Browsing: Chemistry

Did you know there was a hole in the ozone layer? Thanks to swift, decisive international action not many people under a certain age probably do. Those of us over a certain age, however, should remember the ozone hole—a precipitous seasonal drop in the amount of ultraviolet radiation-blocking, skin cancer-preventing oxygen molecules over Antarctica—as being among the top environmental concerns in the 1970s and 1980s. Once we had detected the hole, the scientific community quickly realized that it was caused by the reaction of ozone with chlorine—an atmospheric invader. As it turned out, the chlorine was coming from a class of chemicals that we had been releasing into the air for some time called chlorofluorocarbons, or CFCs for short. While…

Marie Curie is perhaps the most famous woman of 20th century science. Major motion pictures and best-selling biographies have chronicled her discovery of the radioactive elements polonium and radium, for which she shared the Nobel Prize in physics in 1903 and then received a second Nobel Prize, this time in chemistry, in 1911. Very little note, however, has been made of her leadership role in the development of radioactivity standards. In 1910, she was asked by her peers to prepare the world’s first radium standard: a glass ampoule containing 21.99 milligrams of radium chloride, whose mass and radioactivity had been carefully measured. She agreed, on the advice of Nobel laureate Ernest Rutherford, that this international standard would not be kept in…

My mom is a painter, so I grew up in a messy house full of brushes, twisted tubes of paint, pots of ink, plaster busts of various Romans, rolls of papers, and shelves of art books. I remember spending many hours poring over the glossy pages of my mom’s art books and trying to imitate the drawings I liked. I got so good at drawing the profiles of Agrippa and Venus that they became my favorite things to doodle. However, whenever someone asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, my answers were usually a doctor, an astronaut, a scientist—never an artist. For me, art was something I enjoyed in my free time and appreciated having around…

In case you haven’t already heard, if you wanted to give your loved one that special, once-in-a-lifetime gift by naming one of the elements in row 7 of the Periodic Table after him or her, it’s too late (and probably against the rules anyway, but more on that later). With the recently announced official names for elements with atomic numbers 113 (nihonium), 115 (moscovium), 117 (tennessine) and 118 (oganesson), the all-radioactive row 7 of the Periodic Table is now complete. Included are two (thorium and uranium) found naturally, five that result from the radioactive decay of other elements—such as everyone’s favorite cinematic time machine fuel, plutonium—and 25 that can only be synthesized in the laboratory. The good news for those…

I’ve worked with many valuable materials in my career. Precious metals like gold and platinum, rare engineered nanomaterials, and fragile gemstones nearly as old as the Earth itself. But the unassuming jars of fine gray-brown powder I found myself holding last year left them all in the dust, so to speak. I think I probably kicked up some dust, too, when my colleague Ed Garboczi called to ask if I wanted to help him make some measurements of particles that the Apollo 11 and 14 astronauts had collected during their lunar landings. After all, when you get a call like that, you don’t walk, you run. Ed, a NIST Fellow and researcher in the Material Measurement Laboratory, and Jay Goguen of…

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