Are diamondoids forever too?

Adamantane, the invincible molecule, was discovered in petroleum in 1933 and stimulated a whole new field in chemistry, that of research into polyhedral organic compounds. It might be thought of as the tiniest possible building block of diamond, which is after all an infinite 3D network of carbon atoms essentially pinned on the adamantane structure minus the hydrogens. Adamantane itself has been modified for practical applications in the pharmaceutical industry, in polymer science for heat-stable lubricants and others uses, and as molecular building blocks in nanotechnology. But, this “diamondoid” and its chemical cousins might also be the molecular mavens we need to guide hydrocarbon exploration.

Underground fossil fuel reservoirs including natural gas, gas condensate, petroleum and coal are the natural resources of hydrocarbons we rely on the most and commonly contain diamondoid hydrocarbons, says Patricia Lopes Barros de Araujo of the Federal Rural University of Pernambuco in Brazil, Ali Mansoori of the University of Illinois, USA and Elmo Silvano de Araujo of the Federal University of Pernambuco also in Brazil, who have reviewed the state of the art recently in the journal IJOGCT (full reference below).

Fundamentally, the team explains, diamondoids can act as geochemical tools for petroleum characterisation, their presence on fossil fuel fluids also gives researchers a way to evaluate petroleum sample quality, to determine its origin, investigate the degree of biodegradation and thermal maturity and event to help find and assess new sources of petroleum. “The presence of diamondoids in petroleum has become much more than a chemical curiosity,” they explain.

Research Blogging IconPatricia Lopes Barros de Araujo, Elmo Silvano de Araujo, & Ali Mansoori (2012). Diamondoids: occurrence in fossil fuels, applications in petroleum exploration and fouling in petroleum production. A review paper Int. J. Oil, Gas and Coal Technology, 5 (4), 316-367

Venus in transit

According to good friend of this blog Stuart Clark, writing in The Guardian, the 1761 transit of Venus was a watershed moment in the history of astronomy. It was, he says, the first time astronomers would have the opportunity to measure accurately the size of the solar system. The distance between the Earth and the Sun had been estimated, with varying degrees of success, since the Greeks, but this was different…the endeavour was the 18th century equivalent of the Large Hadron Collider. It was the first global scientific collaboration and took place in the midst and despite a global war at the time.

“The combined results from all the various missions were within about 4% of the modern accepted value of 150 million kilometres). At the next pair of transits, in 1874 and 1882, the accuracy was improved to 1%,” says Clark.

A transit of Venus across the Sun takes place when the planet Venus passes directly between the Sun and Earth. The “star” (actually a planet, obviously) seems to turn black against the solar disk (we’re simply seeing the side of the planet facing directly away from the sun and it is obviously not illuminated.

A transit lasts mere hours (the transit of 2004 lasted 6h). A transit is similar to a solar eclipse by the Moon. While the diameter of Venus is almost four times that of the Moon, Venus appears smaller, and travels more slowly across the face of the Sun, because it is much farther away from Earth.

The next transit of Venus will occur on 5 and 6 June 2012, and will be the last Venus transit this century; they come in pairs the previous one of the pair being on 8 June 2004. (Before that December 1874 and December 1882). The next pair of transits will not be until December 2117 and December 2125…so we’ve got a while to wait after Tuesday.

Bee pollen with a sting in the tail

There are millions of supplements on the market, most are untested in any clinical setting and are beyond pharma regulations. They’re available over-the-counter, without a prescription and may be contaminated with toxins, heavy metals and other nasties, especially those bought from far-flung places via the Internet. Some may be marginally useful in helping people recover from certain conditions although there is a dearth of evidence that any really do anything at all. Sometimes they can lead to adverse reactions including anaphylaxis and interfering with liver enzymes leading to problems with other products, including blocking prescription drugs or leading to metabolites staying in the bloodstream too long, with potential for heart, kidney, liver and other organ damage..

Among the long-list of spurious supplements is bee pollen (also known as bee bread, or ambrosia). The raw material taken from hives will contain countless microscopic fungi and bacteria. According to Science-based medicine, the claims made for bee pollen supplements are over-hyped and evidence-free, as is typical of this poorly regulated industry. E.g.

“The benefits are enormous and the substance has been proven by many health experts. This particular substance is known as an effective immune booster and one of the best ways to achieve a sound nutritional regime…The pollen from the bee has been proven to increase sexual functions in both men and women. It stimulates our organs, as well as our glands and is known to improve the natural increase on a person’s lifespan.”

All unproven hype with a total lack of any peer-reviewed references in decent journals reporting efficacy or tests. People often turn to such products because they believe them to be “natural” and somehow safer. Is it really natural to harvest products from bees, it’s no more or less natural than milking cows, I suppose, but natural does not mean safe and it certainly doesn’t mean efficacious. Strychnine and snake venom are both natural…but…

There are specific reports of severe allergic reactions to bee pollen products. Given that there is no evidence that they work but certain evidence that they can cause harm, if I were you, I’d steer clear of this particular sting.

Homeopathy Plus? Minus!

‘”There is no argument against homeopathy which stands up to scientific scrutiny. They are simply slogans, distortions and downright lies” says the HMC21 organisation.’

Hmmm. Homeopathic activists are getting vexed and waving banners and signing petitions it seems…

Well…science does not need to make “arguments” against homeopathy. Homeopathy needs to prove that its treatments work. The burden of proof is on those who make the claims for its efficacy not on those who understand the chemistry of water.

I’d like to see the trials, the data, the evidence, that demonstrate a prophylactic effect against malaria or HIV, say, before they start shouting about scientific scrutiny. I don’t care if the worried well want to waste their money on sugar pills to deal with their anxiety and neuroses and to claim back their me time. When homeopaths advise against taking functional anti-malaria medication in preference for a bottle of water with a wacky name that’s a different matter as it is potentially lethal pseudoscience that could affect many more people than the “patient”.

Do these people not imagine that the pharmaceutical industry would jump on homeopathy and sell it at a profit just the same if it wasn’t simply infinitely dilute preparations. Where is there any evidence at all that “like cures like” or that diluting anything makes it stronger?

Forget Fukushima, it’s the smokes that’ll nuke you

Tobacco firms have failed to act on radioactivity in cigarettes. According to cancer researchers:

“Cigarettes deliver dangerously concentrated doses of radioactivity directly into the lungs. When smokers inhale, the radioactive particles damage lung tissue, creating ‘hot spots’ of damage.

They add that:

“Other [toxic] chemicals in cigarette smoke damage the lung’s cleaning systems, which would normally get rid of gunk in our airways. So the particles build up over time. These localised build-ups lead to far greater and longer exposures to radiation than people would usually get from natural sources.”

So, why hasn’t the industry been pushed to do anything about this, well you know why…money.

All the water on Earth

We’ve all seen the graphic, now here comes a video to show all the water on Earth, the drop that is the freshwater and the droplet that is the available fresh water. And to think it could all be evaporated in an instant by a burst of energy from an exploding star or more tangibly we could simply carry on pouring it down the drain while people die of thirst.

7 features all university websites should have

Researchers in Turkey have surveyed hundreds of students to ascertain five factors pertaining to the students’ perceptions of the attractiveness, controllability, efficiency, helpfulness and learnability of the University’s website.

Ersin Caglar of the European University of Lefke and Ahmet Mentes of the Namik Kemal University in Turkey explain that an institution’s website is the information gateway to its services and products. As such, it should be a reflection of the needs of the people it serves. They add that usability is an important aspect of website design but for all educational institutions this factor should be based on the needs of the primary target audience: the students.

The team’s survey and analysis of the results confirms that students are the most important stakeholder but also reveals that the level of satisfaction with the five main factors of website design can differ from faculty to faculty.

They suggest that common guidelines should be developed that allow for consistent design and navigation with the aim of improving the user experience on their specific institutional website, but with equal applicability across others. An application similar to this free design site will provide the best user experience. Such guidelines would not necessarily stifle creativity nor distinctiveness but would make using the site a more pleasant experience, give easier access to information, and be time-saving for students. There is an argument for all of the following to be included on an educational institution’s website, with particular emphasis on those of universities:

  • List of offered courses (prospectus)
  • Online application system
  • Billing
  • Course schedules and materials
  • Academic calendar
  • Results and exams
  • Online lectures

Research Blogging IconErsin Caglar, & S. Ahmet Mentes (2012). The usability of university websites — a study on European University of Lefke Int. J. Business Information Systems, 11 (1), 22-40

#openaccess There’s a petition for that

Imagine if all of the research papers you, your friends, family, anyone wanted to read were available, full text, for searching by hand and with computers and for data mining and cross referencing? It is done to a limited extent already by the NIH for preprints, with no demonstrable financial hardship to the research system. Traditional publishing models may need to be upgraded to this brave new world but the potentially exponentially expanding impact on research will open up so many more opportunities for business that even they will wonder why it wasn’t done sooner.

The plan is to extend the successful NIH program to all federal agencies, including the National Science Foundation. Heather Piwowar’s blog has more details and explains the petition process. #openaccess petition.

Solar eclipse explained badly

This diagram is an approximation of how BBC children’s news program “Newsround” (formerly John Craven’s Newsround) showed how the recent annular eclipse occurred.

Now, there’s simplifying and there’s just getting it totally wrong. I assume that they checked on Wikipedia for how eclipses occur because no one on staff had done a GCSE in science and simply misconstrued the diagram there. If someone on staff did study science at school, then they ought to be ashamed of themselves.

This is closer to what it should be: