Edward Willett

Archives

Circadian desynchrony and the blue light special

[podcast]http://edwardwillett.com/wp-content/uploads//2012/12/Circadian-Deosynchrony-and-the-Blue-Light-Special.mp3[/podcast] We’re coming up on the shortest day of the year in the northern hemisphere: at the latitude I live at, in Regina, Saskatchewan, that means that today the sun rose at 8:49 a.m. and will set at 4:54 p.m. We’ll lose a few more minutes yet before the winter solstice. That’s not a lot of daylight: we spend two-thirds of our day in darkness this time of the year, and of course further north it’s even worse, until you get to the Arctic and twenty-four hours of sunlessness. Thank goodness for artificial light! It means we can live pretty much as we want without being a slave to the natural ...

Posted by Edward Willett at 15:09, December 10th, 2012 under Blog, Columns, Science Columns |

On the naming of drugs

[podcast]http://edwardwillett.com/wp-content/uploads//2012/01/The-Naming-of-Drugs.mp3[/podcast] If you take a prescription drug, you’ve probably said to your pharmacist something like this. “Hi, I need a refill of the hydro... chloro... thoro... acti... zine? Zanc? Something like that.” At which point the pharmacist manfully chokes back his laughter at your pharmaceutical phonetics phailure, tactfully supplies the actual name of the drug, and the transaction continues. So, why do drugs have such tongue-twisting names? Who comes up with them? An article by Carmen Drahl in the latest issue of Chemical and Engineering News (C&EN) explains, in the context of failed efforts by Winston Pharmaceuticals to change the generic name of a compound chemically known as (deep breath) cis-8-methyl-N-vanillyl-6-nonenamide. Drahl ...

Posted by Edward Willett at 15:00, January 19th, 2012 under Blog |

Spray-on liquid glass

[podcast]http://edwardwillett.com/wp-content/upLoads//2010/02/Spray-on-Liquid-Glass.mp3[/podcast] “Spray-on liquid glass” sounds like a product you’d see advertised at two o’clock in the morning in an infomercial. It sounds even more like a 2 a.m. infomercial product when you see headlines about it that claim it is “about to revolutionize everything.” Maybe it’d sound more impressive if I used its more formal name, which is “SiO2 ultra-thin layering,” but that’s hard to type, so I’m going to stick with “spray-on liquid glass.” Besides, that’s exactly what it is: an extremely thin layer of glass that can be sprayed onto...well, just about anything. Though it was invented in Turkey, the patent for spray-on liquid glass is held by the German company Nanopool. It consists of almost pure silicon dioxide, a.k.a. silica, extracted ...

Posted by Edward Willett at 16:34, February 4th, 2010 under Blog, Columns, Science Columns |

On the scent of odourprints

[podcast]http://edwardwillett.com/wp-content/upLoads//2009/10/Odourprints.mp3[/podcast] You smell. No, I’m not being insulting. I smell, too. So does everyone else. Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately) human noses are not particularly sensitive, and so we only notice one another’s smells under certain circumstances, which we are all familiar with and I am therefore spared from having to enumerate. But to those of the more advanced olfactory persuasion—yeah, I’m looking at you, Rover—not only do we smell, we each have a very particular smell: an odourprint, if you will, that distinguishes us from the crowd just like our fingerprints do. There are a lot of researchers sniffing around the topic of odourprints right now, as Ivan Amato points out in a lengthy article in the October 12 issue of Chemical and ...

Posted by Edward Willett at 15:57, October 14th, 2009 under Blog, Columns, Science Columns |

The saga of WD-40

[podcast]http://edwardwillett.com/wp-content/upLoads//2009/07/WD-40.mp3[/podcast] For as long as I can remember, we’ve had WD-40 around our house, and I’m quite sure I’m not alone in that experience: most houses contain a can somewhere. But I’d never really thought about it, or even why it was called what it’s called, until this week, when I read the New York Times’s obituary of John S. Barry. No, Barry didn’t invent WD-40, but he was the executive who was the brains behind its ascent up the slippery slope of lubricant supremacy, to the point where the WD-40 company says its surveys show it can be found in as many as 80 percent of American homes. Barry, who died on July 3 in California at the ...

Posted by Edward Willett at 17:36, July 22nd, 2009 under Blog, Columns, Science Columns |

Making fuel from air and water

Download the audio version.Get my science column weekly as a podcast.We can and do recycle all sorts of things. Paper, plastic, glass (OK, that last one not so much right now), Christmas fruitcakes...the list goes on and on.Wouldn’t it be great if we could also recycle the hydrocarbons we burn as fuel? Imagine if you could somehow take the carbon dioxide out of the air, recombine it with hydrogen, and produce new fuels. You could lessen the need for oil and slow the build-up of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere at the same time.It sounds like wishful thinking—but scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory say they can do it....

Posted by Edward Willett at 20:48, February 18th, 2008 under Blog, Science Columns |

Sweet science

’Tis the season for peace and love and carols by the fire and decorated fir trees and all that sort of thing. ’Tis also the season for candy: candy canes, fudge, toffee, peanut brittle, bon-bons of all kinds.A lot of it is store-bought, but a lot of it is made from scratch.As Grandma will tell you, there’s an art to making candy. But you can tell Grandma there’s also a lot of science to it, and the science boils down (sorry) to one thing: the behavior of sugar molecules.The ordinary white sugar we normally use is more properly known as sucrose. Sucrose molecules have 12 carbon atoms, 22 hydrogen atoms, and 11 oxygen atoms. ...

Posted by Edward Willett at 6:28, December 13th, 2007 under Blog, Science Columns |

Sweet science

’Tis the season for peace and love and carols by the fire and decorated fir trees and all that sort of thing. ’Tis also the season for candy: candy canes, fudge, toffee, peanut brittle, bon-bons of all kinds.A lot of it is store-bought, but a lot of it is made from scratch.As Grandma will tell you, there’s an art to making candy. But you can tell Grandma there’s also a lot of science to it, and the science boils down (sorry) to one thing: the behavior of sugar molecules.The ordinary white sugar we normally use is more properly known as sucrose. Sucrose molecules have 12 carbon atoms, 22 hydrogen atoms, and 11 oxygen atoms. ...

Posted by Edward Willett at 0:28, December 13th, 2007 under Science Columns |

Taking on an environmentalist icon

John Tierney of the New York Times dares to point out the feet of clay of environmentalist legend Rachel Carson, author of Silent Spring. A sample:The obsession with eliminating minute risks from synthetic chemicals has wasted vast sums of money: environmental experts complain that the billions spent cleaning up Superfund sites would be better spent on more serious dangers.The human costs have been horrific in the poor countries where malaria returned after DDT spraying was abandoned. Malariologists have made a little headway recently in restoring this weapon against the disease, but they’ve had to fight against Ms. Carson’s disciples who still divide the world into good and bad chemicals, with DDT in their fearsome “dirty ...

Posted by Edward Willett at 5:56, June 11th, 2007 under Blog |

The early Earth may have been purple…

...not green.Chlorophyll, it seems, may have been a relative latecomer.

Posted by Edward Willett at 15:43, April 10th, 2007 under Blog |