Tag Archives: chemistry

Nine Influential Women and Transgender Scientists to Know

Image of Rosalind Franklin
Rosalind Franklin

Rosalind Franklin (1920 – 1958) was a white English chemist and X-ray crystallographer, photographed DNA before the men who are credited with its discovery figured out other things about it. Her work was essential to figuring out other structures as well, including graphite and viruses.

Image of Dr. Maathai
Wangari Maathai

Wangari Muta Maathai (1940-2011) is the Kenyan researcher who initiated and lead Africa’s Green Belt Movement, a project which spread across the continent. Due to Dr. Maathai’s efforts and encouragement, over 30 million trees have been planted. She was Africa’s first woman to win the Novel Prize.

Image of Stephanie Wkolek
Stephanie Wkolek

Kevlar was invented in 1965 by Stephanie Kwolek (1923 – 2014), a white American chemist. She was one of the very few women working as a chemist for Dupont (a very large chemical research company). Her coworkers laughed at her and the fibers that formed in one of her experiments. Bet they aren’t laughing now.

Image of Dorothy Vaughan
Dorothy Vaughan

Dorothy Vaughan (1910-2008) was a lead human computer for NASA when the organization began to transition from human computers to the early room-sized computers. She taught herself computer programming and became NASA’s first black woman team leader amid an environment swirling with both racism and sexism.

Image of Marie Curie
Marie Curie, sometimes also referred to as Madame Curie

Marie Curie (1867 – 1934) was a Polish and naturalized-French physicist and chemist. Even now, she is the only person to ever receive the Nobel Prize in two different sciences, and the first woman to be awarded one at all. She was friends with Albert Einstein, who wrote her a very touching letter of support when the man-dominated field turned ugly and vile towards her for being so good at what she did while also being a woman. You can read it here. Fair warning: it made me cry! She died young due to heavy exposure to the radiation she discovered. As she was the first person to work with it, no one knew yet that it was dangerous.

Image of Chien-Shiung Wu
Chien-Shiung Wu

Chien-Shiung Wu, 吳健雄, (1912-1997) was a Chinese-American experimental physicist famous for the Wu experiment, which proved that parity is not conserved. Her discovery earned her the Wolf Prize in Physics in 1978 and contributed to her colleagues winning the Novel Prize in Physics. Her various significant contributions to nuclear physics earned her nicknames such as “First Lady of Physics” and “The Chinese Madame Curie.”

Image of Laurence Michael Dillon, depicting him both before and after utilizing testosterone treatments.
Laurence Michael Dillon

Laurence Michael Dillon (1915-1962), a white Brit, was the author of “Self: A Study in Endocrinology and Ethics,” which may be the first book about transgender identity and gender transitioning. He described transgender identification as innate and unaffected by psychotherapy, and advocated hormones and surgery as an alternative. He is the first person known to have undergone phalloplasty (surgery to create a phallus), and personally aided in the surgery of Roberta Cowell, Brittain’s first patient to undergo bottom surgery.

Image of Ben Barres
Ben Barres

Ben Barres (1954 – 2017) was an American neurologist who worked at Harvard and revolutionized our understanding of the brain (primarily by showing that the importance of the glia). He was well known for being a good mentor and for bringing people of other minorities up with him. He was also the first openly transgender person in the National Academy of Sciences.

Image of Lynn Conway
Lynn Conway

Lynn Conway (born Jan 2, 1938), is a white American computer scientist who is credited with work used in most modern computer processors today. Her journey involves being fired for revealing that she was a woman who intended to transition to female both medically and in terms of gender role. Transitioning caused her to lose access to her children because of the law at the time. She started a new life in “stealth mode” where she got a new programming job without telling anyone she was transgender, and eventually came out again after it was safer for her to do so.

The Parable of the Anachronistic Alchemist

A prodigy graduate physics student at UC Berkeley in California’s bay area worked secretly to create a time machine. The device was designed to transport up to two people and their clothing, two small cases of gear, and enough fuel for a return journey through time and space. Calculations regarding Earth’s location in space over time were integrated into the operating systems, allowing the driver the ease of entering a date, time, and Earth surface coordinates into the console.

Our student had a fondness for alchemists from history. Their obsession with such goals as turning lead into gold did not blind their judgement when it came to the process of discovery. In fact, these individuals began to carefully record the results of their experiments, and ultimately created the fundamentals of what is known today as the scientific method.

When the time machine was complete, our student dressed in destination-appropriate clothing, bid adieu to the cat in ancient Greek, and arrived moments later outside Alexandria in the middle of a summer night in the year 176. After an incredible adventure that is not relevant to this story, our student returned to the vehicle with a new friend who was an alchemical practitioner, and a deeper understanding of the ancient Greek language.

Our student brought the alchemist to Berkeley’s campus, sneaked him in to the chemistry library, and showed him the wonder of one of her favorite collections of knowledge.

“Nearly two thousand years of exploration and discovery have lead us to this and more,” our student said in ancient Greek.

The alchemist looked around with eyes full of wonder. Book after book the alchemist pointed out, and our student translated the title. Sometimes they read in the books. As time went on, the alchemist grew wary.

“This cannot be,” he said. “Elements that are not alive? Metals as discrete, separate elements that do not mature into precious metals? Everything here is based on these concepts, and these concepts must be false. Therefore, this library is full of nothing but lies.”

Our student was perplexed and tried to discuss the matter further, but the alchemist wished to return home. Our student complied, leaving him back in ancient Alexandria where she had found him. Back at home, our student contemplated the situation. It did not make sense for someone who was dedicated to truth and reason to dismiss something just because it conflicted with previously held beliefs.

Graduation finally came, and our student took the podium. After thinking over time about her encounter with the alchemist, it flavored her speech to her fellow graduating scientists.

“…truly embracing discovery can be difficult because it means letting go of preconceived notions, and preconceived notions are comfortable. They help us understand the world, so losing them is scary. As we go forth into the real world let us remember, in former president Roosevelt’s words, that ‘the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.’ Go forth. Let yourself be afraid. Discover truth.”

Chemistry Games!

There are only a few weeks left in the semester, which means it’s time to create chemistry games for my students to play at our last meeting.

This trivia game is meant to be played in small groups. I will ask the class whether they want to play with cell phones and Google, or without. If they want to play with, then we’ll arrange the groups so that each one has someone with a phone with internet. There are fifteen questions, so they will only get about 5-6 minutes to complete as many of them as they can. When the timer goes off, scores get tallied, and the winning group gets a prize. The answers, the trivia handout linked above, and other chemistry games and resources can be found on the “Chemistry Games and Resources” tab above.

There will also be a chemical equation balancing relay race. Each team will line up behind a line. One person from each team will run to the front of the room, take the top page from face down in their team’s stack, flip it over, balance the equation, and run back to tag in the next team member. I will stand behind the desk to check answers. If the first person got it wrong, the second person must solve the first equation correctly, and must tag in a third person to solve the next equation in the stack. The first team to get through their whole stack wins a prize.

The class has also decided to hold a potluck that last week, so there may not be time for more games. Eating and studying will finish out the hour. I’m so proud of my students. They’ve all worked really hard, and it’s paid off.

Balancing Chemical Equations: Simple Example

I have a lot of people asking for help with balancing chemical equations. Below is my personal method, with a simple example. Click here for a PDF of a redox example.

Feel free to use this material in any way you find valuable. It would be great if you cite bluntrose.com in any handouts, and if you use the printer-friendly 2-page PDF version, it’s already on the page for you.

Directions:

  1. Make a table that shows how many of each element there are on each side of the equation.
  2. Identify an atom that is both out of balance and located in only one molecule on the left, and only one molecule on the right. (If no such atom exists, try to find one that is only in one molecule on one side, even if it is in more than one on the other side.) Start by adding coefficients that balance this atom on both sides. Cross off and update the numbers in your table to reflect the new totals for each atom.
  3. If that was not enough to balance the equation, proceed to the next atom that is in the fewest number of molecules, and repeat Step 2. Continue to do this until all atoms are balanced.
  4. Double-check by re-adding the totals for each atom to ensure that your answer is correct.

Example:

___KI(aq) + ___Pb(NO3)2(aq) ___ PbI2(ppt) + ___ KNO3(aq)

Step 1:

1

K

1

1

I

2

1

Pb

1

2

NO3*

1

*NO3 (nitrate) can be listed as one unit here because it does not separate. If nitrogen or oxygen appeared separated in the product, or if nitrate was present in the product in addition to oxygen or nitrogen appearing in some other part of this product, then this would not work. NO3 is the same on both sides, so we are able to treat it like a single unit for the sake of balancing this equation.

Step 2:

Iodine and nitrate are the only things out of balance here. Iodine is only in one molecule on the left and only in one molecule on the right. The same is true of nitrate. This means it doesn’t matter which one we start with. Let’s try starting with iodine, chosen arbitrarily:

_2_KI(aq) + ___Pb(NO3)2(aq) ___ PbI2(ppt) + ___ KNO3(aq)

2    1

K

1

2    1

I

2

1

Pb

1

2

NO3*

1

At first glance, this might seem wrong because the potassium (K) is no longer balanced. Take a look at what else is not balanced: nitrate. Nitrate and potassium happen to be in the same molecule on the right, so the next step is to choose a coefficient for that molecule that balances both potassium and nitrate if possible. Luckily, it is!

Step 3:

_2_KI(aq) + ___Pb(NO3)2(aq) ___ PbI2(ppt) + _2_ KNO3(aq)

2    1

K

1    2

2    1

I

2

1

Pb

1

2

NO3*

1    2

This looks balanced now, according to our accounting table. The last step is to double-check to make sure it is right.

Step 4: To check your work, translate the formula into an equation for each element or molecule.

_2_KI(aq) + ___Pb(NO3)2(aq) ___ PbI2(ppt) + _2_ KNO3(aq)

Potassium:

(2 X 1) + 0 0 + (2 X 1)
2
2
Therefore, potassium is correct.

Iodine:

(2 X 1) + 0 (1 X 2) + 0
2
2
Therefore, potassium is correct.

Lead:

0 + (1 X 1) (1 X 1) + 0
1
1
Therefore, potassium is correct.

Nitrate:

0 + (1 X 2) 0 + (2 X 1)
2
2
Therefore, potassium is correct.

FINAL ANSWER: 2KI(aq) + Pb(NO3)2(aq) PbI2(ppt) + 2KNO3(aq)

Feel free to use the printer-friendly 2-page PDF of this material in any capacity you find valuable.