Merry Christmas from The Element of Nature!


So, that’s it! 2013 is almost over, and Christmas is upon us! Here you can see the University of Nottingham’s very own Chemis-tree which was put up in our new engineering and science building last week.

I’ll be taking a brief break over Christmas, but I’ll be back soon with more chemistry news, tidbits and information.

In the meantime, if you aren’t all Christmassed out, you might be interested in taking a look at ACS‘s Holiday Chemistry page, which has lots of different chemistry-related festive activities you can try out over the holidays. It’s aimed at high school students, but we all love a good science activity, right?

Alternatively, if you need to rush out and get a few last-minute gifts for your science-lover friends, you might want to check out New Scientist‘s pick of the best science books out at the moment.

What’s more, The Telegraph have a fun article on the science of Christmas, focusing on the numbers behind Santa’s sleighride. There are links on there to other related articles as well, such as the science behind Christmas goodwill, which you might fancy giving a read.

There is also a great board on Pinterest by Steve Spangler which brings together a whole host of Christmas science experiments and decorations which kids would absolutely love.

Finally, with all of the Christmas and New Year’s parties everyone will be going to over the holidays, you might be interested in this article in The Guardian, which explains the science behind hangovers. Now, while you’re nursing a sore head and upset stomach after a few too many glasses of wine, you can read exactly why it’s happening!

I hope all of you out there have a wonderful Christmas and a happy New Year, and I’d like to take this opportunity to thank you all for taking an interest in this blog, and I hope you’ll follow it into 2014!

Happy holidays!


Periodic Video Number 500!


This year the University of Nottingham’s Periodic Videos have posted their 500th video – a collection of some of the best moments from this unexpected internet sensation.

If you haven’t heard of the Periodic Table of Videos, you’re missing out. Five years ago, the team aimed at making a video for each element of the periodic table, highlighting their history, uses and any interesting facts about each one. They’re interesting to any lover of chemistry or science in general – adults and children alike. Even so, no one expected them to prove so popular – the channel has now hit over 350,000 subscribers from around the globe.

The channel took off to such an extent that the videos have now been extended, with videos about current events and news in the science community, significant molecules and compounds in the world right now, and many of the elements are having new videos made about them. As the videos became more popular, funding was increased and many of the videos now involve trips to far off destinations such as Sydney’s Bondai Beach and and the base camp of Mount Everest.

Much of the success may be attributed to the popularity of the videos’ main personality – Professor Martyn Poliakoff. Viewers love both his ‘mad scientist’ appearance and his genuine passion for chemistry, and we’ve even had visitors flying over from abroad to visit him in person. Other members of our academic staff feature in the videos as well, giving their expert insight into elements that interest them and getting involved with the demonstrations – including my own supervisor, Dr Deborah Kays.

If you’re interested in the elements, I strongly suggest you take a peek. There’s plenty of everyone – with fun, flashes and bangs, and maybe a bit of education along the way. We all thoroughly enjoy watching them here at the university, and I’m sure you will too!


Medical Testing – Where Will the Isotopes Come From?

This article, in Nature this week, discusses the world shortage of technitium-99, which is used by thousands of patients a day in medical testing.

It’s a worry that the public don’t seem to be particularly aware of, and it’s almost frightening to read how fragile the supply chains of these isotopes are, and what impact this can have on the medical industry. Several disasters in recent years have led to complete stoppage of the supply of technetium, which led to panic in hospitals, with patients’ scans being cancelled and some people being subjected to old-fashioned testing which exposed them to higher levels of radiation.

However, problems such as these tend to spur on research in new technologies for providing these materials, and much work is being done on processes which don’t produce nuclear waste, which is a big problem with the current system. In the meantime, new reactors are currently being built, but it’s questionable whether they can cushion the blow entirely if the present reactors shutdown unexpectedly.

This article goes into tremendous detail on this issue, and gives some examples of what could be implemented to save the world from the possible medical disaster which is coming our way in the next few years.


The Top 100 Research Articles of 2013 – What have people been reading?

Altmetric have compiled this handy list of the 100 research articles which have received the most public attention online.

It’s a really interesting insight into what science captures the attention of both scientists and the general public and Altmetric point out themselves in this blog post that this popularity does not necessarily reflect the quality of the research itself. Indeed, it is more the ‘buzz’ caused by the work which leads to so much online attention.

The usual suspects are there – the impact of Facebook on well-being, links to obesity, cancer and cardiovascular disease, global warming, etc – and scattered throughout are some really unusual and off-the-wall work, such as the motion of moshers at heavy metal concerts and the phylogeny of Little Red Riding Hood.

It’s heart-warming to see that a chemistry paper published in Science made it to number three – entitled Direct Imaging of Covalent Bond Structure in Single-molecule Chemical Reactions. It’s good to know the general public appreciate some high-quality, significant chemistry research, as well as all the crazy articles that have been hitting the headlines this year.

Regardless of your particular area of interest, any science fan will enjoy browsing the top 100 and seeing what brilliant – and sometimes ridiculous – work has been going on this year. Some article titles will be familiar to you from various news stories throughout the year. There’s something for everyone, whether you’re looking for some genuinely interesting and high-impact science, or want to have a giggle at some of the quirkier headlines people have been reading about.

Take a look!


A Curious Relationship with Change

No Facilities

imageI was watching some show on Discovery or Science or one of those channels the other night when a guy said that “chemistry is the science of change.” Really? That got me thinking about a couple of things. First, do I agree with that statement and second, did that have anything to do with my having been attracted to chemistry in college?

I guess I’m OK with the idea that chemistry is the science of change, I mean there’s even a book with that statement as the title, so it must be true. However that wasn’t the attraction for me. My interest was in analytic chemistry which is more focused on the science of state and attributes. Sure, there are analytic procedures that measure attributes during changes, but I was more interested in relying upon those changes than figuring out new ways to encourage things to change…

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Nelson Mandela’s Unsung Science Legacy

As I’m sure you are all aware, the great Nelson Mandela passed away last night, and today people around the globe have been remembering him and the amazing legacy he has left behind.

This article from New Scientist describes Mandela’s influence on science in South Africa, and Africa in general, and makes for an interesting read for those who may not be aware of what effect he had in this area.

Nelson Mandela was and continues to be an inspiration to people all over the world, and hopefully his work on improving education will allow Africa to have a more prominent role in the global scientific community.