Biography/History

Free Articles

Einstein’s Miraculous Year
December 2005 (pp 4–6)

Author: Doris Kimbrough
Chemistry Connections:
Atomic Theory, History/Biography, Solids/Liquids/Gases
Description:
Discusses three main problems tackled by Einstein in 1905: photoelectric effect, the nature of atomic structure, and the space-time continuum. Photoelectric effect: describes light as electromagnetic waves, and states that frequency, not intensity determines if electrons are ejected when light shines on a metal, and higher frequency means faster electrons ejected. Einstein’s answer: think of light as a particle (photon) here, not a wave. Atomic theory: Einstein explained Brownian motion as the motion of atoms and molecules bumping into each other, and calculated the size of atoms based on his observations, cementing the idea of atoms for doubting scientists. Special theory of relativity: Einstein showed that time and space are relative, depending on the frame of reference of the observer. Diagram illustrates photoelectric effect.

ChemHistory: The Race for Iodine
December 2006 (pp 18–19)

Author: Mark Michalovic
Chemistry Connections:
History/Biography, Periodicity, Reactions, Solutions
Description:
Relates the history behind two competitive chemical pioneers, Davy and Gay-Lussac, their simultaneous investigation to determine the chemical composition of a purple substance isolated from seaweed. Both chemists determine it is the element iodine, not a chlorine compound.

Hindenburg: Formula for Disaster
December 2007 (pp 8–10)

Author: Tim Graham
Chemistry Connections: History/Biography, Solids/Liquids/Gases, Thermochemistry
Description: Details the story of the burning of the Hindenburg with emphasis on the structure of the ship and the hydrogen used to keep it afloat. Examines the causes, actual or theorized, for the event. One theory, the incendiary paint theory, is described in detail. The theory suggests that the sealant that coated the Hindenburg was made of iron (II) oxide, aluminum and cellulose acetate—all flammable chemicals and this the root cause of the fire, not hydrogen. Examines film of the fire and emphasizes reaction rates in discussing the theories.

Articles available on the ChemMatters DVD

Anesthesia: Chemistry in the Operating Room
February 2010 (pp 8–9)

Author: Claudia M. Caruana
Chemistry Connections:
History/Biography, Organic/Biochemistry, Solids/Liquids/Gases
Description:
Describes and explains the way in which general and local inhaled anesthetics work in the human body. Provides the reader with some history of anesthesia—from 4200 BC to the present day—including nitrous oxide, ether and modern inhalation anesthetics, halogenated ethers. Discusses some biochemical mechanisms suggested to explain the effect of an anesthetic on the nervous system, although it also states the lack of a precise medical/scientific understanding of how anesthetics work.

Glowing Proteins with Promising Biological and Medical Applications
December 2008 (pp 12–14)

Author: Linda Zajac
Chemistry Connections:
History/Biography, Organic/Biochemistry, Reactions
Description:
Discusses research done to discover why crystal jellyfish glow in the dark, which led to discovery of green fluorescent protein (GFP, for short). Describes how GFP genes can be inserted into DNA of other cells that can then act as tracers as they travel throughout the body. Describes the uses of other colors of fluorescent proteins that have been discovered, including: tracking viruses in plant diseases, helping to cure brain diseases, and cancer therapy studies. Might be used in class in discussion of light emission and absorption and energy and wavelength of light.

Percy Julian: Rising Above Racism
October 2007 (pp 13–15)

Author: Christen Brownlee
Chemistry Connections:
History/Biography, Organic/Biochemistry
Description:
Chronicles Julian’s early life as the grandson of slaves, his education at DePauw University, Harvard and the University of Vienna and his teaching career at DePauw, Fisk and Howard Universities. Describes his groundbreaking synthesis of alkaloids—physostigmine to treat glaucoma, derivatives of soybeans for a variety of applications and steroids like progesterone and cortisol. Also recounts Julian’s struggles to overcome the racism of the time.

Linus Pauling: American Hero
October 2007 (pp 8–10)

Author: Sarah Vos
Chemistry Connections:
Bonding, History/Biography
Description:
Describes three major phases of Pauling’s work. His research into the nature of chemical bonds revealed that bonds could exhibit properties on a continuum between pure covalent and pure ionic. His work on the nature of proteins established molecular biology as a discipline and also shed new light on weak intermolecular forces, especially hydrogen bonding. Also discussed his work on hemoglobin and Vitamin C. Third major area of the article is Pauling’s controversial anti-war activities. Notes that Pauling is the recipient of two Nobel Prizes—one for Chemistry and the other for Peace.

Chemsumer—The Sun: Fusion at Work
February 2007 (pp 8–11)

Author: Clair Wood
Chemistry Connections:
History/Biography, Nuclear, Sustainability
Description:
Traces historical theories about the composition and structure of the sun. Describes in detail nuclear fusion reactions that take place in the sun and explains how elements are produced from the hydrogen and helium which are the primary constituents of the sun. The proton-proton pathways are given special emphasis. Describes the solar atmosphere—core, radiative zone, convective zone, photosphere, chromospheres and corona—and the processes that take place in each region. Concludes with a section on how the earth interacts with the sun and how the sun can be used as an alternative energy source.

Alice Ball: A Young Chemist Gave Hope to Millions
February 2007 (pp 16–19)

Author: Paul Wermager and Carl Heltzel
Chemistry Connections:
History/Biography, Organic/Biochemistry
Description:
Chronicles the history of the leper colony at Kalaupapa settlement on the Hawaiian island of Molokai and early attempts to treat leprosy (Hansen’s Disease). Traces the introduction of a modern treatment, chaulmoogra oil, the active ingredients of which are chaulmoogric acid and hydnocarpic acid. Both chemicals are insoluble in water, making them difficult to use in humans. Features biographical information on Alice Ball, a young African-American chemistry instructor at the University of Hawaii. Ball solved the insolubility of chaulmoogra oil in 1915, by preparing the ethyl esters of the fatty acids present in the oil, thus making the treatment available by injection. This method of treating Hansen’s Disease was the standard of care until sulfa drugs were introduced in the 1940s.

ChemHistory: The New Alchemy
October 2006 (pp 15–17)

Author: Michael McClure
Chemistry Connections:
Atomic theory, History/Biography, Nuclear, Periodicity
Description:
Relates the history of discovering/explaining various nuclear reactions (fusion, radioactivity, fission, transmutation). Working with transuranium elements, Seaborg proposed actinide series.

Bling Zinger: The Lead Content of Jewelry
April 2006 (pp 11–14)

Author: Christen Brownlee
Chemistry Connections:
History/Biography, Metals/Nonmetals
Description:
Describes the properties of the element lead and some of its compounds that have been used throughout history. Describes its use in ancient viaducts, pottery, jewelry, crystal and even food. Focuses on the modern use of lead compounds in gasoline, paint and jewelry and the dangers this usage poses to humans. Explains that lead is a neurotoxin that accumulates in the body and inhibits the production of hemoglobin and also mimics the behavior of calcium ions in the nervous system. Describes chelation therapy to remove lead from the body.

ChemMystery: Real or Fake? The James Ossuary Case
February 2006 (pp 8-10)

Author: Lois Fruen
Chemistry Connections:
Atomic Theory, Equilibrium, History/Biography, Nuclear, Organic/Biochemistry
Description:
Discusses methods used to authenticate antiquities, focusing on radiocarbon dating. The process and the background science are described. Other methods described: hardness and density testing, microscopic analysis of mineral composition, mass spectrometry to measure O-18 to O-16 isotope ratios. Scientists reported the artifacts were fake, but then further research by other scientists refuted the fakery claims. The question remains unanswered. Chemistry centers on isotopic composition and presence of carbon dioxide in groundwater dissolving calcite (equilibrium equations provided).

ChemHistory: There’s Chemistry in Golf Balls!
October 2005 (pp 15–17)

Author: Brian Rohrig
Chemistry Connections:
Bonding, History/Biography, Organic/Biochemistry
Description:
Traces the history of the golf ball, from wood to featherie to guttie to mass-produced solid-rubber-core-with-rubber-thread-wrap to the pneumatic core to the myriad compositions of today’s golf balls. The invention of the superball is credited with major advances in golf ball technology. Describes the need for an inner core that is elastic and bounces back quickly after it is hit, and an outer layer that can deform, absorbing more of the energy of the swing. Discusses vulcanization of rubber polymer to improve coefficient of restitution (bounce).

Interview with a Chemist
October 2005 (p 18–19)

Author: Christen Brownlee
Chemistry Connections:
istory/Biography
Description:
Tells of chemist/research scientist Erick Swartz’s role in post-9/11 world. Describes his work preparing the Marines’ Chemical Biological Incident Response Force (CBIRF) troops to detect and respond to toxic situations in the civilian population, from bioterrorism or weapons of mass destruction. Discusses instrumentation and personal protective equipment (PPE) Marines wear on-site. Discusses his background and preparation and his recommendations for students’ preparation for jobs in chemistry.

The Great Hartford Circus Fire
February 2005 pp (4–7)

Author: Brendan Rimetz
Chemistry Connections:
Bonding, History/Biography, Organic/Biochemistry, Reactions, Solutions
Description:
Tells the history of a fire that destroyed the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus “big top” tent in July, 1944 and killed or injured almost 900 people. Focuses on waterproofing agent, composed of paraffin wax and gasoline. Discusses polarity of water, and non-polarity of gasoline and paraffin, and why the latter two chemicals were used to waterproof the tent canvas, and describes the synergistic (in this case, synergistically BAD) effects of using the two organic substances together, and why firefighters using water to put out the fire were unsuccessful. Discusses second waterproofing substance, with little known about its composition. Sidebar tells a survivor’s story. Second sidebar discusses colloidal dispersions to dissolve polar and non-polar substances together.

Lab on a Stick
October 2004 (pp 9–12)

Author: Christen Brownlee
Chemistry Connections:
Acids/Bases, History/Biography, Organic/Biochemistry, Reactions, Solutions
Description:
Recounts attempts to find an easy-to-use colorimetric urine test for diabetes. Includes early chemical testing, from the use of copper (II) sulfate-sodium hydroxide-ammonia reagent, to the advance made by Walter Compton who combined the reagents into tablet form (called Clinitest), to the modification made by Helen and Al Free which was a tablet that tested urine for ketone bodies. Describes the paper strip test, also developed by the Frees, which uses glucose enzymes to test for sugar in urine. Eventually the paper strip developed by the Frees contained ten tests in a single strip. The test strips are called Multistix-10SG. Article includes photos of the test strips. An interview with Helen Free follows the article.

Chemsumer: The Aspirin Effect—Pain Relief and More
February 2004 (pp 7–9)

Author: Doris Kimbrough
Chemistry Connections:
History/Biography, Organic/Biochemistry, Reactions
Description:
Relates the chemistry of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) to the chemistry of prostaglandins and their role in the body’s pain producers. Explains that prostaglandins are lipids with a five-carbon ring as part of their structure. Also explains that prostaglandins are derived from arachidonic acid in a series of chemical reactions the article calls the arachidonic acid pathway. Recounts the history of aspirin and other NSAIDS like ibuprofen, acetaminophen and naproxen and explains that these compounds relieve pain in the body by inhibiting the production of prostaglandins.

ChemHistory: Coal Mine Safety
February 2004 (pp 17–19)

Author: Harvey Black
Chemistry Connections:
History/Biography, Solids/Liquids/Gases
Description:
Describes the formation of coal from organic matter and outlines how important coal has been as still is to the United States, noting its importance in the production of electricity. Second help of the article focuses on the risks and dangers of mining and using coal. Among them are pollutants like mercury and oxides of sulfur and nitrogen created by coal combustion, mine wastes like acid mine drainage, black-lung disease in miners and the risk of explosions in working mines as a result of methane buildup and coal dust.

Nobel Prize Winner Sherwood Rowland: A Conversation
October 2003 (pp 29–30)

Author: David Harwell
Chemistry Connections:
History/Biography, Reactions, Sustainability
Description:
An interview with Nobel Prize-winning chemist who in the 1970’s, along with Mario Moline, studied the chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and their role in destroying the ozone layer in the stratosphere where the ozone normally reduces the amount of harmful UV light reaching the earth’s surface. Important points in the interview include his life in high school at the age of 12, the importance of playing sports, how he got into the study of the atmosphere, the effect on his life as a Nobel Prize winner, the effects on the atmosphere by banning the CFCs.

Andrea Razzaghi: Getting People and Hardware Working Together
September 2002 (pp 4–5)

Author: Frank Cardulla
Chemistry Connections:
History/Biography, Sustainability
Description:
Tells the story of Andrea’s role as manager of the project to launch the Aura satellite, housing 4 major instruments designed to collect data on the atmosphere and send it back to Earth. Describes Andrea’s strength in team building and her hobbies, and her advice to students today.

Peter Siegel: Studying the Energy of the Universe
September 2002 (pp 6–7)

Author: Frank Cardulla
Chemistry Connections:
Bonding, History/Biography
Description:
Describes the Terahertz (1012 Hertz, far infrared) region of the electromagnetic spectrum and explains why it is a useful part to observe—~98% of all radiation from space is in that region, many molecules radiate in that region, and we can’t detect it on Earth because it is overshadowed by more energetic frequencies; e.g., near infrared and visible light. Aura’s Microwave Limb Sounder (MLS) will investigate these frequencies. Molecules in the upper atmosphere emitting in the THz region include water, HCl and OH. Also discusses Siegel’s background and his hobbies.

Pieternel Levelt: Shining Light on Atmospheric Ozone
September 2002 (pp 10–11)

Author: Frank Cardulla
Chemistry Connections:
History/Biography, Sustainability
Description:
Tells a bit about the life of the subject, her background and people (especially women) who influenced her to study science. Discusses her role as manager of a team of scientists building the Ozone Measuring Instrument (OMI) that will ride along on Aura to measure atmospheric levels of ozone. Describes that the OMI detects in the UV-Vis regions of the spectrum, detecting ozone, NO2, SO2 and other gases. Discusses irradiance (incoming solar radiation) and radiance (light reflected from Earth of scattered back from the atmosphere).

John Gilles: Searching for Patterns in the Clouds
September 2002 (pp 12–13)

Author: Frank Cadulla
Chemistry Connections:
History/Biography
Description:
Discusses clouds and the layers of the atmosphere. Describes the work of Gilles in preparing the High Resolution Dynamic Limb Sounder (HIRDLES), which will scan the atmosphere at varying depths in the infrared region of the electromagnetic spectrum, searching for spectral signatures of various compounds in the atmosphere to tell scientists not only what substances are present, but also their concentrations. Discusses temperature as a problem in this quest and carbon dioxide as a solution. Talks about algorithms as tools to solve problems, specifically to interpret the plethora of incoming data from HIRDLES. Discusses Gilles’ school background.

Anne Douglass: Making the World Safe for Blondes
September 2002 (pp 14–15)

Author: Frank Cardulla
Chemistry Connections:
History/Biography, Sustainability
Description:
Talks about Douglass’ role in keeping humans safe from penetrating UV by protecting the ozone layer. (Blondes are most susceptible.) She is listed as co-leader of the Validation Working Leader of the Aura mission, meaning she has to ensure the data is correct. She does that by cross-checking all the instruments’ readings with plane, balloon and ground instruments’ readings, all of which give her confidence in the data. Also discusses models as a basis for making predictions.