Tag Archives: Scientific American

Practical phase changes: more carbon dioxide

9 Dec

I get to talk about an interesting application of carbon dioxide today in my latest article for Scientific American: sterilizing transplanted tissues such as tendon and bone. Before I heard about this technology, I certainly wouldn’t have suspected that the ubiquitous gas that we exhale could become a super-scrubber with a little heat and a lot of pressure.

I’ve ended up playing with a lot of carbon dioxide over the years. Like most kids, I had ghoulish carbon dioxide bubbles from dry ice that fizzed my Halloween drinks. As a chemist, dry ice became almost too “normal.” As an undergrad, I made my own bricks of the stuff from a tank of compressed CO2, and in graduate school, I’d weigh it out by the tens, if not hundreds, of pounds. Mostly, I used it to cool things down.

But though it’s easy as a working organic chemist to think  it cliché, watching the supercritical fluid form and dissipate is amazing. That sense of wonder within a high pressure chamber– and the practical applications that come from it– keep me coming back to work everyday.

Speaking of clichés, this professor probably fits the stereotypical scientist image a little too well. But I love his giddy enthusiasm when he talks about how he uses the demonstration to see whether a prospective student might be a good fit for his research group.


The Webbys of Science

5 May

Daily blogging this month made for an excellent excuse to browse the 2009 Webby nominees and winners.

The science nominees included Nature, Scientific American, and Wired Science. As a science journalist, these three are already on my regular web diet, so I didn’t feel the need to take a closer look.

The Webby winner, NASA JPL’s Cassini site, has been redesigned since I last looked at it. It’s visually stunning, smooth and intuitive, with beautiful graphics and clear explanatory information. And, honestly, I don’t know of anyone who doesn’t think that Saturn and its rings are cool.

But, my favorite is another nominee, The Exploratorium’s Evidence: How do we know what we know?. This site completely blew me away with it’s explanatory clarity, its beauty, and its ability to boil the tough topic of how scientific evidence works into a clear set of questions and a process. It’s interactive– it lets participants map how they gather and weigh evidence, and it illustrates a great scientific question, the origin of human beings. It brings the best of the Exploratorium‘s interactive approach to understanding science to the web.

The beauty of science is that evidence isn’t static: scientists are constantly making new discoveries and shifting their notions of what data means based on the greater context of available information. That intellectual give and take is the life-blood and culture of science. How science works, a series of questions illustrates the scientific method in the clearest, most intuitive way that I’ve ever seen.

I often have a conflicted relationship with scientific information on the internet (she says, ironically, as she writes about science on the web). I love that I have access to so much information so easily, and the internet makes my job possible. I’m also frightened by the massive amounts of inaccurate, outdated or even misleading information that I sometimes find on websites and blogs.

However, scientific information presented this well on the internet is a true masterpiece. Congratulations Science Webby nominees and winners!