Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Footballs (i.e. Soccer Balls): Buckyballs and Beyond - Part II

Yesterday I ended my post on the balls of the World Cup by determining the symmetry of the 2002 World Cup ball. It turns out that this was the last ball to feature the buckyball-like, 32 panel design to be used as the official match ball. Since then, different paneling patterns were employed, generating different symmetries that were not simply due to artistic design.

So, without any further ado, have a look at the 2006 World Cup ball. (As a reminder I am looking at the symmetry while ignoring any logos, writing, stitching, and valves, but not ignoring colors and patterns printed on the ball.)

Adidas Teamgeist (2006)

This ball is essentially a cube.
This ball is unique among the modern (1970+) official World Cup balls for a number of reasons. The design really calls back to the balls used in the early to mid-20th century - balls that are evocative of many modern volleyballs. The ball has six figure-eight type around the ball with eight additional face filling panels. The distribution of the six black-outlined panels evenly around the ball leads me to think of a cube, a shape that hasn't been suggested by the other balls we've seen so far.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Footballs (i.e. Soccer Balls): Buckyballs and Beyond - Part I

If there's one thing most chemists remember from their college inorganic chemistry course (or possibly a p-chem course), it's symmetry: symmetry elements, point groups, character tables... all that fun stuff that they've never used again. Not even once.

In preparation for the upcoming semester, I've been brushing off all the material for the advanced inorganic chemistry (junior/senior level) course I teach every two years, and it got me thinking about examples that are inevitably used for describing symmetry. And, of course, the World Cup having occupied a good deal of the last month or so of my life, what sprang to mind but the classic example of a soccer ball (i.e. football) having icosahedral (Ih) symmetry:

The 2014 Official World Cup ball. Not a good example. 
Wait. That's not right at all.

Let's go back to a simpler era where foot(soccer)balls were simpler of a higher symmetry.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

The Plight of the Inorganic Chemist

Nothing is designed with us inorganic chemists in mind.

Case in point: SciFinder Scholar structure searches.

These are very power for organic structure searches. As a grad student I could put in an organic fragment, run a substructure search, and get oodles of juicy results, most of which were relevant to what I set off to find.

For the synthetic inorganic chemist, the experience is quite different.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

(Academic) Year in Review

Another year is in the books, academically speaking.*

Finals have been given. Grades have been calculated. The campus is deserted. Science faculty are preparing for their summer research students. Humanities faculty have gone into hibernation or whatever it is they do over the summer (it's one of academic life's greatest mysteries).

This year was full of new experiences for me. First off, this was the first full year I had a blog which I could neglect. And I did.

Secondly, this was a year of personal and family issues for me. Illnesses (major and minor, of me and loved ones), the continuing circle of life (to put it in the least depressing and most Disney terms possible), and happy things too somewhere in there. You know, life happened.

This was also a year of new academic experiences, namely, teaching organic chemistry.

In the past I've been the typical inorganic faculty member - I've taught courses in general chemistry, advanced inorganic chemistry, and non-majors chemistry, as well as all the associated laboratories. Due to my organometallic synthesis background, I've even been called on to teach in the organic laboratories for both semesters of the sequence.

But this year, when the need arose due to a faculty vacancy, I volunteered to teach the first semester organic chemistry course. As mentioned above, while I am an inorganic chemist, my graduate work was in organometallic synthesis and, if my department chair ever went back to my application, it would be noted that I have claimed the ability to teach organic chemistry as one of my many talents. [Also somewhere in that application packet is the evidence that, save for the labs I have taught at my current institution, I have not been officially involved in any organic chemistry curriculum (either in a teaching or student role) since I was an undergrad.]

So my teaching load over the past two semesters was as follows:
- First semester organic chemistry and associated labs.
- General chemistry and organic chemistry II labs.

In both semesters the classes I taught were large (75 students and 120 students). Normally, I teach one large class of gen chem a year and one small upper-level or non-majors course (10 to 20 people) plus a slew of labs. So the amount of students I dealt with this year was abnormally large as a whole, and I'm ready for a break, in that regard.

But the most interesting part of my year was the organic chemistry. Again, I hadn't seen a lot of this material since I was a sophomore in college. When I used organic reactions as a grad student, I learned from doing, not from a class. So, at first I felt I was in a little over my head. But I survived, and was able to continue on to teach gen chem again afterward. Who knows if I'll ever get a chance to teach organic again?

That being said, the following are my thoughts on teaching organic chemistry as an outsider:

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Listicle #1: Top 10 Chemistry Cars!!!

In the spirit of the Buzzfeed listicle, the following is a list of the top ten chemistry related automobiles (in America, anyway, because that's where I am and that's what I'm familiar with). And by chemistry-related I mean that their names relate to chemistry in some way. The ranking is objectively set (by me, based solely on my opinion). Why ten? Because it's a nice, round number and I could only think of ten different cars relating to chemistry.

I've left out "science-y" cars that are not chemistry specific, such as: the Ford Focus, Toyota Matrix, Chevy Volt, Chrysler Laser, and Buick Electra. Cool car names, but not things that scream "chemistry".

Without further ado, the top ten chemistry cars:

Sunday, May 4, 2014

A Momentous Anniversary in Inorganic Chemistry

It's May 4th.

Do you remember what happened ten years ago today?

Where were you when you first saw it?

I was in graduate school. It was probably a few days after it's publication on May 4th when I finally saw it: the paper published in Inorganic Chemistry that would forever change my view of chemistry research, chemists and chemical publishing.

It was a paper that would live on for several years as one of the most read papers in IC. A paper that would be shared with each new generation of graduate students in inorganic labs for years to come. A paper that in some way transcended all disciplines of chemistry: organic chemists, biochemists, physical chemists, and analytical chemists all reacted to this paper in the same way as the inorganic chemists did. It was, and remains, a paper that can be appreciated by not just scientists, but the general public as well.

Yes, ten years ago today - May 4th, 2004 - a true classic of the scientific literature was published on the web for all to see. Let's relive that monumental achievement now. You can go view the paper:

{trans-1,4-Bis[(4-pyridyl)ethenyl]benzene}(2,2‘-bipyridine)ruthenium(II) Complexes and Their Supramolecular Assemblies with β-Cyclodextrin (must have ACS journal access to view)

Does that title (or the paper in general) not ring a bell? Well, most people who know of it are more familiar with it's table of contents graphic:

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Anyone know any alternative chemistry major curricula in the US?

[Note: I've decided to dust off the blog for the summer to start regularly posting again (hopefully) but before the semester officially ends I want to put the power of the internet toward doing part of my job for me thus letting me relax and goof off a little bit... I mean, I've decided to crowd-source my investigation on pedagogical alternatives in the chemistry curriculum. Yeah, that.]

Anyone know of any kooky chemistry curricula being used in higher education? In particular I'm looking for alternatives to the first two years of the typical curriculum. Our department is rethinking the current chemistry curriculum as a whole (just as a thought experiment more or less) and I'm looking for any outside-the-box ideas.

To make sure everyone is on the same page, the typical first four semesters of a chemistry major (in the United States, anyway) seem to consist of the following:

First year:
1st semester: General Chem 1 - Structure and bonding
2nd semester: General Chem 2 - Equilibria and reactivity

Second year:
1st semester: Organic Chem 1 - Organic structure and intro to reactivity and spectroscopy
2nd semester: Organic Chem 2 - More advanced synthesis and reactivity

There are alternatives out there, and I know of a few of the more popular ones. Occasionally I hear rumors of really divergent sequences of courses, but I always forget what schools do what.

One popular alternative is the "early organic" (as I call it), putting the more physical gen chem material right before the students take p-chem in their third year:

First year:
1st semester: Gen Chem 1
2nd semester: Orgo 1

Second year:
1st semester: Orgo 2
2nd semester: Gen Chem 2

So that's a little different, and has some advantages, but it's kind of like someone spending a lot of time repainting the state rooms on the Titanic. It doesn't seem to change a whole lot in the grand scheme of things. (Not that I think chemistry education is like a doomed ocean vessel... not entirely anyway.) I'm really looking for more dramatic alternatives.

So, if anyone out there knows of a really radical, off-the-wall curriculum for chemistry being done in higher education, I'd love to be pointed in that direction. If you've had good experiences or bad with a non-typical course schedule, give your anecdotes in the comments. If you've heard a rumor about a crazy hippie liberal arts school that starts their majors with "Gender Norms in General Chemistry" or really, really old-fashioned curriculum that lays the foundations with a course on "Transmutation of Base Metals by the Alchemical Mysteries" it would be great to hear about.

Any info is appreciated.