Energy Sources, Fighting Cancer and Engaging Chemistry


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lignin polymer

Chemistry students have to grasp complex chemical structures during lecture – new teaching methods could help. This is an illustration of a lignin polymer – image courtesy of Steve Chmely of the National Renewable Energy Lab

The roads leading to new discoveries have paths that at times seem unrelated to everyday occurrences. However, the facts tell differently; chemists (and scientists in general) learn to be keen observers of their surroundings.

Being keen observers is half the battle for the keys to success in the lab—the other half is based upon asking and executing the proper questions. This path may take more than one generation of science until the discovery becomes practical to the society as a whole.

Hydrogen-Powered Cars: Another Look

Current climate phenomena seem to be spiraling in the direction of greater uncertainty and chaos. Although many are actively addressing the issue of climate change through personal choice, it remains an issue that will remain with us for many decades to come.

A path that can address the issue of climate change is the use of hydrogen as an alternative fuel for automobiles. Although progress has been painstaking and slow, recent advances point towards renewed vigor in the field.

Hydrogen fuels have been in the R&D phase for more than 35 years. One present advance appears in the ACS journal, Catalysis. Researchers have found a more efficient method to produce hydrogen gas from splitting the water molecule. Solar light drives the process that employs a novel molecular catalyst. (Catalysts push chemical reactions forward by making the process easier to complete.)

The process ultimately involves linking hydrogen fuel without utilizing heavy batteries.

Chemotherapy Utilizing Nanotechnology

A major problem of consternation in the public eye is the link between chemicals and cancer. Among the treatment methods for cancer is chemotherapy, a treatment doctors have used for decades. Although the trepidation associated with chemotherapy is justified, not all tumors are excised in the same manner.

In recent years, delivery methods for chemotherapy have changed—and the latest development employs nanotechnology. The ability to site-deliver needed medicines without damaging other organs has become tantamount to extending the life of the patient.

Researchers report in the journal, Chemical Research in Toxicology, that they can deliver nitric oxide to tumors via super-magnetized, chemically-treated iron oxide nano-particles without damage to organs. Nitric oxide is known to cause cell death and oxidation to most biological entities. Through the use of super-magnetized, chemically-treated nano-particles the nitric oxide can be directed to the tumor and the nano-particles.

By chemically-treating the nano-particles, the iron-oxide particles become non-toxic to body systems, while still treating the tumors, according to researchers – the particles will ultimately be excreted. Although the method is in research-phase, it is a promising development in the treatment of cancerous tumors.

Chemical Simulations in the Learning and Teaching of Chemical Concepts

In the learning of chemistry and the sciences, the skill of discerning physical phenomena in the lecture hall proves to be a stumbling block for many. Many times students (unfortunately) attend lecture without adequate preparation.

Present efforts to assure that students can grasp the difficult chemical concepts have taken a different track by instructors at the University of Colorado, Boulder. Teams of instructors are utilizing a method of simulating chemical phenomena with computer technology—the method is interactive and asks the student to use their lap top during lecture. Similar to ‘clickers,’ the method helps the student to visualize difficult phenomena and it is being utilized in the laboratory setting as well.

As an adjunct to the traditional lab and lecture setting—the increased level of students passing their courses is welcomed by teacher and student alike.

Engaging Inquiry into the World of Chemical Phenomena

The themes of observation, and asking the right question are part of the scientific process— and they come into play when addressing concepts of change and progress. Utilizing modern and novel techniques in chemistry allows us to access our creative, analytical faculties.

Whether probing matter to understand the salient properties of change, or learning chemical properties, this amounts to a better understanding of the world around us.

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