They stared at the lights, their cameras, and what they hoped would soon be some action from the two tiny plastic plates sitting inside the enclosure. “We didn’t know what we were expecting to see,” says Azadi, a mechanical engineering PhD candidate. “But we hoped to see something.”

Let’s put it this way: They wanted to see if those plates would levitate, lofted solely by the power of light.

Read the full story in WIRED

Chemist by Training, Explorer by Heart | Q&A with NASA Materials Chemist

ACS CHEMMATTERS MAGAZINE

Yajaira Sierra-Sastre is always looking for new worlds to explore. As a young girl growing up in Puerto Rico, she gazed at stars through a clear night sky. “My first passion was for anything related to astronomy and planets and stars and space,” she says. Sierra-Sastre fell in love with science during childhood, and went on to study chemistry at the University of Puerto Rico, Mayagüez.“I could see chemistry all around me,” Sierra-Sastre says. After graduating, she started on a path to connect her studies with the real world in as many new ways as possible. “I had this desire of just going out on an adventure.”

In the 20 years since, she has used her degree to teach high school chemistry; earn a PhD making nanomaterials for space experiments; help create new types of textiles and batteries; spend months living in a Mars simulation; and oversee the research projects that keep printed money secure.

Read the full story and Q&A in ACS ChemMatters Magazine (Printed in February 2021 Issue)

Forget Blood—Your Skin Might Know If You’re Sick

WIRED

This glowing microneedle test could catalyze a transition from blood-based diagnostics to a stick-on patch.

A RIVER OF biological information flows just beneath the outermost layers of your skin, in which a hodgepodge of proteins squeeze past each other through the interstitial fluid surrounding your cells. This “interstitium” is an expansive and structured space, making it, to some, a newfound “organ.” But its wealth of biomarkers for conditions like tuberculosis, heart attacks, and cancer has attracted growing attention from researchers looking to upend reliance on diagnostic tools they say are inefficient, invasive, and blood-centric.

Read the full story in WIRED

Extreme Adventures and Saving the Planet | Q&A With a Sustainable Chemist

ACS CHEMMATTERS

Laura Hoch’s career began with a murder. Well, not a real murder—a murder-mystery game staged by her high school chemistry teachers in central Pennsylvania.

“There would be all these clues, and then you put together a forensic report based on all you’ve been able to find out by analyzing stuff,” she says. “It wasn’t on my radar to be a chemist, but I just had that memory of chemistry being really fun and interesting.”

Read the full story and Q&A in ACS ChemMatters Magazine (Printed in December 2020 Issue)

What Human Hair Reveals About Death’s Seasonality

SAPIENS

A new study demonstrates a method for deciphering the timing of a deceased person’s death using a lock of hair.

Each wave of Edith Howard Cook’s reddish-blonde hair tells a story. One segment may chronicle an unusually damp San Francisco summer; another may recall a dry December. But read in their entirety, the strands reveal the season in 1876 when 2-year-old Edith passed away.

Archaeologist Jelmer Eerkens helped identify Edith after a construction crew discovered her remains in a backyard in 2016. “I have kids myself,” says Eerkens, an archaeologist at the University of California, Davis. “So, I oftentimes think about living in the 1800s. And children dying was just a common thing.”

By 1900, for example, children under the age of 5 accounted for 30 percent of all deaths in the U.S.—often from tuberculosis and flu, which fluctuate with the seasons. “Your kid gets sick: Are they going to die? Are they going to live? It must have been heart-wrenching,” Eerkens notes.

In a new study published in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology, Eerkens and his colleagues introduce a method to decode the season of an individual’s death using hair.

Read the full story in SAPIENS

Republished by The Atlantic

Are Forever Chemicals Harming Ocean Life?

THE REVELATOR

Here’s what we know (and don’t know) about how dangerous PFAS chemicals travel ocean currents and harm wildlife — and what that could mean for humans.

In seabird after seabird, Anna Robuck found something concerning: per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, lurking around vital organs.

“Brain, liver, kidney, lung, blood, heart,” Robuck says, rattling off a few hiding spots before pausing to recall the rest. Robuck, a Ph.D. candidate in chemical oceanography at the University of Rhode Island, quickly settles on a simpler response: She found the chemicals everywhere she looked.

PFAS — a group of synthetic chemicals — are often called “forever chemicals” due to their quasi-unbreakable molecular bonds and knack for accumulating in living organisms. That foreverness is less of a design flaw than a design feature: The stubborn, versatile molecules help weatherproof clothing; smother flames in firefighting foam; and withstand heat and grime on nonstick pans.

Through consumption and disposal, the chemicals seep into ecosystems and bodies, where they have been linked to cancers, pregnancy complications, and reproductive and immune dysfunction. Recent attention has focused on the prevalence of PFAS in drinking water.

“Over the past 10-15 years we’ve really developed this super negative picture of what PFAS do to humans,” Robuck says. “But we’ve barely scratched the surface of that in wildlife.”

Read the full story in The Revelator

To Make Oxygen on Mars, NASA’s Perseverance Rover Needs MOXIE

SMITHSONIAN

A new tool from the space agency may produce the gas, completing the next step for planning a round trip voyage

Putting boots on Mars isn’t easy, but it’s a lot easier than bringing them back.

This week, NASA launches its Perseverance rover on a one-way trip to the surface of Mars. Among many other tools, the craft carries an experimental instrument that could help astronauts in the future make roundtrip voyages to the planet. The Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization Experiment, or MOXIE, is small, about the size of a car battery. It’s designed to demonstrate a technology that converts carbon dioxide into oxygen with a process called electrolysis. Mars’ thin atmosphere is 95 percent carbon dioxide, but sending anything back into space requires fuel, and burning that fuel requires oxygen. NASA could ship liquid oxygen to the planet, but the volume needed takes up a good deal of space.

MOXIE could show the way to a solution.

Read the full story in Smithsonian