Browsing: Chemistry

Legwarmers, preppies, yuppies, Molly Ringwald, nuclear paranoia … the 1980s were my favorite decade. I was in junior high school in New Jersey when I saw The Day After, a 1983 TV movie that depicted a nuclear war between the United States and the Soviet Union. The focus of the movie, however, was not on the war but rather on the impact that the nuclear exchange had on everyday people. I remember watching the movie with my parents, being very scared, and thinking “Could this really happen?” Little did I know that 33 years later a series of interconnected events would have me answering related questions in nuclear forensics. In high school, I became interested in political science and international…

I love sea turtles. I love looking into their giant, ancient, gentle eyes and watching them use their long flippers, so graceful in the water, to lumber awkwardly, but persistently, up the moonlit beach to lay their ping pong ball-sized eggs in the sand. I love seeing the tiny hatchlings, so small they can fit in the palm of your hand, frantically climb up and out of their nests and down the beach to start their long, mysterious lives beneath the waves until they, like their mothers and countless generations before them, are called to lumber up the beach to lay their eggs and begin the cycle anew. Growing up in landlocked Indiana, I experienced these magical moments only through…

Put your hands together. Now move them back and forth to rub them against each other. Feel that heat? That’s from friction. No matter if it’s between siblings or the gears of an engine, we usually think of friction as a bad thing, and often it is. Whether we’re talking about relationships or engines, friction can cause things to heat up, wear down, and eventually break apart. To fight friction, we apply lubricants like oil (though I wouldn’t advise doing so to your siblings, it will probably just make things worse). Lubricants coat interacting surfaces and make it easier for them to slip past each other. There’s a whole scientific and engineering discipline dedicated to the materials science, chemistry, physics…

This article was written in response to the March 14, 2016, death of John Cahn, one of the world’s foremost materials scientists, who worked at NIST from 1977 to 2006. Cahn received the National Medal of Science in 1998 and the Kyoto Prize in Advanced Technology in 2011. I first met John Cahn in the late 1960s when he visited our department of metallurgy at the Technion — Israel Institute of Technology. Already a famous thermodynamics-of-materials scholar, John was our most important visiting scientist at the time. During that period I was studying for my master’s and then Ph.D. degrees, and John and I were talking science. John was interested in my work and in particular in the microstructure of…

Have you ever wondered what might happen if we run out of fossil fuels? How do you think we will be able to survive without the resources we need to heat and cool our homes and buildings or the raw materials we use to create all the plastics that make up our modern world? Indeed, if we continue to use up these energy sources up at alarming rates, I think the consequences will be devastating to humanity’s future. As a 17-year-old with a brand new driver’s license back in 1973 during the OPEC Middle East oil embargo, I found myself pondering these serious questions as I sat in line for hours waiting my turn with the family cars to “fill…