Au Revoir to the Golden City

Greetings from San Francisco! My name is Lana and I am here at the 253rd National Meeting with my fellow ACS Undergraduate Student Liaison, Alex Goranov. I hope that you enjoy my perspective as a volunteer coordinator and participant in the day’s activities.

As undergraduate students, we all have access to the Hospitality Center. The welcoming atmosphere helps set the tone for the day and provides a space to recharge your batteries (both actual and metaphorical). This home base for students is great for networking. I was there first thing in the morning to welcome today’s undergraduate volunteers.

One of my favorite events at national meetings is the Undergraduate Research Poster Session. It is so motivating and exciting to see the work of my peers on display. The students who came to San Francisco really showed up and showed out!

A highlight of the day was attending the Eminent Scientist Lecture by Dr. Carolyn Bertozzi, an accomplished and highly awarded biochemist and faculty member at Stanford University. Today’s lecture focused on her journey toward professional success. It was truly inspiring to hear such a celebrated woman’s perspective. The lecture was over lunch, which provided yet another opportunity to connect with a variety of undergraduate students.

I was really looking forward to the undergraduate session on Improving Scientific Communications, and it did not disappoint. As a young chemist who is preparing to be a professional in modern society, it is important that I have the skills and acumen necessary to communicate about my work in any setting. I need to be able to engage and connect with colleagues, friends, neighbors, and family members to be a well-rounded and far-reaching scientist. This discussion helped to put me on the right path.

I closed out the day by joining my fellow chemists, both undergraduates and professionals, at the lively Sci-Mix poster session. All of the innovative research on display really emphasized the power of chemistry. This is the place to see and be seen, and I was glad that I had my newly-printed business cards on hand.

Today has been jam-packed with plenty of stimulating content and unique networking opportunities. Being able to use the ACS mobile app right on my phone to curate my day’s activities helped keep me on schedule. After today’s excitement, I am looking forward to indulging in a set of technical talks about artisanal foods tomorrow morning. I love experimenting in my at-home lab (a.k.a. my kitchen), and I’m looking forward to learning about two of my favorite foods, bread and olive oil!

San Francisco has been a blast and I have really enjoyed sharing this experience with you all. See you soon in Washington D.C. for our next national meeting!

Lana M. Nitti is studies at Utica College and is serving as Student Liaison to the ACS Undergraduate Programs Advisory Board.

Sunday at the SF National Meeting

My name is Alex Goranov, and I am one of the Student Liaisons to the Undergraduate Programs Advisory Board — the committee responsible for all the undergraduate events at the 253rd American Chemical Society National Meeting and Exposition in San Francisco. The first day of the conference was packed with many workshops and talks, so let me briefly recap some of them.

My day started at the Undergraduate Hospitality Center. It was a great place to get breakfast and coffee, as well as to meet with many of the undergraduates attending the conference. Great networking opportunity!

Two Graduate School Reality Check sessions started afterward. The first was designed to help students apply for graduate school programs (masters, professional masters, and doctoral). I attended this event at the last conference, and found it extremely helpful. I had just gone through the long and stressful process of applying for Ph.D. programs, and what I learned during this session was extremely helpful. The second session (the subtitle of which was “You’re in – Now What?”) focused on the next step: what it costs to get the degree you applied for.

After lunch, I attended the Networking Social with Graduate School Recruiters event, a not-to-miss activity for anyone looking to apply for a graduate program. Admission officers from over 40 universities across the country were there, and it was a great opportunity to establish a contact at an institution to which you plan to apply.

In the evening I joined Lana Nitti, my fellow Student Liaison, in attending the Student Chapter Award Ceremony and the Undergraduate Social. These were two great opportunities to celebrate everyone’s accomplishments during the last academic year. Again, congratulations to all awardees!

After enjoying the great food, drinks, and music at these two events, I’m ready for tomorrow, which will be even more exciting. I am eager to attend the symposium on the chemistry of fermented beverages, as well as the Eminent Scientist Lecture by Dr. Carolyn Bertozzi from Stanford University. I’m also looking forward to seeing what activities other ACS student members have been doing over the past year at the Successful Student Chapter Poster Session. See you tomorrow!

Alex Goranov attends Ramapo College in New Jersey and is serving as Student Liaison to the ACS Undergraduate Programs Advisory Board.

Getting the most out of the ACS national meeting: Networking Social with Graduate School Recruiters

There are hundreds of graduate chemistry programs in this country. How do you find the right one for you? Do you even know if you want to go?

At every national meeting, ACS hosts the Networking Social with Graduate School Recruiters to help you answer these questions. The next will one will be April 2, 2017, 1:00-5:00 pm, at the Marriott Marquis in San Francisco, CA, as part of the 253rd ACS National Meeting and Exposition.

Here’s everything you need to know about the event.

Who should go?

If you are planning on applying to grad school, thinking about applying to grad school, or wondering what grad school is all about, you should go. There will be lots of programs represented and all kinds of people to talk to (See “Who will be there?”). You are sure to find it informative.

Also, there will be free food, and a drawing for two $40 gift cards! The event is open for four hours. So, if you have a half-hour in your schedule, are interested in grad school, and need a snack, stop on by!

Who will be there?

Most participants are representatives from graduate programs, along with representatives of several other opportunities. (See a complete list of program participants here.) Some representatives are professional recruiters; others are program faculty or students.

What do you need to do?

It depends on what you want to accomplish. Here are some ideas.

To enter the drawing: When you arrive, pick up a networking card at the registration table. Collect stickers from at least 6 recruiters as you meet with them. Write your name and contact information on the card, and drop it off at the registration table before you leave. The drawing will take place after the event, and staff will contact you if you win.

To learn what grad school is all about: Look for tables where students are serving as representatives. Tell them who you are and why you are there. Ask questions such as:

  • What prompted you to go to grad school?
  • What do you wish someone had told you before you started?
  • How did you pick this program?
  • What sorts of things are program graduates doing?

If the answers to these questions pique your interest, you may want to learn more about graduate school. If not … well, at least you got a snack!

To find specific programs to pursue: This is not the time or place for an in-depth evaluation of any particular program. Professional recruiters will only have overviews of their programs; faculty and grad students will only be able to tell you about their own experiences. Instead, think of the event as an opportunity to ask such questions as:

  • What lines of research are faculty pursuing?
  • How large are the research groups?
  • How long are students taking to earn their degrees?
  • Are there opportunities to collaborate outside of the department, or even outside of academia?
  • What opportunities are available to develop non-technical skills, such as communication or safety?

These questions can help you identify potentially interesting programs. You can learn more specifics online.

You can also get more ideas at the two-part Graduate School Reality Check, April 2, 2017, at the national meeting. Part 1: Getting In (10:00-11:30 a.m.) will cover different types of graduate programs, why you might want to pursue them, and what to expect from the application process. Part 2: You’re In, Now What? (11:30 a.m.-12:45 p.m.) will give you a glimpse of what to expect from graduate school.

Whether you are planning your graduate career or simply doing some general fact-finding about grad school, the Networking Social with Graduate School Recruiters can help you get started. See you in San Francisco!

The Chemistry of Tattoo Ink

It seems these days you can’t go a block without seeing someone who has a tattoo. A 2012 Harris Interactive Poll reveals that 1 in 5 adults have tattoos, up from 14% in 2008. People are turning their bodies into canvases of artwork used to express their past, present, and future. When I went to get my first chemistry-related tattoo, I realized I didn’t know anything about the chemical composition of what I have been permanently putting in my body for four years. So, as any chemist would do, I did some research and found that, chemically, there is little known about the contents of most inks that artists are using. This troubled me, as I think it is important to understand exactly what the tattoo ink contains and what it could be doing to our bodies. The exact chemical components involved are not always explicitly stated, but what…

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Is that Paint or is it Poop?

the-scream Yes, we seriously just asked that question — and, yes, we asked for a good reason.

Have you ever seen Edvard Munch’s famous painting, The Scream? If not, this is a good time of year (being close to Halloween) to check it out. This painting is a haunting depiction of a ghost-faced person standing on a walkway, screaming. It is one of the most recognizable paintings in the world and — having been appraised at nearly $100M — also one of the most expensive.

This masterpiece happens to be at the center of a hot debate within the art community. If you examine the painting closely, you can detect a small white spot on the screamer’s right arm. Believe it or not, this tiny spot has been the topic of much controversy throughout the years. Some have speculated that the spot is in fact bird poop. Many others think that Munch accidentally spilled a bit of white paint on the finished canvas.

chocolate-or-poopFortunately for us, a cultural heritage scientist at the University of Antwerp, Geert Van der Snickt, was unsatisfied going on through life without a definitive answer to the question: paint or poop? With the help of a team of forensic scientists, Van der Snickt began the process of identifying the imperfection. The team started by testing the sample for trace elements commonly found in white pigment. To accomplish this, they used X-ray fluorescence to identify any elements that could positively confirm that the spot was actual paint — but the results were negative.

Next, the team collected a small sample to determine whether or not the spot was instead a bird dropping. Despite previous analysis that concluded that the mysterious blob was not fecal matter, the team sent their sample to a lab in Hamburg, Germany. This lab used the DESY particle accelerator to conduct an X-ray scattering study on the stain. Much to the surprise of the team, a young PhD student, Frederik Vanmeert, identified the crystal structure of the sample. It turns out that sometime after the painting was completed, someone, possibly the artist or just an admirer, spilled candle wax on the painting. Thanks to forensic chemistry, the mystery was solved!

Hey, that’s a fake!

Forensic scientists have been invaluable detectives in the art world for centuries, helping collectors authenticate pieces of art. Sniffing out forgeries is incredibly important, as many of our society’s most famous and priceless cultural artifacts are pieces of art.

One of the ways that scientists identify forgeries is through the study of pigment, and one example of how this discipline has helped to identify art forgeries can be found right here in the United States. The Indianapolis Museum of Art was loaned an Egyptian artifact for one of its exhibits. This artifact’s authenticity was questioned by many observers due to several inconsistencies when compared to similar artifacts from the same time period. Most notably, the hieroglyphs used on the piece were incorrect. To put the controversy to rest, the museum assembled a team of scientists to authenticate the age of the artifact.

This team started by examining the blue pigment found on the headpiece. Egyptians used azurite to create a color known as Egyptian blue, a color that has been found on various Egyptian artifacts dating back to 3000 BC. In the 1800s, French industrial chemist Jean-Baptiste Guimet discovered a way to synthesize a blue pigment that was similar to Egyptian blue, and his synthesized pigment became known as French ultramarine. The investigators’ chemical and microscopic analysis of the sample taken from the headpiece revealed that the pigment used was actually French ultramarine — and not Egyptian blue. Because the scientists knew that French ultramarine was created in the 1800s, they were able to conclude that the artifact was a fake.

Identifying art forgeries is not only incredibly important for collectors, but it helps all of us preserve our shared cultural heritage. The scientists involved in these investigations are heroes for humanity.

Archaeological Forensics and Forensic Chemistry

What do an Egyptian “god,” an early hominid, and a British king have in common? It’s not just that two-thirds of the list is royalty; it’s that the mysteries surrounding their deaths have been solved using forensics!

(Photo by Dave Einsel/Getty Images)What do an Egyptian “god,” an early hominid, and a British king have in common? It’s not just that two-thirds of the list is royalty; it’s that the mysteries surrounding their deaths have been solved using forensics! We’ve all heard of Lucy, the ~3M year-old skeletal remains of an Australopithecus found in 1974 in northern Ethiopia. This discovery was one of the most important archaeological finds of the 20th century, as it helped us map our own development as a species. You might be asking yourself how this relates to chemistry — a valid question! Dating fossilized samples is typically done using a technique called carbon dating, which measures the amount of carbon-14 remaining in a sample. Although this method is only used for dating samples up to about 50,000 years old, other methods of radiometric dating, such as uranium-lead and potassium-argon, are much more accurate and have been used to help us date the age of the earth. While Lucy’s remains weren’t dated using these methods, the process researchers used to date her help to expand our knowledge of how chemistry has advanced archaeologists’ tools for uncovering the truths of the past. Various other methods of forensic science have been used to identify remains as well. Such is the case of England’s King Richard III, a British monarch who reigned from 1483 until his death in the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485. The king’s death was significant because he was the last king of the House of York, and ushered in the reign of the House of Tudor. In September 2012, archaeologists from the University of Leicester, in England, uncovered a skeleton buried under a parking lot that they believed to be that of Richard III. While the physical damage to the skeleton helped matched the accounts of what happened to the monarch, the university sought further proof that these were indeed his remains. A year later, scientists who had previously traced maternal lineage and identified a 16th generation descendant of Anne of York, the king’s sister, used DNA mapping to prove that both the living descendant and the skeleton were among haplogroup J. Researchers were able to identify shared maternal mitochondrial DNA in both samples to identify the shared haplogroup. With this evidence, researchers concluded that the two were related — and finally laid to rest the search for King Richard III. Related Outreach Ideas A fun activity for outreach to students in your community can be found on page 11 of the 2016 ACS National Chemistry Week Booklet. This activity, described by Dr. Al Hazari, uses licorice, toothpicks, and marshmallows to create a double helix — and is a great, tasty way to introduce students to DNA. One of the most iconic figures in history is King Tutankhamun, or King Tut. This individual, believed by his subjects to be god-like, ruled over Egypt for nine years from 1332 to 1323 BC. Like all pharaohs, King Tut was mummified upon his death. Mummification is a topic for another blog post — but today, let’s zero in on how DNA helped to solve the mystery of Tut’s death. It has long been thought that the famous king was killed in a chariot accident. Examinations of Tut’s mummified remains revealed that there was significant damage to one of his legs. Additional analysis, however, has identified another potential killer: malaria. While studying Tut’s skeleton, scientists were able to identify multiple strains of DNA consistent with the parasite that carries and spreads malaria. The discovery of these strains indicates that the king contracted several malaria infections in his lifetime. Complications from these infections, paired with an injury to his femur, most likely lead to his death in 1323 BC. As you can see, forensic chemistry plays an important role in archaeological discoveries. Whether we’re using radioactive dating methods to identify the age of a sample, or using DNA mapping to establish the approximate years in which ancient rulers died, chemistry is essential to telling our story and uncovering the mysteries of the past. References NCW Homepage http://www.acs.org/ncw Celebrating Chemistry Publication- English https://www.acs.org/content/acs/en/education/outreach/celebrating-chemistry-editions.html National Geographic Magazine http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2010/02/100216-king-tut-malaria-bones-inbred-tutankhamun/ Smithsonian Museums http://humanorigins.si.edu/evidence/human-fossils/species/australopithecus-afarensis University of Leicester http://www2.le.ac.uk/departments/archaeology/research/projects/discovering-richard-iii Ashdown-Hill, John; David Johnson; Wendy Johnson; Pippa Langley (2014). Carson, Annette, ed. Finding Richard III: The Official Account of Research by the Retrieval & Reburial Project. Horstead: Imprimis Imprimatur. ISBN 978-0-9576840-2-7.

(Photo by Dave Einsel/Getty Images)

We’ve all heard of Lucy, the ~3M year-old skeletal remains of an Australopithecus found in 1974 in northern Ethiopia. This discovery was one of the most important archaeological finds of the 20th century, as it helped us map our own development as a species.

You might be asking yourself how this relates to chemistry — a valid question! Dating fossilized samples is typically done using a technique called carbon dating, which measures the amount of carbon-14 remaining in a sample. Although this method is only used for dating samples up to about 50,000 years old, other methods of radiometric dating, such as uranium-lead and potassium-argon, are much more accurate and have been used to help us date the age of the earth. While Lucy’s remains weren’t dated using these methods, the process researchers used to date her help to expand our knowledge of how chemistry has advanced archaeologists’ tools for uncovering the truths of the past.

king_richard_iii

(Photo Credit: National Portrait Gallery, London)

Various other methods of forensic science have been used to identify remains as well. Such is the case of England’s King Richard III, a British monarch who reigned from 1483 until his death in the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485. The king’s death was significant because he was the last king of the House of York, and ushered in the reign of the House of Tudor.

In September 2012, archaeologists from the University of Leicester, in England, uncovered a skeleton buried under a parking lot that they believed to be that of Richard III. While the physical damage to the skeleton helped matched the accounts of what happened to the monarch, the university sought further proof that these were indeed his remains.

A year later, scientists who had previously traced maternal lineage and identified a 16th generation descendant of Anne of York, the king’s sister, used DNA mapping to prove that both the living descendant and the skeleton were among haplogroup J. Researchers were able to identify shared maternal mitochondrial DNA in both samples to identify the shared haplogroup. With this evidence, researchers concluded that the two were related — and finally laid to rest the search for King Richard III.

Related Outreach Activity

A fun activity for outreach to students in your community can be found on page 11 of the 2016 ACS National Chemistry Week Booklet. This activity, described by Dr. Al Hazari, uses licorice, toothpicks, and marshmallows to create a double helix — and is a great, tasty way to introduce students to DNA.

 

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King Tut’s Burial Mask

One of the most iconic figures in history is King Tutankhamun, or King Tut. This individual, believed by his subjects to be god-like, ruled over Egypt for nine years from 1332 to 1323 BC. Like all pharaohs, King Tut was mummified upon his death. Mummification is a topic for another blog post — but today, let’s zero in on how DNA helped to solve the mystery of Tut’s death.

It has long been thought that the famous king was killed in a chariot accident. Examinations of Tut’s mummified remains revealed that there was significant damage to one of his legs. Additional analysis, however, has identified another potential killer: malaria. While studying Tut’s skeleton, scientists were able to identify multiple strains of DNA consistent with the parasite that carries and spreads malaria. The discovery of these strains indicates that the king contracted several malaria infections in his lifetime. Complications from these infections, paired with an injury to his femur, most likely lead to his death in 1323 BC.

As you can see, forensic chemistry plays an important role in archaeological discoveries. Whether we’re using radioactive dating methods to identify the age of a sample, or using DNA mapping to establish the approximate years in which ancient rulers died, chemistry is essential to telling our story and uncovering the mysteries of the past.

Continue reading

Forensic Science and Pop Culture

You know the sound. It’s that familiar ‘dun-dun’ sound that comes after a dramatic discovery, signifying a scene change in NBC’s famous crime drama, ‘Law & Order.’ Television shows like it, such as ‘CSI,’ ‘Bones,’ and ‘Dexter’ have all romanticized the work that forensic chemists do — and have helped elevate the field of forensic chemistry among younger chemists. This kind of promotion is great for the field of forensic science, but it begs the question: is the science being used on TV accurate?

The above is not forensic technology... yet. (Photo Credit: CBS CSI Cyber)

The above is not forensic technology… yet. (Photo Credit: CBS CSI Cyber)

So, let’s get down to it. Is the science real? Well, we did a lot of research, and it seems that the majority of the science used on crime drama television shows is an “extension” of the truth. Meaning, that at least some portion of the science is accurate … but for dramatic effect, the producers and writers stretch the truth. They do so in various ways.

One of the most common ways for a show to bend the truth is to complete, seemingly in just a few hours, a test that might take days or weeks to complete in real life. Another way is for a show to omit a step or two in a procedure, typically in the name of expediency. For example, one of the articles we read identified an inconsistency between real science and the way it’s depicted on TV. In one episode of NCIS, the crime scene investigator is sent to examine a skating rink where someone was killed. The investigators note that the rink has ultraviolet lights which, once they’re turned on, reveal a blood stain. What the show missed is that blood is not bioluminescent on its own, and that a chemical must first be applied to the surface to reveal blood stains under UV light. While these might prove that the science being used on the shows is absurd, it brings us a little hope that there are fact checkers out there making sure that at least some of the principles being used have some basis in reality.

In our search, we found an excellent documentary from our friends at National Geographic entitled ‘The Real CSI: Crime Autopsy.’ This documentary takes a close look at what being a crime scene investigator (CSI) means. We suggest you take a look!

Forensic science isn’t found only on TV. If you’ve ever downloaded the podcast ‘Serial,’ you’re familiar with the story of Adnan Syed and Hae Min Lee. Hae Min Lee was a teenager living in the Baltimore area who was murdered, and found a month after her disappearance. Throughout the series, the podcast’s author identifies the lack of forensic evidence in the case. As a result of her investigation, Syed, who was found guilty of murdering Hae and sentenced to life in prison, was granted a second trial. To listen and learn more, you can visit the Serial podcast’s website.

Whether the science being portrayed in popular culture is factual or not, it’s great to see the field of forensic science being so widely promoted on national TV and on radio. We have forensic scientists to thank for solving many crime scene mysteries.

If you’re looking for a chapter activity that could tie in with this year’s NCW theme, you might try what we’re calling the “Serial Cereal Party.”  Once a week, your chapter members meet for breakfast (or lunch or dinner, for that matter) and discuss what they

learned last week listening to the Serial podcast. It’s a fun way to bond as a group and to talk about the science behind one of the most captivating stories we’ve ever heard.