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Environmental reporter Christopher Dunagan discusses the challenges of protecting Puget Sound and all things water-related.
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Posts Tagged ‘Chemistry’

Amusing Monday: Surprises from a drop of water

Monday, April 7th, 2014

I find myself returning again and again to videos that surprise me with scientific phenomena, such as a droplet of water bouncing at least three times before it gets absorbed into a glass of water.

Using videos to reveal something visually exciting is a thousand times more rewarding than watching a science teacher explain the properties of matter. I wish that teachers would have had some amazing videos available when I was growing up. But considering today’s technology, maybe teachers find it more challenging to surprise their students.

Anyway, check out the first video on this page, which shows a couple of goofy guys fascinated with the idea that water can bounce. The value of this video lies in the fact that these two “Slo Mo Guys,” Gavin Free and Daniel Gruchy, seem to be having a good time exploring this feat of nature.

That first video is fun and all, but is it enough? If you’re like me, you want a little more. You know that this relates to the surface tension of water, something the goofy guys never seem to mention. So I found another video, which has even better photography — plus a mathematician able to explain what’s going on. Check out the second video by Molecular Frontiers, a nonprofit group of scientists dedicated to spreading an appreciation of science. Maybe they’re a bit more professional than the Slo Mo Guys.

If you would like to delve further into the surface tension of water, I recommend a couple articles in Wikipedia, one on surface tension and the other on hydrophobic properties.

Finally, getting farther afield from where I started, a company called Ultratech has created two amazing videos about its super-hydrophobic product called Ultra-Ever Dry. It shows how treated products cannot get wet or dirty. See Ultra-Ever Dry 1, Nov. 12, 2012, and Ultra-Ever Dry 2, Jan. 31, 2014.

Ultra-Ever Dry is a product based on nanotechnology, and the formulation is mostly proprietary. As amazing and useful as nanotech products can be, I should point out that some concerns have been raised about potential long-term effects on the environment if they were to come into common use.

The Slo Mo guys, featured in the opening video, have also played around with a super-hydrophobic surface, as well as tiny particles of metal in a liquid. Believe it or not, they were invited into General Electric’s Global Research Lab in New York, where they felt free enough to bring along their playfulness for a video they made there.

These two guys also got invited to use a more advanced camera to watch what happens when they shoot a gun underwater. In the video of the bullet launch, the prime segments come between 2:20 and 3:30 and between 5:25 and 6:32.

If you want to see more of the Slo Mo Guys, check out the video of them bouncing on a giant water balloon — or visit their YouTube Channel.

The bottom video shows collisions taking place among droplets of liquids that are heavier than water.


Group offers ideas to reduce harm from chemicals

Saturday, February 16th, 2013

Washington state can better protect people’s health by deliberately stepping up to the problem toxic chemicals in the environment, according to a new task force report provided to the Washington governor and Legislature.

The task force, organized by the Washington Department of Ecology, includes representatives from the world of business, government and public health. The new “white paper” calls for specific, creative actions to reduce potential harm caused by chemical exposures.

Howard Frumkin, dean of the School of Public Health at the University of Washington, served on the task force. He said worrisome health trends and rising health-care costs provide evidence of the problem. As he stated in a news release:

“We don’t know as much as we’d like about how toxic chemicals affect health, but we can’t wait. We need to act, and we need to do so in ways that are sensible, fair and evidence-based. I believe that our state can come together to identify and implement creative, effective solutions.”

Another member of the group, Sara Kendall, vice president for corporate affairs and sustainability at Weyerhaeuser Company, added:

“These issues are important, but they are also very complex. The white paper represents a good starting place for a more complete and thorough discussion by stakeholders.”

Because of the diverse membership on the committee, the overall conclusions seem to be derived more from common sense rather than from a desire to expand government oversight.

“Although we each individually have our preferences and concerns, across this suite of ideas we all share a belief that we, as a society, can do a better job reducing the adverse health, environmental and economic impacts of toxic chemicals,” states a letter accompanying the report.

Download the white paper, titled Toxics Policy Reform for Washington State (PDF 1.5 mb), or visit the Toxics Reduction Strategy Workgroup on the Washington Department of Ecology’s website.

Ecology’s new director, Maia Bellon, said:

“These proposed strategies come from knowledgeable experts working alongside the Department of Ecology. The idea now is to begin a broader conversation about how to build on our state’s past accomplishments to reduce toxic chemicals.”

The white paper contains 12 recommendations for dealing with toxic chemicals, including a proposed state policy that would say simply, “Safer is better.”

Task force members suggest setting up a “Green Chemistry Center” to identify or invent safer chemicals for specific purposes.

“Washington should become a national leader in green chemistry, making these innovations a trademark of the state, just like apples, wheat, software and airplanes,” the paper says.

The report calls for continuing state actions to reduce exposures to a list of priority chemicals and to add chemicals with toxic effects at very low doses, such as endocrine-disrupting compounds.

Chemical bans and restrictions may be necessary at times, the paper says, but such regulations “should not strand people or businesses by banning or restricting chemicals before safer alternatives are viable.”

The Legislature should consider exemptions when a chemical is absolutely needed for a process or product, the paper says. Still, an imminent public health threat might at times justify an outright ban before a safer alternative is identified.

Education campaigns and effective product labeling can help people take personal actions to reduce their exposure to toxic chemicals, the committee said.

As for why members of the task force feel strongly that Washington should not wait to address hazardous chemicals, let me quote from the report, which first discusses toxic effects on children:

“The developing nervous system is exquisitely sensitive to perturbation by chemicals and other insults. Environmental chemicals thought to be association with impaired brain development include lead, methyl mercury, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), manganese, organophosphate insecticides, arsenic, Bisphenol-A (BPA), PBDEs and phthalates.

“Autism and ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) appear to result from a complex interaction between genetics and environmental factors. In Washington state in 2010, more than 75,000 children — one in every 14 kids — ages 3-21 were receiving special education services through school districts for learning disability, emotional or behavioral disability, autism, intellectual disability or developmental delay….

“Adults also are impacted by exposures to toxic chemicals. Neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s disease and dementia are growing problems, and evidence suggests that chemical exposures may play a role. For example, pesticides, solvents, PCBs, PBDEs (polybrominated diphenyl ethers) and heavy metals such as lead and manganese have all been linked to an increased risk of Parkinson’s disease.

“There are troubling toxic releases to the environment as well. More than 1,700 water body segments in Washington are impaired due to high levels of toxic chemicals or metals. The Puget Sound Toxics Loading Assessment found that the vast majority of toxic chemicals in Puget Sound come from non-point sources and are released to Puget Sound through stormwater.”

Washington State Department of Health also weighs in on the effects of environmental chemicals on children, offering fact sheets on childhood asthma, cancer, learning and behavior, obesity, and reproductive systems:

“Young children often have higher exposure to environmental chemicals in the home because of their higher breathing rate and natural activity of mouthing or sucking on household objects and surfaces.

“There are critical periods during early childhood development when small exposures to toxic chemicals can have permanent negative effects. Without efforts to protect children during early life, lifelong health can be negatively impacted.”


Amusing Monday: Underwater icicle freezes starfish

Monday, November 28th, 2011

The headline on BBC Nature News calls an underwater ice formation the “Brinicle Ice Finger of Death.”

“Brinicle” is short for “briny icicle,” while “Ice Finger of Death” is a dramatic title for a fascinating natural phenomenon found in Antarctica and captured in stunning time-lapse photography for the BBC One series “Frozen Planet.” Click here for the video.

The video shows a finger of heavy water reaching down from the surface and then advancing across the sea floor, encasing starfish and sea urchins in unexpected ice.

The water coming off Little Razorback Island near Ross Archipelago contained a high salt content, the result of separation as ice freezes at the surface. Because of its high concentration of salt, the runoff water was denser and colder than the surrounding ocean (well below the freezing point of fresh water). As the brine drained off the island, it caused the seawater to freeze around it as the brinicle advanced.

The phenomenon had been noted before, but finding a place where a brinicle was forming and setting up the film equipment was a feat in itself, as photographer Hugh Miller explained to reporter Ella Davies of BBC Nature:

“That particular patch was difficult to get to. It was a long way from the hole and it was quite narrow at times between the sea bed and the ice. I do remember it being a struggle… The kit is very heavy because it has to sit on the sea bed and not move for long periods of time.”

Frisky seals in the area barged into the scene, breaking off pieces of the brinicle and messing with the film gear, but eventually the crew got the dramatic video they were seeking.

The series “Frozen Planet” apparently is not yet available in the United States. The clip shown in the video player above can be viewed on the BBC Nature page if the YouTube version does not work.

Since the clip above was posted on YouTube last Wednesday, it has gone viral, with more than 4.9 million viewings. (The clip, which was copied from the BBC website, has since been taken down.)


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"In the end, we will conserve only what we love, we will love only what we understand, and we will understand only what we are taught."Baba Dioum, Senegalese conservationist

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