Thursday, December 22, 2016

The Chemical History of a Candle

The "Chemical History Of A Candle" by Michael Faraday, is perhaps the most popular science book ever published. It has been published continuously since 1861. By design, the book is a series of lecture notes given by Faraday at his annual Christmas Lectures, beginning around 1849 in London. Faraday was a science celebrity in his lifetime, but much more so than those we have today because they lack such career achievements in science as his.

In this simple series of lectures, Faraday ties together much of what was know about chemistry and physics, simply by considering a burning candle. What I love about this first lecture is the way Faraday demonstrates what a perfect storage medium of energy the wax candle is. Hydrocarbons are our friends -- not something to be demonized.


Thursday, December 15, 2016

Last Letters From Stalingrad: #34

..Nobody knows what will happen to us now, but I think this is the end. Those are hard words, but you must understand them the way they are meant. Times are different now from the day when I said good-bye and became a soldier. Then we still lived in an atmosphere which was nourished by a thousand hopes and expectations of everything turning out well in the end. But even then we were hiding a paralyzed fear beneath the words of farewell which were to console us for our two months happiness as man and wife. I still remember one of your letters in which you wrote that you just wanted to bury your face in your hands in order to forget. And I told you then that all this had to be and that the nights in the East were much darker and more difficult than those at home.
The dark nights of the East have remained, and they have turned much darker than I had ever anticipated. In such nights one often listens for the deeper meaning of life. And sometimes there is an answer.  Now space and time stand between us; and I am about to step over the threshold which will separate us eternally from our own little world and lead into that greater one which is more dangerous, yes, even devastating. If I could have made it through this war safely, I would have understood for the first time what it means to be man and wife in its true and deepest sense. I also know it now--now that these last lines are going to you.
The key to understanding the series is here, and here. Each letter (39 in all) was written by a different and anonymous German soldier who knew he was going to die. I associate these letters with Christmastime for reasons explained at the links.

Friday, November 11, 2016

100 Years Ago On The Western Front

Link to original
100 years ago, the Battle of the Somme was winding down. The fighting lasted another week before both sides, exhausted, hunkered down for the winter.  Fighting resumed in the Spring of 1917.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Conversations With Henry

Henry: God gave us thermodynamics but not kinetics!

Me: What do you mean?

Henry: I mean -- we can measure differences between where we are and where we've been, and also between where we are and where we'll be. Those things never change -- they're tabulated.

Me: But you're talking about free energy differences and chemistry....

Henry: Yes, of course...that too.


Henry: How things get from here to there is what we fight and argue's the kinetics!

Monday, July 4, 2016

I Have a Rendezvous with Death

 I have a rendezvous with Death  
At some disputed barricade,  
When Spring comes back with rustling shade  
And apple-blossoms fill the air—  
I have a rendezvous with Death
When Spring brings back blue days and fair.  
It may be he shall take my hand  
And lead me into his dark land  
And close my eyes and quench my breath—  
It may be I shall pass him still.
I have a rendezvous with Death  
On some scarred slope of battered hill,  
When Spring comes round again this year  
And the first meadow-flowers appear.  
God knows ‘twere better to be deep
Pillowed in silk and scented down,  
Where love throbs out in blissful sleep,  
Pulse nigh to pulse, and breath to breath,  
Where hushed awakenings are dear...  
But I’ve a rendezvous with Death
At midnight in some flaming town,  
When Spring trips north again this year,  
And I to my pledged word am true,  
I shall not fail that rendezvous.

Alan Seeger, 1888 - 1916
Seeger, a 28 year old American, was killed in action at Belloy-en-Santerre (The Somme) by German machine gun fire on July 4, 1916. He had joined the French Foreign Legion -- not because of enmity towards Germany but -- for his love for France. Seeger was the uncle of American folksinger and pacifist Pete Seeger.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Tommy vs. Gerry: 1916

Restart and play both videos at the same time to get the full effect.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

The Somme -- A BBC Dramatization

The focus is on the Thiepval assaults on the first day. Not the usual lefty diatribe, there is plenty of blame to go around -- mostly for the men in trees.
The Somme: From Defeat to Victory challenges the traditional view of the battle as a disaster and reveals how it was on the Somme that the British Army learnt to fight a modern war.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

The Somme Then And Now

The assault phase of the Battle of the Somme commenced 10 minutes after the blowing of the Hawthorne mine. The original black and white footage is from a full-length, silent documentary film, The Battle Of The Somme (1916).  That film has been digitized and set back to the original camera speed (something I worried about back here). Watch the original film here. It's lengthy, but worth it.

A couple years ago, two amateur filmmakers skilfully blended past and present cinematography. You won't realize what they've done for a minute or so but then it's incredible! The film is poignant too: Most of these men would be dead 40 minutes after this film was made.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Britian's Secret Terror Weapon At The Somme

100 years ago tonight, British engineers were secretly installing four 56 ft long, 2.5 ton machines called "Squirts" by their operators and "Judgements" by more senior officers. History calls them Liven's Large Gallery Flame Projector.

British Flame Projector. First used by British at the Battle of the Somme, 1st July, 1916. Range 40 to 50 yards. Oil was forced through pipes under pressure, and ignited at a jet.

Here is a British TV presentation of the weapon and its excavation at the Somme battlefield in France. Yes it was real and yes, they did find the remains.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

The Chemistry of Politics

Politics and chemistry share many concepts and even words: coming together vs. falling apart; donor vs. acceptor; tipping point & transition state; polarized vs. neutral; vitriolic & caustic vs. neutral; litmus test; right vs. left; purity vs. impurity; structure & status quo vs. change & kinetics; majority vs. minority; and resonance to name a few off the top of my head. The words "electron" and "election" even look related but are in fact unrelated; electron comes from the Greek word for amber, while the word elect comes from the word to pick and choose.

Years ago, I hypothesized (and published with evidence) that a well-known (but poorly understood) chemical reaction was governed by repulsion: Electronic repulsion at its very core.  Briefly, a catalyst separately held the same substrate in two different ways; an incoming hydrogen molecule would then chose which of the two configurations to ride over the barrier hump while melding into stable products, corresponding to what could be dubbed right and left-handed versions of the same thing. Now, the rate of hydrogen's addition to (choice of) one of two configurations was the deciding factor; it was the deal clincher. Moreover, the two configurations were present in vastly unequal amounts from the start -- around a 10:1 ratio. Prior studies had shown that the incoming hydrogen preferred the minority configuration. That's where I came in. I said that incoming hydrogen was repelled by the major substrate-catalyst complex -- the one with the clingier hangers-on. In effect, I said that substrate binding (clinginess) killed reactivity by swelling a repulsive lobe on the catalyst.

A catalyst is rather like a politician. Its job is to bring us lowly substrates together to make something more stable. But just like my chemistry example, the favored politician with the clingier hangers-on can be the kinetic loser.  It's the repulsion, stupid.