Captain of hooks

Chemistry World blog (RSC) - 22 January, 2015 - 17:02

Guest post by Rowena Fletcher-Wood

Open your eyes and take a closer look: sometimes that’s all it takes to realise a new invention has been with you all along, stuck, perhaps, to the cuffs of your trousers and the fur of your pointer. Like the burrs of the burdock, evolved to stick to the fur of animals, transporting the seeds far and wide to fall on new ground.

Velcro hooks
Image by Alexander Klink – CC-BY

Swiss amateur mountaineer Georges de Mestral had been hunting in the French Alps one summer evening in 1948, when exactly this occurred. He had obviously encountered burrs before, but for the first time his mind connected an observation (the sticky burrs) and an application (fashion) – it was a scientific portmanteau or ‘blend’ of two ideas, contracting their meanings into a single new commodity: Velcro. The name is a portmanteau too, a combination of the French words velour and crochet: the soft fabric side and the hooked. De Mestral had stumbled upon a new way of fixing clothing, but was it such an accident? Louis Pasteur, scientist and inventor of the Pasteurisation process, famously said ‘in the fields of observation, chance favours only the prepared mind.’ He had a point.

An engineer by trade, de Mestral immediately stuck the intriguing burrs beneath a microscope to observe how they functioned, noting that they consisted of miniature hooks that tangled readily with hairy loops. But to work in fashion, these hooks needed other special properties: they needed the flexibility and longevity that would allow them to straighten out when pulled away from the loopy surface and bounce back into shape upon release, eager to hook again.

Undaunted by their smallness, de Mestral set about constructing the tiny hooks that demonstrated his principle from cotton with the help of a weaver. He created a functioning velcro, but unfortunately the cotton hooks wore out after just a few detachments, bending permanently and losing their ‘stickiness’. But it was the loops or velour which really caused him trouble: velour, itself a cotton-based velvet-like material, is not particularly sticky, and the connection was weak. His colleagues laughed at him, but de Mestral persisted – for nearly eight years.

Then came the invention of nylon.

De Mestral jumped upon it and stuck to it like velcro. He rapidly discovered by trial and error that sewing the hooks under infra-red light make them tough and increased their durability. Furthermore, nylon is inert to rot, mould, or decomposition in the lifetime of a product – de Mestral had found his fabric and patented the invention in 1955 before moving on to creating a loom that could weave velcro hooks and trim them smoothly, initiating mass production.

Today, not all velcro is equal. ‘Industrial velcro’ is made of woven steel wire and used in high temperature applications. Space shuttles use Teflon-looped polyester-hooked velcro fused into glasses. It’s also used to stick tail light covers to cars. Most domestic velcro is made of nylon or polyester, each with benefits and drawbacks. Nylon lasts longer, with a half-life of 10,000 attaching and detaching cycles – equivalent to 27 years of opening and closing once a day. Polyester velcro, meanwhile, only lasts 3,500 cycles, but it is also less sensitive to decomposition under heat, moisture and ultraviolet light.

It’s now become commonplace, but velcro According to Anthony Rubino, Jr’s book Why didn’t I think of that, a 2 inch square unit of velcro can actually take the weight of a 79.4 kg person (is this something to try at home?)

Eventually, many cycles will compromise the velcro, but that’s okay: the internet sports several methods for revitalising it, including rubbing it with a toothbrush, scratching it with a pin, or melting and trimming off the loops. Whilst this may be effective if dirt and debris have depleted your velcro quality, it’s not so good when eventual uncurling of the loops is at fault. You may find this happens faster with some products than others: not all ‘velcro’ today is really velcro. After the patent ran out in 1978, the market became flooded with cheap imitations, some of which have been reported to only last a few months.

Despite what Star Trek says, velcro was not invented by the Vulcans, just an observer with a well prepared mind.

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Categories: Education

LEDs and the International Year of Light

Chemistry World blog (RSC) - 20 January, 2015 - 17:03

Guest post by Jen Dougan

‘May it be a light to you, in dark places. When all other lights go out.’
J. R. R. Tolkien

Yesterday saw the opening ceremony to mark the start of the International Year of Light (IYL). Today scientists and policy makers will meet in Paris for day two of the celebrations. Designated by the United Nations, the IYL aims to increase awareness about the importance of light in our modern and developing world, such is the breadth of light–based technologies – from biological sensing to next generation light emitting diodes (LEDs). Undoubtedly, our world is enriched by harnessing the energy of light, and one of the core aims of IYL is to focus on the plight of 1.5 billion of the world’s inhabitants for whom sunset means darkness.

Blue light emitting diodes (Blue LED). Image by Gussisaurio at wikipedia (CC-BY-SA)

With little or no access to electrical lighting, many rural communities in the developing world have limited ability to read after sundown, have restricted working hours, and hospitals have to power down the lights in the evening – limiting healthcare options. Many families rely on the use of paraffin or kerosene lamps. This isn’t without problems, kerosene is a flammable hydrocarbon producing toxic fumes when burned and is a significant fire-safety hazard. Attempting to address this, the IYL ‘study after sunset’ campaign seeks to promote the use of solar powered LED lights in the communities that need them most.

Anyone who has handled a traditional incandescent lightbulb can attest to its inefficiency. Producing significant amounts of heat (capable of burning fingers!), incandescent bulbs are economically and environmentally wasteful. But alternatives do exist. LEDs generate far more light, measured in lumens per Watt (lm/W), than standard incandescent or fluorescent lighting (Figure 1). Of course, the use of LEDs helps to reduce bills and energy consumption and, considering that lighting accounts for ~25% of electricity usage in developed countries, that presents a significant reduction. It is their efficiency and bulb lifetime of 100,000 hours (an order of magnitude greater than incandescent bulbs) that may enable LEDs to illuminate lives the world over.

Figure 1: Comparative brightness of lighting devices.
Image: © The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences

With this potential impact, it’s clear why researchers Isamu Akasaki, Hiroshi Amano and Shuji Nakamura won the 2014 Nobel Prize in Physics for the development of blue LEDs, which enable the production of bright white light sources.

How science LED the way

To emit white light, additive colour mixing is employed, which involves combining red, green and blue light (Figure 2). Although red and green LEDs had been developed in the 1950s and 60s, it wasn’t until 1992 that a blue LED was produced, allowing white light to be created from LEDs. Using semiconductor technology, LEDs are much more efficient that traditional lighting – which relies on an electrical current heating a wire (typically tungsten in a white lightbulb) until it glows – because they convert electrical energy directly into light.

Figure 2: Additive colour mixing to produce white light.
Image: Mike Horvath on Wikipedia

Semiconductors can be p-type or n-type, indicating whether they have insufficient electrons (considered as a surplus of ‘holes’, so p for positive) or a surplus of electrons (n for negative). This characteristic of a semiconductor is tuned by increasing the level of doping – that is, the controlled addition of impurity atoms. From the interface between the p-type and n-type materials, in the active layer – where the electrons meet the holes, light is emitted (Figure 3). The energy (or wavelength/colour) of the light produced (or whether it is produced at all) is dictated by the materials used to create the semiconductor. The energy gap, or band gap, between the two materials must be such that light of the desired wavelength is produced. Blue LEDs are principally composed of gallium nitride (GaN) as the semiconductor material (Figure 3). Once GaN crystals of sufficient quality could be grown, and p-type GaN produced by elimination of hydrogen from the surface, LEDs were developed that emitted blue light.

Figure 3: Inside a blue LED (click for full size)
Image: © The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences

With blue LEDs in hand, white light could be produced. This was achieved either by situating blue, red and green LEDs in close proximity, which appear white to the eye, or by applying a phosphor coating to a blue LED. The phosphor is a compound which, when irradiated, causes a shift in wavelength (colour) of light to yellow – this combines with the blue light to appear white. Research into the development of novel phosphors is underway to allow an increased tone palette to be achieved.

Blue LED technology was used for the development of Blu-ray discs and finds use in mobile phones and LCD screens. But it is for the potential to bring light to billions in night-time darkness that we should celebrate the beginning of this International Year of Light.

IYL is a great opportunity to celebrate light and its interaction with chemistry. I hope to focus on a broad range of topics over the coming months on this theme. I’d love to hear about any chemistry related activities going on during IYL and/or any topics you’d be interested in. Drop me a note below or contact me on twitter: @jendtweeting #IYLchemistry

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Categories: Education

Who made these covers and what are they doing here?

Chemistry World blog (RSC) - 15 January, 2015 - 15:28

Guest post from Tom Branson

It’s a new year and therefore a new set of exciting cover art awaits us. Last year gave us some great examples of artistic flair matched with clear science communication, as well as a good few covers that can be described as nothing but bizarre. Either way, they got my attention.

But why do authors want their work on a front cover and what does it actually mean to the scientists who designed them? Instead of surging ahead with my own opinions, I thought that this time I should get some answers from the creators themselves. Focusing on Chemical Science, I tracked down the corresponding authors responsible for some of the cover art during 2014 and asked them a few simple questions to gather a small insight into the minds of these artists.

Why would anyone want to create a cover image?

Well, what’s the point? My first thought was simply about extra exposure. And yes, the overwhelming response I received was about gaining extra attention, raising the visibility of their work and attracting more readers. Everybody seemed to agree on this fact.

But another popular reason is that using an image is a great way to tell the story. Rafael Luque, of the Universidad de Córdoba, knew it would be an easy step to create a cover image. He said that his ‘work related to MOF design could be nicely represented by a simple image with Lego-like model building’. The cover in October was indeed simple, incorporating sticks and balls, which makes the concept instantly easy to grasp. Pictures are often better than the written word for describing a difficult concept, especially for a non-specialist audience that the cover may help to attract. Once a reader gets the idea from the image, the article becomes more accessible.

Other interesting reasons included use of a cover image at conferences and the simple fact that seeing your image in print gives your confidence a nice boost. But only if the actual research is particularly strong do some decide to go for a cover image. Michael Wong, of Rice University, said that the work must be extra special for him to spend his ‘hard-earned research funds on publication costs’. He also added that creating a cover was a great way to ‘train students on science dissemination’. I definitely agree with this last point.

Who are these artists anyway?

The author list on a paper gives full recognition to the researchers. But should there be recognition for the artists? I believe that those responsible for grabbing our attention with their images deserve an extra mention. So, who are these people?

I was surprised to find that my (unscientific) survey revealed that cover design was mostly done by the professors themselves. Many were also group efforts or at least the group was involved in creating initial ideas. Lowly PhD students were even responsible for their fair share of the cover designs. Wong created his cover from October together with a student and really enjoyed the process. He even stated that ‘my student got so excited he recruited his wife and came up with multiple designs!’.

Site-specific protein labelling was tackled by Jason Chin’s group, from the University of Cambridge, and the cover from last May provided a different medium to tell that story. Stephen Wallace, the designer and a researcher in Chin’s group at the time, knew that a cover would be a great opportunity to convey the environment for his reaction. Wallace had the initial idea for his cover, ‘albeit on paper!’, he says, but it was Paul Margiotta in their visual aids department who assembled the final graphic.

Luque also thinks that this exercise is worthwhile for the students and it encourages them to develop. He said that he ‘nurtures creativity in students in the early stages of their career and these are the results.’ It must be pretty handy for some institutions having professional designers, but a plucky student can definitely put in a pretty good showing too.

Next month I’ll reveal the answer to the life, the universe and everything or as I like to put it: what makes a good cover? Spoiler… it’s actually a whole bunch of contradictory views that come to wildly different conclusions.

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Categories: Education

Alien mothership – from nanoparticles to molecular aesthetics

Chemistry World blog (RSC) - 23 December, 2014 - 11:09

Ljiljana Fruk, researching light-activated nanodevices, writes about molecular aesthetics and how a copper nanoparticle became an alien mothership. Ljiljana will speak at this year’s Chemistry World science communication competition prize-giving event in March 2015 about Seeing the invisible.

A few years ago I thought about starting something enjoyable that would inspire the students and researchers in my group to look at the molecules they make and materials they design in a different, more playful way. I wanted them to rethink what they considered failed experiments: batches of irregular nanoparticles, weird looking oils (that should be crystals) or fluorescent cells (that shouldn’t be there).

We started collecting microscopic images and strangely coloured samples, and organised a little internal competition to see who was going to come up with the strangest or most unusual image. Playing and having fun was the key – doing transmission electron microscopy now did not only mean spending some late hours in the lab but also finding that next cool image.

Other things followed: we created a ‘hall of fame’ of molecules that changed the world, started the NanoArt calendar featuring crazy images of real nano things. Suddenly, high school students started approaching us and doing short-term projects in our lab. It was fun seeing these young, energetic people getting excited doing simple tasks like DNA gels. Geeky truly seems to be the new cool.

And then, two years into our projects, some artists became involved in our project. Earlier this year, Chilean artist Martin Kaulen spend three weeks in and around our lab, looking for similarities between crystal structures and architecture, challenging us with his questions. Each of his question made us think and inspired us. Can we explain what we think we already understood? Often, I came to realise, I was at a loss for an answer to the simple question ‘What is this good for?’

The more I let my imagination run wild, went beyond what I would write in a scientific paper, the more I understood what it is all about. Martin compiled some of our conversations in a little booklet. His work made me realise once again that no matter what we call ourselves – artist or scientist – we are driven by the same two things: curiosity about the existing realities and willingness to create new ones.

— What started as a failed copper nanoparticle experiment became the ‘alien mothership’

This year, we joined our smallest and biggest realities to design the Galactic nano calendar. An image of a small copper nanoparticle embedded in a thin film of dry viscous solvent on a mesh copper grid became an alien mothership. It once again amazed me how a tinge of colour could change the emotional response to a scientific image. Suddenly, the image becomes more organic, almost alive. There might not be any aliens on that ship, but I can definitely imagine some. The picture will certainly make me smile all the way through September 2015. If then somebody asks me ‘hey, what are the copper nanoparticles good for?’ I will know that a failed experiment just became a huge success.

Dr Ljiljana Fruk is a scientist and lecturer at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, Germany, working on the development of photosensitive bio nano hybrid systems to design of new catalysts, artificial enzymes and biosensors for medical applications. She actively explores the interface of art and science, in particular the cultural and societal impact of nanotechnology and synthetic biology. Ljiljana co-organised the first symposium on molecular aesthetics, an interactive exhibition on molecules that changed the world, and edited, together with artist Peter Weibel, the book Molecular aesthetics


If you are passionate about science and science communication, the 2014 Chemistry World science communication competition on the topic of chemistry and art offers a fantastic opportunity to demonstrate your skill, win £500 and be published in Chemistry World. The ten finalists will have the chance to see Ljiljana talk about Seeing the invisible at the prize-giving event in March 2015.

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Categories: Education

Countdown to the 2014 Chemistry World science communication competition

Chemistry World blog (RSC) - 19 December, 2014 - 16:16

Tessa Fiorini won last year’s Chemistry World science communication competition. Here, she writes about the inspiration for her article by a holiday in Prague, about her time at the prize-giving event and her winner’s trip.

Tessa Fiorini CohenWhen I heard about Chemistry World’s science communication competition last year, I had just come back from a holiday in Prague. The city is a historical hot spot for all things alchemy-related, and it immersed me in a time when chemistry was dark and murky, poorly understood and carried out in secretive underground labs. With this trip still on my mind and the competition’s theme of openness, I knew I had to write about the transition from alchemy to modern chemistry.

Like many other chemists, I was taught in my undergraduate degree that Antoine Lavoisier is ‘the father of modern chemistry’. I already knew that his open mind was the catalyst for this change, but as I started researching the topic, I realised there was more to it than that – the transition didn’t just happen overnight and open communication with other scientists played an equal part. As my article evolved to include openness’ twofold role, it almost felt like the piece was writing itself. The challenge became whittling it down to the competition’s word limit!

Fast-forward a few months and I’m one of ten finalists, and the eventual winner, at the award ceremony in beautiful Burlington House in London. The event included science speed-dating, discussion panels and hobnobbing with other attendees whilst dining out of mini paint buckets – an artsy touch from one of the event’s sponsors, AkzoNobel. Besides the excitement of winning, it was a great chance to meet other scientists and science communicators, as well as pick up some tips and contacts.

The best however was yet to come – my whirlwind winner’s trip to AkzoNobel’s research site in Stenungsund and P&G in Newcastle, where I learnt all about the complexities of detergent development and had a chance to hone my writing craft with one of Chemistry World’s editors. I managed to squeeze in some sightseeing and was excellently looked after by my hosts in both countries. The super-sized cherry on the cake, however, was having both my articles published in Chemistry World.

I wholeheartedly recommend the Chemistry World science communication competition to all budding science writers and communicators. It was a wonderful experience, remains a great opportunity, and chemistry and art are so beautifully intertwined that inspiration should be easy to come by.

Tessa Fiorini Cohen has a BSc double degree in Biology and Chemistry. After graduating she moved into the pharmaceutical industry, and has over five years’ experience in related research and development. She currently works in pharmaceutical quality assurance, university education and as a freelance writer. Since winning the Chemistry World competition her writing has been published by The Atlantic and Cefic.


If you are passionate about science and science communication, the 2014 Chemistry World science communication competition on the topic of chemistry and art offers a fantastic opportunity to demonstrate your skill, win £500 and be published in Chemistry World.

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Categories: Education

December 2014: A Christmas cracker

Royal Society R.Science - 19 December, 2014 - 13:53

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Categories: Education

Christmas Lights – the invention of matches

Chemistry World blog (RSC) - 18 December, 2014 - 12:02

Guest post by Rowena Fletcher-Wood

It is Christmastime, and the season of light: everywhere you look, particularly after dark, is the twinkle of hundreds of little lights. As 2015 approaches, the International Year of Light is also being kindled into action – a year designed to make us think about light technologies and global challenges in energy. So let’s start now, and out of the dark.

One of the earliest human light technologies was the match. What do you need to make fire? Oxygen, fuel and an ignition source – simple enough in theory, but not so much in practice. Fires just don’t start spontaneously. Before matches, ignition sources included flint and tinder, or a magnifying glass which, naturally, only worked on sunny days, when you are least in need of fire. But luckily, something was spontaneous: the accidental invention of matches.

Matches had nearly been discovered more than once. Having synthesised phosphorous in 1680, Robert Boyle showed awestruck onlookers how this new material created fire when rubbed with sulfur, but the combustion exercise was never put to practical use and remained merely entertainment for wealthy dabblers. He wasn’t the first to make such novelties either – as far back as 950 AD, Chinese ‘Records of the unworldly and strange’ mention ‘light-bringing slaves’ (later ‘fire-inch sticks’) that use sulfur to create fire fast from a small spark or dying embers. In 1805, a French chemist, Jean Chancel, dipped a wooden splint in sugar, potassium chlorate, and sulfuric acid, creating an explosion. It was expensive, dangerous and gave off a foul, poisonous odour. But all of these were chemical matches: they required mixing the right things together at the right time to create an exothermic reaction. The first friction match was created by accident, by apothecary John Walker in 1826.

The fact that wooden splints were so ubiquitous in chemical exploration meant that the invention of the match was almost inevitable. Walker had been stirring away at a pot containing antimony sulfide, potassium chlorate, starch and gum, when he found a mixture of these chemicals had dried onto the end of his wooden stirring stick. Inconvenienced, he removed the stick and started scraping off the dried lump on the stone floor of the lab, but to his astonishment, the chemicals set alight! The match is actually a delicate piece of technology that exists around a chemical balance: a mixture of materials that are stable and solid, but light readily upon agitation.

Excited, Walker repeated the experiment, and made more sticks. Soon he had many: first made of cardboard and then of three-inch wooden sticks. Proving them in a box with handy piece of sandpaper, he started selling his invention as ‘friction lights’ or ‘Congreve’s’ after William Congreve’s new rocket. He was advised to patent the matches – but didn’t, hoping the idea would spread and the technology enhance people’s lives. The idea certainly did spread, although the new matches were mostly used to light pipes and fuel tobacco intake. Walker’s Congreve’s didn’t corner the market. Samuel Jones saw Walker demonstrate his matches in London, and upon hearing that Walker did not intend to patent his idea, created his own smaller matches, named ‘Lucifers’.

These unpredictable little beasts were not only too easily ignited, but they burnt with a nasty odour and stream of unpleasant phosphorus-based chemicals. The box even carried a warning for ‘persons whose lungs are delicate’. Another French chemist, Charles Sauria, used white phosphorus to create matches without a detectable odour. He also used child labour to set up massive factories, spewing out huge mountains of matches. Soon, large numbers of factory workers were unwell, poisoned by the white phosphorous and deformed by a bone-mutilating illness known as ‘phossy jaw’. Even one box of matches contained enough toxic phosphorus to kill a man. Murder and suicide by matches became established.

It was not until the 1888 London matchgirls’ strike that any legislation was passed restricting the use of white phosphorus, but by this time another kind of match had become available: the safety match. Patented by Johan Edvard Lundström in Sweden in 1855, safety matches used non-toxic red phosphorous and placed the sandpaper on the outside of the match box, creating a much safer product. Lundström’s was not the only company to produce the new type, and soon people were striking matches all around the world and celebrating the dawn of a new light.

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Categories: Education

Countdown to the 2014 Chemistry World science communication competition

Chemistry World blog (RSC) - 15 December, 2014 - 10:26

Chris Sinclair, whose piece on lasers won the 2012 Chemistry World science communication competition, writes about science and performing arts.

In 2012, I won the first Chemistry World science communication competition for my piece about using lasers to remotely detect methane gas in mines, reducing the risk of disastrous explosions. Having previously worked with lasers for my research, I was aware that 2012 was the 50th anniversary of the invention of the diode laser. Choosing this topic gave me the chance to learn about interesting contemporary applications of lasers in physical chemistry. Emily Stephens, the 2012 runner-up, wrote about gene doping – a topic that was linked to the London Olympic Games, which were of course one of that year’s major events. For both of us, writing about a topical subject with a human angle turned out well.

The theme of this year’s competition is chemistry and art. Philip Ball has recently written a post nicely outlining why he thinks chemistry lends itself particularly well to the arts. I might propose extending this idea further to include the performing arts too.

There is a long history of presenting science on the stage. Christopher Marlowe’s audacious Doctor Faustus, who dabbled in alchemy and the occult, could perhaps be considered one of the early representations of a scientist in theatre. In more recent times, Carl Djerassi – chemist, novelist and dramatist – is known for depicting chemists in his plays. Last year, issues in contemporary science were raised at the National Theatre when the human side of a big pharma drug trial was portrayed in Lucy Prebble’s The effect. And next month Britain’s second most important ‘RSC’, the Royal Shakespeare Company, will premiere a play about J Robert Oppenheimer, the scientist whose Harvard chemistry degree eventually propelled him to a leading role in the Manhattan Project.

As this resurgence in science plays demonstrates, a performance can provide an engaging way of communicating scientific ideas. The Chemistry World competition now includes a second round of judging where shortlisted entrants are asked to present their piece in a format other than writing. It would be great if one of this year’s finalists considered presenting their topic to the judges with a performance or a play – after all, good science communication can work just as well on the stage as it does on the page.

Chris Sinclair holds an MSci in physics from Durham University and a PhD in laser cooling from Imperial College. He works at University College London where he conducts research in medical imaging. Chris writes about science and theatre.


If you are passionate about science and science communication, the 2014 Chemistry World science communication competition on the topic of chemistry and art offers a fantastic opportunity to demonstrate your skill, win £500 and be published in Chemistry World.

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Categories: Education

Countdown to the 2014 Chemistry World science communication competition

Chemistry World blog (RSC) - 12 December, 2014 - 11:33

Quentin Cooper, science journalist and one of the judges for the upcoming Chemistry World science communication competition writes about how in every scientist there is a bit of an artist.

I’ve been asked to write 300 words on the topic of science and art. No problem. Although I can sum it up in one: scientists.

The term ‘scientist’ was only coined about 180 years ago to overcome a problem caused by the then newly formed British Association for the Advancement of Science, more recently known as the BA and more recently still as the British Science Association. These days it is celebrated as one of the oldest and most prestigious public-facing scientific bodies in the world, making science more comprehensible and accountable, and encouraging engagement across society and between disciplines. But back in the early 1830s, their meetings attracted a ragtag group of biologists, geologists, naturalists and others across the sciences, and nobody knew quite what to collectively call them.

One of the founders of the BA, William Whewell, writing anonymously in the Quarterly Review in 1834 offered a solution: ‘this difficulty was felt very oppressively by the members of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, at their meetings… some ingenious gentleman proposed that, by analogy with artist, they might form scientist.’

The ‘ingenious gentleman’ was, of course, Whewell himself. Although it took a few years to catch on, what’s usually overlooked is that strictly speaking if you mimic the way practitioners of arts are called artists, then practitioners of sciences should be called ‘sciencists’. With two Cs. Instead, because of Whewell’s analogy, the ‘t’ in scientist is on permanent loan from the arts meaning there is a bit of artist in every scientist.

I don’t think that’s just a quirk of etymology: that ‘t’ is not vestigial. Creativity and imagination abound across the sciences, no more so than in chemistry. Which is one of many reasons I’m looking forward to judging this year’s Chemistry World competition.

Quentin Cooper hosts a diverse range of events in Britain and beyond as well as appearing regularly on radio, TV and in print. He’s one of the most familiar and popular voices of science in the UK, writing and presenting many hundreds of programmes – including fronting Britain’s most listened to science radio show, Material world. He also holds several honorary science doctorates and is an honorary fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry.


If you are passionate about science and science communication, the 2014 Chemistry World science communication competition on the topic of chemistry and art offers a fantastic opportunity to demonstrate your skill, win £500 and be published in Chemistry World.

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Categories: Education

Chemosensors for the ASSURED communication of science

Chemistry World blog (RSC) - 11 December, 2014 - 13:19

Guest post from Tom Branson

Sometimes all the computer graphics in the world can’t make up for a good old hand drawn image. These sketches may never appear in shining lights on 10 metre billboards but they are often simple and clear enough to show you exactly what’s going on. That straightforward approach and a couple of other tricks were recently used to great effect for an article on the cover of Organic and Biomolecular Chemistry.

The cover shows ChemDraw images, a drawing of a cassava plant, and photos of the actual experiments to give a nice overview of the research. This kind of image is great for direct outreach and more literal communication of the scientific story. In an instant, anyone can see that the research involves taking something out of the plant, mixing in some other chemicals and observing a colour change. The graphic hooks you in with pretty colours, then offers something to get your grey matter around with the chemical structures. Check out the two corrinoid structures binding to either water or cyanide – that small difference creates the colour change. And as most people know, cyanide is the bad guy. If you would like to know more about the research itself, see the article in Chemistry World.

The image itself was designed by Rene Oetterli, a post-doctoral research assistant from the group of lead author Felix Zelder.  The work has a simple overall story to tell and this cover image communicates it very effectively.

This work stands out for another reason – it uses one of the most appropriate acronyms I’ve come across. The researchers have ASSURED a good detection. There is no doubt here, no ambiguity, they’ve done it. Not even reviewer three can argue with that acronym. The World Health Organisation (WHO) is responsible for coining this shortening of Affordable, Sensitive, Selective, User-friendly, Rapid, Equipment-free and Delivered. These attributes are needed for detection systems in remote settings, such as where the cassava plant is cultivated. The title of the paper includes this acronym although I think they missed a trick by omitting it from the cover design.

Acronyms are common in science and as with ASSURED, can give a great hook on which to communicate the technology. I remember TORPEDO being used in my old lab in Leeds, which was about Targeting Organelles (something something…). A fitting name for the project. But by far the best (or worst) acronym I’ve ever seen is from work looking into land mine detection using TIRAMISU. I’m still trying to figure out the connection.

A final point I want to make with this OBC article is the table of contents image. Instead of the usual graph or chemical structure that blends in with the others, there is a photo. This photo shows a farmer in Mozambique harvesting cassava plants and was taken by Lucas Tivana, one of the authors of the paper. Tivana had direct contact with these workers and could show through this image the real world applications of the study. This approach makes the work much more accessible, which could help a lay audience to engage with the work. The researchers, rightly so, thought this point was important, so featured the image as figure 1 in the paper.

Often the real world is forgotten in the pursuit of new technology and while pushing the boundaries of science for science’s sake is all well and good, being brought back to reality once in a while with a photo or a simple sketch can only be a good thing. Find the paper over at OBC.

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Categories: Education

Countdown to the 2014 Chemistry World science communication competition

Chemistry World blog (RSC) - 5 December, 2014 - 13:34

Emily Stephens writes about the how and why of her piece on gene doping, which was selected for the runner-up prize in the 2012 Chemistry World science communication competition.

I started writing my article for the 2012 competition just after the London Olympics had finished. There was a lot of controversy surrounding the legitimacy of some of the competing athletes’ achievements, in particular Nadzeya Ostapchuk, who was stripped of her gold medal following a drug test. While doping has been prevalent in competitive sport since the 1960s, I found the relatively new concept of gene doping fascinating.

Gene doping is extremely hard to detect, so future sporting events could potentially be won based on which country is most advanced in genetic medicine rather than the athletes’ natural sporting ability.

However, despite finding this topic really interesting, after sending off my entry I got caught up in university life and completely forgot about the competition until I received an invitation to join the other shortlisted candidates for the prize giving evening at Burlington House in London.

The event provided a fantastic opportunity to chat to the competition judges and several others working the field of science communication, from journalists to those running higher education courses. They talked about their career paths as well as giving general tips for entering the industry. The resounding advice seemed to be ‘Just start writing!’ and the competition had given me an excellent opportunity to do this.

The winning article was a really interesting piece on the diode laser, and I was fortunate to be the runner-up. The £100 cash prize was an excellent bonus but the highlight of the experience was seeing my article published in Chemistry World (see Chemistry World, December 2012, p41). I’d definitely recommend entering the competition to all aspiring science writers. It was a great opportunity to research and write about an interesting topic, learn from a variety of experts and have a very enjoyable evening. I’m already working on my entry for this year!

Emily Stephens studied natural sciences, specialising in biochemistry, at Emmanuel College, Cambridge, UK. She was in her final year when writing the article for the 2012 competition. Since graduating she has been working in medical communications.


If you are passionate about science and science communication, the 2014 Chemistry World science communication competition on the topic of chemistry and art offers a fantastic opportunity to demonstrate your skill, win £500 and be published in Chemistry World.

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Categories: Education

Academic family – Robert Burns Woodward

Chemistry World blog (RSC) - 4 December, 2014 - 16:25

Guest post by JessTheChemist

In 1965 Robert Burns Woodward won the Nobel prize for chemistry for the synthesis of complex organic molecules, including natural products such as cholesterol, strychnine, chlorophyll, cephalosporin, and colchicine. Unusually, Woodward won the prize for excellence in the field of organic chemistry, and not for a specific chemical reaction. Not unlike many organic chemists I know, Woodward was extremely dedicated to his work. Rumour has it that Woodward first crystallized the steroid Christmasterol on Christmas day. I commend the work ethic but I really hope that none of you are working on Christmas day!

Woodward began his university life in 1933 at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. A year later he was excluded because he neglected his studies. Another year later he was readmitted and in 1936 he received his Bachelor of Science degree. Astonishingly, it took just one more year for him to gain his doctorate from the same institution.

Avery A. Ashdown was Woodward’s graduate advisor, although it is said that Woodward took little direction from his superior. Ashdown also supervised Charles Pedersen during his Master’s degree and, although his professors encouraged him to pursue a Ph.D. at MIT, Pedersen decided to begin a career in industry at DuPont instead. Pedersen was very successful at Dupont and during his time there he carried out research in to the syntheses of crown ethers. This work led to a Nobel prize in chemistry in 1987 with Donald J. Cram and Jean-Marie Lehn for their work on molecules with structure specific interactions. Interestingly, Pedersen is one of a few people to win a Nobel prize in the sciences without having a PhD.

Another of Woodward’s Nobel connections is Ronald Breslow who he advised during his PhD at Harvard University. Among Breslow’s former graduate students is Robert Grubbs who won the Nobel prize in chemistry in 2005, along with Richard R. Schrock and Yves Chauvin, for his work in the field of olefin metathesis. Through Grubbs, Woodward is also connected to K. Barry Sharpless, who won the Nobel prize in chemistry in 2001 with William S. Knowles and Ryōji Noyori for their work on stereoselective chemical reactions.

As an undergraduate chemist, the first time I came across the name Woodward was during a lecture on pericylic chemistry where the Woodward-Hoffman rules were being described. These rules were based on observations that Woodward had made during synthesis of vitamin B12. Woodward presented his ideas based on his experiences as a synthetic organic chemist and his colleague, Roald Hoffman, confirmed these ideas with theoretical calculations. In 1981 Hoffmann won the Nobel prize in chemistry along with Kenichi Fukuifor their theories, developed independently, concerning the course of chemical reactions’.Many believe that Woodward would have won a second Nobel for his contribution to these rules, but he passed away just two years earlier and Nobel prizes cannot be awarded posthumously.

As you can see, Woodward is connected to many great scientists, too many to mention here! if you want a further insight into the world of Woodward, head over to the B.R.S.M. blog (a fellow contributor to Chemistry World) for this post on Woodward’s work. Finally, to find out if Woodward or any other laureates are connected to you, have a peek at and find your connections.

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Categories: Education

Peering into Peer Review

Chemistry World blog (RSC) - 3 December, 2014 - 17:23

‘I do not think it should appear in its present form’. Many a dejected researcher has read those words when their paper is summarily rejected by a journal. Rest assured, however, even the greatest scientific minds have read them on occasion.

Issue one of the Philosophical Transactions
© The Royal Society

In 1839, Charles Darwin submitted a paper on the geology of Glen Roy in the Scottish Highlands to the Royal Society’s Philosophical Transactions. He received a response from Adam Sedgwick, who would later become one of Darwin’s greatest critics. The Society Fellow admired Darwin’s insight but bemoaned his long-winded explanations, rejecting the paper in its present form. It was the only paper Darwin submitted to the journal.

Sedgwick’s critique of Darwin’s work forms part of a new exhibition at the Royal Society about the history of the Philosophical Transactions. Detailing the turbulent beginnings of the journal – which was first published during the Great Plague of London in 1665 – through to the modern publication, the exhibit shines a light on its colourful history. The extensive display, developed by the Royal Society and researchers at the University of St. Andrews, UK, also reveals the birth of the modern peer review process.

Although Darwin’s referee report highlights the humbling nature of a referee’s comments, it’s the correspondence of Sir George Stokes, the pioneer of fluid dynamics, which reveals new details about the nature of peer review. Stokes’ letters look rather mundane when compared to the more prominent pieces in the collection, such as Maxwell’s original paper on the electromagnetic field, but the monotonous language belies a crucial contribution to the scientific method.

Sir George Gabriel Stokes was secretary of the Royal Society from 1854 to 1885
© The Royal Society

Stokes’ letter is a simple clerical note asking a referee for their professional opinion and recommendation for a paper. The piece displays a staunch professionalism in the review process, which may have been lacking in the previous centuries: the work of Anton van Leeuwenhook on single-cell organisms in the 1600s, for instance, was published by the Royal Society even when they could not replicate his results.

Stokes also discussed papers at length with their authors during the submission process. He structured the review process by ensuring referees did not renege their responsibilities and edited the majority of papers published in the journal, becoming in the process the first modern scientific editor.  For want of a better phrase, he appears to have been a one-man band, having a fundamental impact on the way in which we conduct scientific research. Not bad for a chap who was also Lucasian Professor at the University of Cambridge at the same time.

The Philosophical Transactions: 350 years of publishing at the Royal Society exhibition is open to the public between 2 December 2014 and 23 June 2015 at the Royal Society, London. The exhibit forms part of a project called Publishing the Philosophical Transactions: the economic, social and cultural history of a learned journal, 1665-2015 led by Dr. Aileen Fyfe at the University of St. Andrews.

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Categories: Education

Countdown to the 2014 Chemistry World science communication competition

Chemistry World blog (RSC) - 1 December, 2014 - 14:06

Philip Ball, science writer and one of the judges for the upcoming Chemistry World science communication competition writes about the art of chemistry.

Philip BallOf all the sciences, chemistry has always seemed to me to be closest to the arts. It appeals directly to the senses: the shapes and colours of molecules, the smells, the tactile aspects of materials and instrumentation. It draws on intuitions and craft skills, for example in the practice of forming crystals or getting a reaction to work. And most of all, it demands creativity and imagination: ‘chemistry creates its own object’, as Marcellin Berthelot puts it.

Most of chemistry is not about discovering pre-existing forms and objects, but deciding what to make and how to make it. Molecular targets express ideas. Can we make something that fits into this hole or onto that surface? Can we create new atomic unions, unusual topologies, surprising bulk properties, new oxidation states? Can we design molecules to assemble themselves into new and useful (or simply pleasing or amusing) superstructures? The questions aren’t limited to what the natural world provides, but are circumscribed by our imaginations, which in principle need have no boundaries.

For these reasons, chemistry is perhaps the science most shaped by the personal styles of its practitioners, who are often regarded by their peers as artists of some description: Robert Woodward or Vladimir Prelog spring to mind, but everyone will have their own favourite stylists, whether they work on organics, inorganics, organometallics, polymers or whatever. There is a great deal of creative expression in the theoretical side of chemistry too: it is a science complex enough to depend on finding the right approximations, analogies and perspectives, on extracting concepts and approaches that are meaningful rather than being correct in some absolute sense. All of this makes chemistry thrillingly human, with all the argument, dissent, idiosyncrasy and flair that this entails.

Chemistry ought by rights therefore to enjoy the same kind of criticism and appreciation afforded to art – we can have views about what we like, even about what moves us. I suppose that this sort of subjective evaluation is not often encouraged because chemistry is a science. But it would be great to see some of it in this competition. The theme of ‘chemistry and art’ might be interpreted as ‘chemistry of art’, and there is plenty of interest in that. But it can also be read as ‘chemistry as art’. I look forward to seeing both perspectives explored in the entries.

Philip Ball is a freelance writer. He previously worked for over 20 years as an editor for the international science journal Nature. He writes regularly in the scientific and popular media, and has authored many books on the interactions of science, arts and culture. Philip also writes for Chemistry World and has a regular column – ‘The Crucible‘.


If you are passionate about science and science communication, the 2014 Chemistry World science communication competition on the topic of chemistry and art offers a fantastic opportunity to demonstrate your skill, win £500 and be published in Chemistry World.

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Categories: Education

November 2014: Colliding worlds

Royal Society R.Science - 1 December, 2014 - 10:17

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Categories: Education

Practised procrastination

Chemistry World blog (RSC) - 27 November, 2014 - 18:01

Guest post by Heather Cassell

It’s an inevitability – there’s a task that should be doing but you can’t build up the enthusiasm. Normally mundane jobs can suddenly seem much more interesting to do.

A suspiciously tidy lab bench
Image by Jean-Pierre from Cosne-Cours-sur-Loire, France CC-BY-SA

For me it is always report writing. Although I love putting all of my results into order and writing it up succinctly for my colleagues and collaborators, I find I can rapidly lose focus. This is when the procrastination sets in. It never seems to matter how near the deadline is, how interesting my results are, or how important the document is – I feel an overwhelming desire to tidy my desk. ‘It’s important,’ I tell myself, ‘because if my desk is tidy I’ll have easy access to the papers and results I need to finish my report’. Just as a teenager’s room is never tidier than exam time, a researcher’s desk might only ever be clear when there’s a report to write.

Oh, but there are so many temptations! I’ve learned that when I’m meant to be writing a report it is best if I avoid the internet (see my previous post on the things you can discover while trawling twitter), so to physically remove the temptation often I’ll head into the lab.

But even the lab is full of potential distractions and procrastinatory aids, as there are always a diverse range of things to do! There is that pile of tip boxes that need refilling (it may have been gathering dust for weeks, but it seems urgent that they are to be filled and taken to autoclave). There are the consumables that need restocking, the buffers that need to be made, and stock solutions that need to be prepared. To the procrastinating mind, they all become more important than the task in hand. ‘If I’m not organised in the lab,’ I justify to myself, ‘then how can I work efficiently when I have finished my report?’

I try to reason with myself. I set targets and deadlines, promising myself a break if I can just reach the end of this section. As with exam dates and revision, eventually the deadline becomes so pressing that the level of stress rises and I actually buckle down to get on with the report.

It feels so good when it’s done that I consistently make promises to myself: ‘next time it will be different’; ‘next time I’ll just get it done without the distractions’. But the urge to procrastinate always returns. Who knows, without that urge my desk may never be clear.

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Categories: Education

Countdown to the 2014 Chemistry World science communication competition

Chemistry World blog (RSC) - 21 November, 2014 - 11:05

In this first of a series of guest posts, Elizabeth Tasker writes about the how and why of her piece on cosmic chemistry, which was shortlisted in the 2013 Chemistry World science communication competition.

Elizabeth TaskerThere are some stories that beg to be written. When you find an experimental astrophysicist building a star-forming cloud in his laboratory, there is practically a moral obligation to remind the world that there are no boxes for ideas.

Astrophysicists usually come in three flavours: observers (telescope kids), theorists (‘The Matrix’ universes) and instrument builders (hand me a hammer). We cannot typically perform laboratory experiments since putting a star (or planet or black hole) on a workbench is distinctly problematic. The closest we come to hands-on experiments is through computer models, which is the toolkit I use when studying the formation of star-forming clouds. However, Naoki Watanabe had gone ahead and built his own cloud  in a super-cooled vacuum chamber.

What I liked most about Naoki’s work was the science question that was the heart of his project. Rather than take the tools of a given discipline and ask what could be learned, Naoki had picked the question and then drew knowledge he needed from astronomy, atomic physics and chemistry. This mingling of traditionally discrete subjects also made it a great fit for Chemistry World’s 2013 science communication competition theme of ‘openness’.

Discovering I’d been shortlisted was amazing. This feeling was briefly replaced by terror, since I was asked to produce a video clip describing my article as I was unable to attend the prize ceremony itself.

I recorded and re-recorded the video 10 times. All of them were identical. I feel there is a lesson to be learned about perfectionism that I likely failed to entirely grasp.

It was great to know that the judges had both enjoyed my article and were as excited as me about interdisciplinary work. Perhaps it is time to stop calling myself an ‘astrophysicist’ and simply say ‘scientist’.

Elizabeth Tasker is an assistant professor in astrophysics at Hokkaido University in Japan, where she explores star formation though computational modeling. Originally from the UK, Elizabeth completed her MSci in theoretical physics at Durham University, before pursuing her doctorate at the University of Oxford. Elizabeth keeps her own blog. She is working on a book on exoplanets (The planet factory), which will be published in 2016.


If you are passionate about science and science communication, the 2014 Chemistry World science communication competition on the topic of chemistry and art offers a fantastic opportunity to demonstrate your skill, win £500 and be published in Chemistry World.

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Categories: Education

From Mould to Medicine

Chemistry World blog (RSC) - 20 November, 2014 - 10:29

Guest post by Rowena Fletcher-Wood

Excited, Mary Hunt tipped out the produce of her shopping: a large moulded cantaloupe. She had come across the cantaloupe by chance, and the ‘pretty, golden mould’ had proved irresistible. She had discovered the Penicillium chrysogeum fungus, a species that turned out to produce 200 times the volume of penicillin as Fleming’s variety. It was a serendipitous discovery, and vital at a time when the greatest challenge facing medicine was producing enough of the antibiotic to treat all of the people who needed it.

Hunt’s finding has been barely noticed beside the original accidental discovery: Fleming’s return from holiday to find a ‘fluffy white mass’ on one of his staphylococcus culture petri dishes. Fleming was often scorned as a careless lab technician, so perhaps the contamination of one of his dishes – which had been balanced in a teetering microbial tower in order to free up bench space – was not that unexpected. But Fleming had the presence of mind to not simply dispose of the petri dish, but to first stick it beneath a microscope, where he observed how the mould inhibited the staphylococcus bacteria. Competition between bacteria and fungi was well known and, in fact, when Fleming published in the British Journal of Experimental Pathology in June 1929, the potential medical applications of penicillin were only speculative.

In 1897, a 23 year old French scientist, Ernest Duchesne, published his doctoral thesis on antagonism between moulds and microbes – specifically, Penicillium glaucum versus Escherichia coli. His insight into the healing power of penicillin extended as far as curing guinea pigs of typhoid, but his research was never recognised.

Fleming lacked the resources and chemical training to isolate and test the active ingredient in penicillin, so he handed his research over to pathologist Howard Florey in 1938. Florey quickly transformed his Oxford lab into a penicillin factory. However, even with the discovery of Penicillium chrysogeum, production was slow.

The first patients to formally trial penicillin were a cluster of 25 streptococcus-infected mice. Unlike their 25 less fortunate friends who were not given the new medicine, they made a full and swift recovery. In 1940, Oxford policeman Albert Alexander became the first human to take penicillin. Alexander was suffering from fatal septicaemia, but within 5 days of treatment he began to recover. Sadly, the penicillin ran out and as techniques at the time were unable to produce enough, Alexander died. Although it was widely administered amongst the troops during World War II, once again, production was limiting.

The real breakthroughs in penicillin production began shortly after the establishment of a new American lab; in particular, the casual introduction of corn-steep liquor, a by-product of the corn wet milling process. This was being mixed with a wide variety of substances in an effort to find a use for it, and was seen to significantly increase penicillin yields.

In 1942, Anne Miller, suffering blood poisoning after a miscarriage, became the first successful civilian recipient, but further tests were still needed to explore the range of diseases treatable by penicillin.

Horrifically, in 1946-8, the Public Health Service, Guatemalan government, National Institutes of Health and the Pan American Health Sanitary Bureau approved a study to infect prison inmates, asylum patients, and Guatemalan soldiers with STDs and treat them with penicillin. Over 1300 people were infected, and 83 died.

Today, penicillin is the most used antibiotic in the world, treating large numbers of dangerous diseases. It also has many derivatives, the discovery of which began in 1957, when John Sheehan developed the first total synthesis. Although the synthesis proved difficult to upscale, it nevertheless produced a 6-aminopenicillanic acid intermediate – the starting material for a whole new class of antibiotics. Although the penicillin you and I take is manufactured in a lab, the battle between fungi and bacteria continues, and you can still come across this world-changing substance naturally growing in its parent mould.

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Categories: Education

Take 1… minute for chemistry in health

Chemistry World blog (RSC) - 17 November, 2014 - 10:00

Guest post by Isobel Hogg, Royal Society of Chemistry

Can you explain the importance of chemistry to human health in just one minute? If you’re an early-career researcher who is up to the challenge, making a one  minute video could win you £500.

The chemical sciences will be fundamental in helping us meet the healthcare challenges of the future, and we at the Royal Society of Chemistry are committed to ensuring that they contribute to their full potential. As part of our work in this area, we are inviting undergraduate and PhD students, post-docs and those starting out their career in industry to produce an original video that demonstrates the importance of chemistry in health.

We are looking for imaginative ways of showcasing how chemistry helps us address healthcare challenges. Your video should be no longer than one minute, and you can use any approach you like.

The winner will receive a £500 cash prize, with a £250 prize for second place and £150 prize for third place up for grabs too.

Stuck for inspiration? Last year’s winning video is a good place to start. John Gleeson’s video was selected based on the effective use of language, dynamic style, creativity and its accurate content.

The closing date for entries to be submitted is 30 January 2015. Our judging panel will select the top five videos. We will then publish the shortlisted videos online and open the judging to the public to determine the winner and the runners up.

For more details on how to enter the competition and who is eligible, join us at the Take 1… page.

Good luck!

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Categories: Education

How to win a Nobel Prize, cover by cover

Chemistry World blog (RSC) - 13 November, 2014 - 05:15

Guest post from Tom Branson

Last month’s Nobel prizes gave the world some new chemical heroes, but have also given me an opportunity to delve into the art of how to become a winner. Eric Betzig, Stefan Hell and William Moerner shared the prize in chemistry for ‘the development of super-resolved fluorescence microscopy’, which sounds, and indeed is, a very photogenic area of chemistry.

Through my exhaustive research of the prize winners’ websites, I found a handy list of journal covers on the Moerner group site. The other prize winners show off impressive lists of publications, but no helpful collection of cover art for me to plunder. So my apologies to Betzig and Hell: you may have Nobel prizes, but that doesn’t quite cut it here. Instead, let’s concentrate on Moerner and see what journal cover art can teach us about becoming a champion of science.

Moerner’s website shows nine journal covers, although it is not clear if this is an exhaustive list of the group’s artistic career. From this list, we can see that Moerner has a rough average of one journal cover per 38 articles published. Just for comparison, I’ve published a whopping three articles and had one featured on a journal cover, a much better conversion rate than Moerner. So does this totally non-scientific analysis suggest that I might be a dark horse for next year’s prize?

The most recent cover shown on Moerner’s website is from an article published last year in Nano Letters. A rather powerful magnifying glass is shown looking down at some fluorescing molecules and a large shaking arrow. A simple image that illustrates the crux of the work very nicely. There is more to see here than just pretty colours: the paper stresses the importance of analysing the oscillating behaviour of the molecules in order to achieve the best resolution with your magnifying glass microscope.

Another image from the Moerner group made it to the front of Nature Chemistry in 2010. Now this one, I really like. A pile of film rolls is shown with proteins captured in a new position on each frame, firing off bright reds and yellows. This is pretty much exactly what actually happens in the experiments. The camera-friendly proteins are very elegantly portrayed here on old Kodak film roll, probably because this is somewhat easier to imagine and more iconic than the digital storage relied upon in today’s techniques. The specific protein shown is allophycocyanin, a photosynthetic antenna protein that the group tracked, monitoring changes in florescence by using an anti-Brownian electrokinetic trap.

That same issue of Nature Chemistry features an editorial all about cover art. The editorial gave some tips as to what makes an attractive image and are open enough to admit that what really matters ‘is that you impress the editorial and production teams, who all get to have their say – and, in particular, the art editor.’ So just like the Nobel prizes themselves, where everyone has their own opinion, what counts in the end is to impress the judges.

The Nature Chemistry masterpiece wasn’t Moerner’s first high impact cover. Research from his group featured on the front of Science back in 1999 where some less-than-groundbreaking graphics, were used to highlight some definitely-groundbreaking research. His work has also featured on the covers of Nature Structural Biology and the Biophysical journal.

As for my own Nobel prize aspirations, I should aim to see my work on the front of a few more journals, for which I think I’ll need to publish a few more articles. I also assume the Nobel selection committee are not as easily dazzled by pretty pictures as I am. The road to Nobel prizedom may not be paved with covers, but showing off your artwork surely helps along the way.

If you come across some cover art that you believe to be prize winning material, or are simply seeking shameless self-promotion, then please get in touch with me in the comments or on Twitter (@TRBranson).

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Categories: Education

WebElements: the periodic table on the WWW []

Copyright 1993-2011 Mark Winter [The University of Sheffield and WebElements Ltd, UK]. All rights reserved.