Periodic Pandemonium: Exploring Chemistry’s Rule-Breakers

When I tell people that I study chemistry, the response is usually some version of “You must be bright” or “I hated that class” or, put more simply, “Why?”  I’ve grown used to defending my love for chemistry, and I’ve often pointed to its straightforward nature as the source of my affection. I liked that the elements on the periodic table are arranged according to trends in their chemical properties, and that we can infer things about an element’s behavior by its position.   An element’s electronegativity (the tendency to attract electrons), for example, increases as you move from left to right and from bottom to top across the table. The size of the atom, meanwhile, increases from right to left and from top to bottom. In class, I labeled different chunks of the periodic table to signify alkali metals, transition metals, lanthanides, actinides, halogens and other categories of elements with neatly-defined criteria for membership.  As a straight-A student and a type-A personality, I appreciated how chemistry was so orderly, how there was always a right answer.   

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Who Cares About Climate Change Anyway?

You might be worried about the future of our planet. It may seem like there is no good news about climate change and that nothing is being done to stop it. Of course, you can contribute as an individual to lowering your carbon emissions; this can include all of the things we keep hearing about – recycle more, stop using plastic, eat less meat, drive less – but even if we all change the way we live to lower our individual carbon emissions, the dent we make in the world’s overall emissions will unfortunately be minuscule compared to reduction we need to make a true difference. So, what can we do beyond this? And how are other people dealing with this? 

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How to Properly Wear a Face Mask and Gloves

Last week, the CDC told us that we should wear face masks to prevent the spread of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. But we’ve noticed that some people are wearing them improperly, where they’re not actually protecting themselves and the people around them. We wanted to provide some guidance on how to wear face masks (and gloves) in the right way to keep you safe:

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The Discovery of Vaccines: Then and Now

In the doctor’s office, a little toddler smiles joyfully as the doctor releases the plunger and withdraws the syringe from his arm. This was the first of a series of shots that he was scheduled to receive as part of his vaccination regimen. The doctor applies a bandage to the toddler’s arm, adds the vaccination to his records, and asks the family if they had any questions before leaving for the day.  

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Coronavirus, Corona Beer, and Corona Bread

Everyone is hearing about the coronavirus, and, of course, Corona beer is not having any of it. Maybe they’ll try renaming it, but that’s not going to happen any time soon. I’m going to assume that you probably know that a coronavirus isn’t called that because of the beer. It’s called that because of the Latin term for ‘crown,’ which the virus looks like.

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Mixing a Phage Cocktail to Combat Bacterial Infections

In 2013, when Tenzin Kunor was in his last semester of college, he learned that he had a type of tuberculosis (TB) that was resistant to the typical drugs that are used to treat TB. At first, he thought it was a bad cold because he had been experiencing chest pains, a sore throat, and coughing. When it got to the point that it was painful to walk, he received his diagnosis: multidrug resistant TB. This bacterial infection requires special medications, and takes a long time to resolve. For Tenzin, it took two years.

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Control Diabetes Before It Controls You: How Group Visits Improve Care

In Greek mythology, after escaping his prison, Icarus soared close to the sun, despite his father’s instructions to fly neither too high nor too low. His wings of feathers and wax melted before he plummeted to his death. In modern day, patients with type 2 diabetes similarly seek to escape their symptoms at the doctor’s office, and they receive instructions just as difficult—maintain a level of blood sugar that is neither too high nor too low, or face harsh consequences.

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Fun Facts About Pi(e)

We are sad to say we had to cancel our annual Pi K Fun run because of the coronavirus. Everyone’s health and safety is a priority for us, and we don’t want to put anyone at risk of sacrificing either. We really feel bad that you’re missing this yearly tradition, so to make it up to you a best as we can, we collected some fun facts about pi(e) in all its forms. We hope you enjoy!

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Mini-Brains and Soufflés? More Alike Than You Think

Mini-brains—that’s right. It sounds like something from Frankenstein, doesn’t it?  

I gazed in awe as my mentor showed me these ‘mini-brains,’ aka cerebral organoids. Much like soufflés, mini-brains must grow without falling apart and require a lot of care and patience. They ‘rise’ to the challenge of helping physicians and scientists better understand the brain and develop treatments for diseases that affect us and our loved ones. 

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Why You’re Not Dead Yet – A Crash Course on Fighting the Flu

You’re sitting at home, watching TV, and then, suddenly, you feel it. Did your throat always feel so dry? Was your nose that stuffed up this morning? Then, you realize it. You heard someone cough near you on the train yesterday morning, and now, you’re one of the 60 million Americans each year who’ve caught the flu

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The Impossible Burger: Is it Really That Impossible?

Let me preface this by saying that I’m not vegan, vegetarian, or even pescatarian. I’m not any of the -arians. But I am a foodie. So when I heard about the Impossible Burger, a plant-based “beef” burger, I had to try it. Unlike other plant-based burgers, where you can see the beans and corn that are squished together to make the patty, the Impossible Burger truly resembles a beef burger.

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Machines Can Read Your Mind

A bionic woman trains her robotic ear to recognize the sound of footsteps two blocks away. A man taps on a holographic screen to view a recording of his own memory. A scientist puts their finger to their temple to mentally command an army of robots.

You might recognize those scenes from popular science fiction, but technologies that can literally read our minds now exist in early forms, thanks to brain research. The nearly 1 in 5 people who have physical disabilities could benefit from devices like these to help them move their artificial limbs using just their thoughts. And as the field of futuristic research develops, we might see cool, new technologies that can improve anyone’s life. But low participation in medical research is preventing progress. Although 57% of Americans believe that it is important for everyone to take part in clinical trials, fewer than 16% have ever done so.  More volunteers with and without disabilities are needed to fine-tune these technologies that depend on Brain-Machine Interfaces (BMI). 

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Can Plants Learn? Here’s Some Evidence

When I was in fifth grade, I took care of a light pink flower that sat by the windowsill in my classroom. Every time I noticed my plant leaning towards the window, I turned it around so I could watch how, after a couple days, it had tilted towards the window again. I later learned in class that plants grow towards light, but I wondered, was there more to it? Did the flower learn to do this?

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A Fishy Solution: Zebrafish Help Us Understand Neurological Disorders

Last year, my 95-year-old grandfather passed away from Alzheimer’s disease. Although he lived a long life, it was hard to watch him slowly forget the people and places he loved. Unfortunately, my grandfather’s story is all too common. Almost 1 out of every 7 individuals worldwide suffers from a disease of the brain or nerves, aka a neurological disorder.

We know astonishingly little about how to prevent and treat neurological disorders. However, we may be able to find answers in a surprising source: fish. Apart from their culinary value, fish provide key insights into human development and disease. The zebrafish in particular is helping us understand how connections between neurons develop and why disorders like Alzheimer’s occur in the human brain. Through zebrafish research, we may be able to understand—and in turn find solutions to—complex neurological diseases. 

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