Thursday, July 31, 2014

Exocharmic Reactions

Thanks to Bassam Shakhashiri for the pic and for including the Ramette article in his outstanding series of demo books.
"The joy of chemical experimentation has been well recognized, at least from the early days of alchemy, and our appreciation of chemical charm probably dates back to the prehistoric discovery of ways to make and control fire. Therefore, it seems useful to coin the term exocharmic reaction (from the Greek exo-, turning out) and, particularly in our role as chemistry teachers, to seek and share techniques for liberating as much charm as possible from the chemical changes our students in the laboratory and classroom demonstrations." ~ Richard W. Ramette
The above few sentences come from Richard W. Ramette's article in the January, 1980 issue of the Journal of Chemical Education. You can get the full test on the ACS website (for a fee) or - as I found the article - in the front of Bassam Shakhashiri's of Chemical Demonstrations: a handbook for teachers of chemistry, vol 1 (the full article of which Google has posted for free).

The gist of the article - which really should be read in its four-page entirety - is that the most exocharmic reactions must be presented with content connections, enough prior knowledge (but not too much), safe methods, and the proper attitude and showmanship from the demonstrator.

There's a lot more to it, but I'll let you read the full text for yourself.

There's also a nice, follow-up article from George M Bodner from a 2001 volume of University Chemistry Education from the Royal Society of Chemistry.

STEEL: From Start to Finish

The music moves the story along nicely, but the images of massive, molten pours of iron sluicing through a steel mill doesn't really need much jazzing up.

This video provides an overview from the mining of iron ore, the smelting of ore into pure iron, the addition of non-iron ingredients into the steel melt, casting the steel, forging and de-scaling the steel sheets, heat- and cold-treating the steel, and coating some of the steel for various applications.

Honestly, it's a great overview of the processes involved.

Extraction of Iron (Blast Furnace)

Any chance somebody out there would want to add in a little Ennio Morricone music overtop of this video to make things a bit more exciting?

The process in reality (as shown below) is just a bit more exciting, but the chemistry explained above is fairly spot on (if a bit simplified) as to what's happening in the furnace itself.

Bridge to Classroom

My bridge didn't survive the magnitude 9.0 earthquake on the San Andreas fault. I'm not surprised about that, though, since Warren Zevon has been telling me to for years that California is going to slide into the ocean. I apparently helped a digital version to speed up that slide a bit thanks to Bridge to Classroom, an engineering simulation in which you (or your students) can test various bridge designs (beam girder, steel arch, cantilever-truss, suspension, and cable-stay) with a mixture of safety features (bearings, ductile materials, shock absorbers, and shear links) against earthquakes of eight different magnitudes after learning a little bit about the challenges presented in the San Francisco Bay.

Here's to hoping they built the real one better than my beam-girder/suspension/bean-girder model did.

Track Features - Flora, MS Derailment from Thermal Expansion Sun Kink

Sadly the video is all animation, but that's understandable considering the derailment mess that would have been created (see the video below).

If ever students ask why thermal expansion matters, here's a very clear example.

ASM Materials Camp 2006

"I heard that...we're going to be breaking some stuff and seeing what's inside of it. That's what I do at home, anyway, and this way my mom doesn't yell at me."

Great summary there, Dan, of what we do in the teachers camps, too.

I really want to get up to Einseman some summer to see what the students are doing at their summer camp, particularly the Eisenman at the ASM headquarters because it pulls from students all around the country.

Blacksmith demo at Eisenman Materials Camp 2012

Yeah, most of the time when we have high school students forging something, we aren't happy.

Here, though, we're thrilled to see the students at the Eisenman student material science camp doing a bit of forging.

I need to get up to one of the summer student camps sometime to see just how cool they are.

...or how hot in this case...

ASM Materials Camp at Lehigh University

"We just shown them there are all the cool things people can do."

I've never been to one of the student summer camps, but I have tried to get a couple of our Princeton material science students to attend (sadly with no success yet).

They look like fun, though, particularly breaking windshields with baseballs.

ASM San Antonio Materials Camp

Great intro there -"a free, week-long camp dedicated to showing them how to turn ordinary pocket change into golden teaching tool[s]."

Yeah, it's hoaky, but that's a fair statement for what Debbie and Gissel were doing in the San Antonio camp in 2013. It's some nice coverage from the local news station.

Materials camp for teachers recap

Well, of course the teachers loved the camp. The camps are awesome.

I've never been to our Princeton summer camp, but I have worked with Brian Wright (seen at 0:26 and a few other times) who I know has lead the Princeton camp a number of times. Admittedly, I don't know Michael Ireland (shown at 1:26), but I'm sure he's awesome, too.

All-in-all, it's a nice summary of and advertisement for the summer camps.

Fun Science Demos

Dr George Mehler (and ASM Foundation Board member) has worked with Jared Hottenstein and other Central Bucks science teachers have put together a series of science demonstration videos. The videos are geared mostly toward middle school science concepts, but a number of the concepts are ones that I know first hand that some high school students struggle with.

Most of them, admittedly, aren't material science concepts, but they are certainly basic science concepts that material science students would need to know. I'll post a couple of videos that are directly material-science-related (heat conduction and thermal expansion), but there a whole bunch more videos on their YouTube channel, FunScienceDemos. Check 'em out...

And a big thanks to George who came to our Montana camp to record some feedback from our campers for another project that he is working on, promoting the summer teacher camps.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Ceramic Disc Golf Contest

I'm a big frisbee golf guy. When time, weather, and schedule allow, I try to play a couple of times a week, and I've even had a trio of holes in one (holes 4 & 7 at Gardener Park and 17 at Winton Woods).

Admittedly, though, I have never tried to play frisbee golf with a ceramic disc. I'm more of a Roc guy, myself.

Keramos, the American Ceramics Society, is sponsoring a contest to build a ceramic disc golf disc for the fall MS&T conference in Pittsburgh in October. The goal is to build a disc that will hold together and hit the basket from the furthest distance away (three tires from each distance - kind of like pole vault), so there's a bit of disc golf skill involved, too.

Check out the rules online or above.

Scientists Develop Bioplastics from Food Scraps

I prefer my fruit rollups in colors other than red, personally.

I know that's not a fruit rollup there in the picture, but it looks a heck of a lot like a fruit rollup.

I'm not saying. I'm just saying...

One of the things that we point out in our summer material science workshops is that polymers might be the perfect material because they have good long-term stability, not corroding (though there are some UV issues involved, admittedly).

And then we immediately point out that polymers might not be the perfect material for exactly those same reasons. See, the polymers are going to be around far longer than we want them to be in many cases, sometimes even building up in the oceanic doldrums into gyres of debatable density.

But bioplastics, most of which are biodegradeable, tend to have the drawback that they require repurposing the production yield of agricultural land currently being used for - you know - feeding people. It would be far better if we could maybe take food waste that we already have, that we're just going to chuck into a landfill somewhere or - if we're lucky - maybe compost it.

That's just what a team of researchers from Italy have been working to do, producing plastics from spinach, rice, parsley, and cocoa pod husks...and apparently it works.

Check out the details over at,, Science Alert, New Scientist, and the original ACS publication.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

How to Change a Water Heater Anode Rod

I love me some Rich Trethewey.

Here Rich gives us a quick lesson in the anatomy of a hot water heater and - more importantly for materials science - the anode. He does a wonderful job explaining what an anode is (the sacrificial part of the heater) and describes it as being made of the 'least noble metal that we can put in [the heater]".

He also does a great job actually showing us how to replace an anode rod. He doesn't, however, address the question asked of where to buy a new anode.

Optimal Can Dimensions

DataGenetics took a quick look at why cans (metal cans, like tin cans, but we know they're mostly all steel nowadays) are the shapes that they are.

There's some math involved - calculus, natch - to find the optimum point at which the least surface area is needed to maximize the volume within a cylinder, and the answer that they (he? she? it?) reached is that a can should have the same diameter as height (or a height twice its radius as shown above) to maximize the volume per surface area.

Why then are the cans in their pantry so differently proportioned?

They cover that, too, listing a number of other factors that might come into play with can design.

It's a nice read and very much along the lines of reminding students that material properties aren't ever the only determining factor for production. Cost and customer comfort come into play, too.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Butte, America (part 1 - Berkley Pit)

I just got back from Butte, Montana for our first ASM Teachers Camp under the Big Sky.

While there, we got to tour a couple of places that might be worth sharing.

On Monday night we took a trolley tour of Butte from a Butte High School history teacher, Chris Fisk. Yes, the Chris Fisk of 'saving a pig from Berkeley Pit' fame. (The tour was phenomenal, by the way. If ever you're in town, check the tours out. It was seriously outstanding.)

This post is going to focus on the portion of the field trip that visited the Berkeley Pit, an abandoned, open-pit mine that was operational from 1955 until 1979. For three years then, pumps kept water out of the Pit, water that would otherwise have filled the Pit and filled the various shaft mines loosely connected to the Pit, an interconnected honeycomb of mines that laced the ground underneath all of Butte.

The Pit as we saw it on 7/21/14 on a nearly windless day.

Then, in 1982 the pumps were turned off, and the Pit began to fill...and fill...and fill with water. The water continues to rise at a rate of eight to ten inches a month, headed for a water treatment plant that has already been built at an elevation of 5410' above sea level, the critical height at which water will start to flow out of the Pit, contaminating the aquifer that is the source of Butte's drinking water. At that point, the water treatment plant will come online and maintain the water at a level just below that critical level...forever. As I write this, the water level in the Pit is 5318.01' (check current level here).

So, to our trip...(I warn you, there are lot and LOTS of photos after the jump.)

Monday, July 21, 2014

Rich Earth and ASM Historical Landmarks

I check a number of blogs with some regularity, and most never get a mention here because they tend to head far more toward the realm of internet curios than they do toward the world of material science.

Occasionally, however, serendipity helps me out, and one of those blogs provides something for me to post here. Today was one of those serendipitous days as the Futility Closet blog has a short post on the historical origins of ytterbium, yttrium, terbium, erbium, holmium, gadolinium, and thulium, all discovered from the same mine near Ytterby, Sweden.

That's cute and all, but what really caught my eye was the included image (sourced from Wikimedia Commons) of the ASM Historical Landmark plaque - assumedly from somewhere near the mine.

I had no idea that ASM had a serious of historical landmarks, but now that I do, I think I may have a few field trips in my future as five of them are within less than an hour's drive of my home near Cincinnati, OH.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

warhol: Oxidations and Abstractions

I don't even know what to write about this one. I feel like if I make any of my typical jokes and chucklesome comments that I'm going to get myself into trouble, and because I'm sort of casually representing ASM in this capacity, that trouble might trickle down to them.

So I'm going to avoid making any jokes today. I'm going to hold them in as long as I can, because you know once you break the seal...

And the next thing you know, you're in trouble.

All I'm going to do is point out that Andy Warhol produced a series of paintings using metallic paints whose subsequent oxidation was catalyzed by the targeted, shall we say, application of human urine.


Check out a lesson plan about the paintings...a posting from Art For article from Georgetown University...a lengthier post from WarholStars. There's even a full art book on the series of paintings.

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Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Adjustable Density Expanding Foam

This may or may not be exactly the same expanding foam that we use in our ASM teacher summer camps, but that graphic up there (something I found in casually searching for 'expanding foam' images - as you do donchaknow) shows something that we've noticed and only casually researched. Adding more food coloring (which comes in water, natch) isn't always productive toward what you want to achieve. In fact, adding way too much food coloring can cause the unexpected effect of less expansion as the bubbles get too big to support the structure and weight of the foam.

Check out Public Missles Ltd's article detailing this effect on their foam. It's the second page of the pdf that describes the effect of adding more water to their foam and why you might want the different densities that result.

What is graphene? Here's what you need to know about a material that could be the next silicon?

Sure, 'the next silicon.'

We've heard that before, and I'm guessing we'll hear that again.

First there was Bruce Springsteen. He was going to be the next silicon. Never panned out.

Then there was Kobe Bryant. He was going to be the next silicon. Never panned out.

Graphene might be the next silicon with a little more research, but until it is the next silicon, let's hold back that phrase a little bit, can we, please?

Until it either does or doesn't pan out, let's see if we can learn a little bit about graphene just in case.

(Here's another nice introduction to graphene, this from CNN.)

PS: Bruce Springsteen was going to the next Bob Dylan. Kobe Bryant was supposed to be the next Michael Jordan.

HHI Forging videos

I have absolutely no idea what is happening in that video.

I mean, obviously, it's Hatebur Hot Forging and all, but that's not a word that I know well.

That doesn't matter, though, because I would watch the heck out of that process for hours. There's glowing hot steel (I assume steel) being bashed with water steaming away from it all the time.

Heat it...beat it...forging!

Oh, and HHI's playlist has ninety-two videos, none of which are more than about thirty-five seconds long, so you might as well watch 'em all. Thanks, by the way, to our guest in Indianapolis last week who stopped up from the HHI plant in Columbus, IN.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Underwater Concrete Pouring

I don't think I want to go diving on those pylons, but I love that they're using the activity series right up front there to protect the steel cables in the columns. See, they make a weak battery, a weak battery, a weak battery where the zinc corrodes and prevents the steel from corroding.

That's got to be a whole lot of zinc being replaced on a pretty regular basis. I wonder how much zinc costs.

Thanks to Ryan Cox for sharing the video. As always, if you find any great videos, send 'em my way.

Dissolve My Nobel Prize! Fast! (a true story)

One of the most fascinating stories of the activity series (because there are so many, donchaknow) is that of the dissolving of two Nobel prizes (the gold medallions themselves) in a desperate rush as the Nazis marched into Copenhagen an 1940. The story involved aqua regia - a mixture of hydrochloric and nitric acids - and the heroic efforts of George de Hevesy.

The most heart-warming part of the story, then, is that de Hevesy was able to return in 1950 and recover the gold, which he then had reminted by the Nobel Prize committee for eventual presentation back to the original award winners in 1952.

The story is published by NPR who quote Sam Kean's The Disappearing Spoon.

Chemical resistance of platinum

How the heck expensive is a platinum ounce?

About $1500 per ounce at the price I found online (as of 7/14/14).

Holy crap...and he oxidized it?

I know it's just a tiny layer of oxidation, but that's an expensive demonstration.

It's not as expensive as the one below, though, in which he dissolves the platinum bar in aqua regia.

Gold doesn't dissolve in acid...then it does...then it comes back...

The most potentially expensive demonstration that I've ever done was to take my gold wedding ring (not pure gold, 14K, I think) and placing it in concentrated hydrochloric acid. The activity series says that nothing should have happened, and - thankfully because I certainly hadn't cleared the demo with my wife first - nothing did. That's because I used only hydrochloric acid.

Using hydrochloric acid and nitric acid, though. Agua regia (royal water) will dissolve gold, producing - as the video above shows - chloroauric acid.

To see that gold really is non-reactive in each of the acids (and in molten NaOH, even) alone, check out the video after the jump.

I've also added a video showing how the gold can be recovered from the chloroauric acid.