Monday, October 31, 2011

Der Erlkönig: A Halloween Poem

My recitation of Goethe's poem, Der Erlkönig:

Here is the original text: link
Wer reitet so spät durch Nacht und Wind?
Es ist der Vater mit seinem Kind;
Er hat den Knaben wohl in dem Arm,
Er faßt ihn sicher, er hält ihn warm. 
"Mein Sohn, was birgst du so bang dein Gesicht?" —
"Siehst, Vater, du den Erlkönig nicht?
Den Erlenkönig mit Kron und Schweif?" —
"Mein Sohn, es ist ein Nebelstreif." 
"Du liebes Kind, komm, geh mit mir!
Gar schöne Spiele spiel' ich mit dir;
Manch' bunte Blumen sind an dem Strand,
Meine Mutter hat manch gülden Gewand." — 
"Mein Vater, mein Vater, und hörest du nicht,
Was Erlenkönig mir leise verspricht?" —
"Sei ruhig, bleibe ruhig, mein Kind;
In dürren Blättern säuselt der Wind." — 
"Willst, feiner Knabe, du mit mir gehen?
Meine Töchter sollen dich warten schön;
Meine Töchter führen den nächtlichen Reihn,
Und wiegen und tanzen und singen dich ein." — 
"Mein Vater, mein Vater, und siehst du nicht dort
Erlkönigs Töchter am düstern Ort?" —
"Mein Sohn, mein Sohn, ich seh es genau:
Es scheinen die alten Weiden so grau. —" 
"Ich liebe dich, mich reizt deine schöne Gestalt;
Und bist du nicht willig, so brauch ich Gewalt." —
"Mein Vater, mein Vater, jetzt faßt er mich an!
Erlkönig hat mir ein Leids getan!" — 
Dem Vater grauset's, er reitet geschwind,
Er hält in Armen das ächzende Kind,
Erreicht den Hof mit Müh' und Not;
In seinen Armen das Kind war tot.

~Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Friday, October 28, 2011

A Conservative Notion of Energy

Julius von Mayer (1814-1878)
The relation between food and work is intuitive: eat or die.* We also think that overeating can be offset by exercise and modern treadmills enable this thinking by showing us calories burned. And while the relation between food and work now seems intuitive, the equivalence of heat and work--or more precisely their interconversion--was a non obvious deduction.

Non obvious because work seems focused--while heat seems dispersed. It took centuries of sustained effort by thinkers and scientists to get us where we are today: that heat and work are equivalent and can interconvert.  Along the way, one man nearly took his own life for want of attention: Julius von Mayer.  His story involved blood, and indirectly, iron. To him we owe the First Law of Thermodynamics:
Energy can be neither created nor destroyed. It can only change forms
*The German verb sterben, to die, is etymologically linked to our verb to starve.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Ludwig Mond Gave Metal Wings

Ludwig Mond (1839-1909) founded Britain's ICI.

Ludwig Mond was another wealth maker who changed chemistry and in so doing, changed the world. Am I giving him too much credit?  Perhaps. Mond discovered nickel tetracarbonyl--an insidious poison--and turned its making into a process for refining ultra pure nickel--mostly Canadian nickel from the Sudbury Basin. Such nickel went into steel to make armor plating for ships. I'm sure that some still sits in the sunken battleship USS Arizona at Pearl Harbor.* Hardened steel armor was also the reason the US Treasury had to pull nickel from circulation during World War II, replacing it with less precious silver. link

Mond found (by accident) that nickel combines with four molecules of carbon monoxide to give nickel tetracarbonyl,
Nickel tetracarbonyl is volatile and can be distilled. In a sense, the four carbon monoxides bear a metal atom aloft. To paraphrase Lord Kelvin: Mond gave wings to metals (I used Kelvin's metaphor to describe how fluorine "gave uranium wings" back here).
*Kruppstahl as it turns out. I suspected this after having seen one of the Arizona's turrets still half submerged in warm seawater after nearly 70 years!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

What It Takes To Win

Stepping back for a moment from the comfort of my cocoon which eschews hackneyed political "greenery," I asked myself:

What objective indicia would gauge the public's position on things green?

The answer should be an unbiased scientific poll. According to new research out of Stanford (link), it's a little known fact that in past elections, candidates who strongly supported green energy initiatives won. If Republicans and Independents can leverage these ideas in 2012, they'll sweep back into power.

Group 8 Love

The term "Group VIII Metals" refers to the 3 by 3 block of elements boxed in red below, especially in older texts. link  Note that they sit smack dab in the middle of the Periodic Table:

The 3 by 3 array is really three triads: first is the iron triad, comprising downwards iron, ruthenium, and osmium; the second triad is cobalt, rhodium, and iridium; the third triad is nickel, palladium, and platinum. So far in my series of posts about chemical elements, I've ignored the heavier metals, skimming sideways across the top of Group VIII, to get back to the right half of the Periodic Table. The metals below the blue line in the red box are called the platinum group metals: Ru, Rh, Pd, Os, Ir, and Pt. I will come back to them in due time. I know them the best of all the elements I've covered so far.

So why are they grouped together? First, they are usually found together (in nature), because they resemble each other chemically (though each element is of course distinct). Second, their electronegativities are similar to carbon's and to hydrogen's--this means that those main group elements tend to bond more covalently to the metals. Recall my point about the neutral ones--the covalent elements in the middle of a polarity continuum. Organotransition metal chemistry is largely (but not exclusively) the chemistry of those metals with hydrocarbons, hydrogen, and small organic molecules. The platinum group metals, especially rhodium, platinum, and palladium, are found for example in catalytic converters and fuel cells where they bring together disparate elements and catalyze their rearrangements.

One last thing. A lucky man discovered a process which still allows the modern day separation of the platinum group metals. He's the man who first gave metal wings.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Toyota Should Thank Heaven

Big Nickel, Sudbury, Canada
...specifically, for the nickel found in Sudbury Basin which goes into their Prius batteries. The astrobleme released magma from deep underground when a huge meteorite struck the Canadian shield 2 billion or so years ago. Magma, rich in iron, nickel, copper, platinum, palladium, gold and other precious metals back-filled the crater. Workers on the trans-Canadian Railway first discovered the rich deposits. Bucky balls came from the heavens too: link

Van der Krogt has a fascinating tale of nickel's name--devil's copper--which I don't know whether to believe or not: link.

The meteorite's impact must have caused cataclysmic changes in the earth's weather--it's ironic that Toyota seeks to ameliorate modern day effects using the consequences of an earlier cataclysm.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Americans Out-Sequester The World In Carbon

I've come up with a simple formula that allows converting body weight to the corresponding weight of dry ice (CO2) sequestered by an individual. The magic factor is an astonishingly simple factor of 2/3. The conversion factor is irrespective of weight units (lbs or kilos). I derived the number as follows:

The human body contains 18% carbon by weight, meaning that 100 pounds of body weight contains 18 pounds of carbon.  To convert to corresponding pounds of carbon dioxide, I multiplied by a factor corresponding to the increase in mass when carbon "burns" to carbon dioxide = [12 + 16 + 16]/12 = 3.67*  This is also just the molecular weight ratio of CO2 to carbon.

These two factors, .18 x 3.67 = 0.66, which is very close to 2/3.  That factor, (2/3) multiplied by body weight, gives the corresponding weight of a block of CO2 which all the carbon sequestered in a body would form.

So how much carbon do American adults sequester en mass? The average American male weighs about 190 lbs and the average American female weighs about 150 lbs. Using a 50/50 ratio for males to females and figuring that about 80 % of Americans are aged 15 and up (i.e., neglecting children), I estimate the total amount of carbon dioxide sequestered by the American adult population of 307 M people as follows:

307 M x .80 = 245 million adults. It follows that American men sequester:

245 M/2 x 190 x 2/3 /2000 = 7.8 M tons of CO2; and

American women sequester:
245 M/2 x 150 x 2/3 /2000 = 6.1 M tons of CO2. I converted from pounds to tons using the factor 2000 lbs = 1 ton.

American adults sequester approximately 14 million tons of carbon dioxide. That's got to be on par with a decent-sized forest. Note that men sequester more than women because they are heavier and have more carbon.  Obviously Americans -- considered the heaviest of humans -- sequester the most carbon per capita worldwide.

OK, have at it!
*Lavoisier famously showed that metals increase their mass when they burn to their oxides, thus destroying phlogiston theory. I'm showing the same thing here by considering carbon to be like a metal and carbon dioxide to be like a metal oxide.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Welcome PU.GG Readers!

According to my blogger statistics, the majority of my traffic comes from somewhere here.

Oh, the opacity!