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Monday, June 6, 2016

This new advancement in science may help many people who need artificial muscles. Artificial muscles used today do not have a self-healing capability. In today’s world, if the material used receives any damage it has to be replaced.  Imagine the next generation of materials, that can heal themselves when damaged.

A revolutionary breakthrough towards this has been created by Professor Zhenan Bao and her team of researchers at Stanford. The polymer material is known as an elastomer due to its stretchiness. When punctured the elastomer self-heals at room temperature. And when put in an electric field it expands and contracts, like real muscle. 

The machine used by Bao could only stretch the elastomer to a limit of 45 inches. This extremely stretchy polymer was found to stretch more than 100 inches after researchers simply pulled the polymer like taffy.  In addition to its ability to stretch the material heals at room temperature and up to (-20 C).  This phenomenal material can be damaged and left to age for days but will still heal.

The stretchiness and resilience of the elastomer are due to the molecular structure resembling the crosslinking of a fishnet. Metal ions in the material bind to two or more ligands. According to Bao, if there is a stress on one part of the structure, the metal ions are still attached to other sites so the elastomer keeps its form. When the stress is released the metal ions simply reconnect with the closest ligand. This material could lead to medical implants that will last years without need of being replaced.  Further applications include robotics and prosthetics. Their research may save lives and help generations of people to come.

The work was accomplished by Professor Zhenan Bao, Cheng-Hui Li, Jing-Lin Zuo, Lihua Jin, Yang Sun, Peng Zheng, Yi Cao, Christian Linder and Xiao-Zeng You.

 Written by: Angelica Ramirez


Bao, Z. (2016). A highly stretchable autonomous self-healing elastomer. Nature Chemistry.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Several undergraduate research groups from CSUCI presented their research this year at the 251st ACS meeting in San Diego. Research projects conducted at the school focus on a variety of topics ranging from environmental chemistry, organic synthesis, analytical studies, materials science and instrumentation.

The American Chemical Society national meetings are the largest scientific conferences in the world. Besides serving as a platform to present their own scientific work, attending the meetings represents a chance for students to develop their professional network. Many young students make connections at ACS meetings that launch their scientific careers into industry or graduate school.

CSUCI research students and advisors.

From left to right: Chemistry Dean Simone Aloisio, Courtney Mayhew and Timothy Goodman
presenting a project measuring the levels of mercury in rice.
From left to right: Simone Aloisio, Samantha Freitag and Kylan Malloy. Research
concerned with measuring mercury  levels in commercial cigarettes was also credited to
Melissa J Soriano, not pictured.

From left to right: Cameron McLaughlin, Angel Torres, Aisling Williams and
Professor Brittnee Veldman, advisor. Research on self-assembling nanocomposite materials.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

While attempting to develop a new method to produce synthetic diamond, scientists at North Carolina State University have discovered an entirely new phase of carbon called “Q-carbon”. This new material was found to possess fascinating physical and chemical properties some of which resolve long-standing scientific mysteries. It is harder than diamond, magnetic at room temperature, stable at ambient conditions and is electrically conductive. Further, its production doesn’t require extreme temperature and pressure and it can easily be converted into conventional diamond.

Phase diagram of carbon. Conventional methods to produce
diamond push graphite into diamond by increasing temperature
and pressure. The dotted green line shows the interface between
supercooled liquid carbon and diamond, which can be crossed
at ambient pressure.

Diamond is an extremely useful material due to its physical characteristics. Its hardness and clarity lend it to use in a wide variety of industrial applications such as in abrasives and optics while its thermal and electrical traits are useful in technological hardware. However, the scarcity of diamond of appropriate quality in nature forces scientists to look for ways to mass produce it. The conventional approach requires extremely high temperatures and pressures along with chemical catalysts. This is extremely energy-intensive, costly and inefficient.

Researchers Jagdish Narayana and Anagh Bhaumik at North Carolina State were hoping to find a more straightforward synthetic pathway to diamond by utilizing a strange quirk of physics called ‘supercooling’. Most people are familiar with supercooling as it applies to water. A common demonstration involves placing a bottle of very pure water in the freezer and taking it out after around two and a half hours. It appears liquid, but upon hitting it against a surface, it suddenly crystallizes and forms fluffy ice. 

This is a slightly different process from the one used for making Q-carbon, though. While the water demonstration starts in the liquid form, becomes supercooled liquid and then returns to its normal freezing point to crystallize into ice, the scientists at NCSU melted solid carbon with a laser tuned to a highly specific energy. The laser excites the atoms electrically rather than thermally, and so their crystal structure falls apart at a much lower temperature than it conventionally would. This liquid carbon was then cooled extremely rapidly, a process known as ‘quenching’ (hence the “Q” in Q-carbon). This locked the carbon atoms in their unusual physical arrangement. The rapid cooling doesn’t allow the atoms any time to form an organized crystal, and thus Q-carbon was born.

(left) Q-carbon formed by quenching supercooled liquid carbon, (right) a thread
of Q-carbon (white) ending at a crystal of conventional diamond.

 Subsequent characterization experiments revealed its surprising physical properties. Its magnetic qualities solve an old mystery regarding carbon’s potential as a candidate for ferromagnetism. Scientists had theoretically predicted it, but it had never been experimentally verified until now. It is also suggested that because the physical conditions necessary to produce it exist at the centers of many of our solar system’s planets, it could potentially be responsible for their magnetic fields.

The potential applications for this new material are as yet largely unknown. In any case, its ability to transform into conventional diamond through a second laser pulse is bound to be useful as it circumvents the problems of current energy-intensive production methods. Further studies will certainly need to be done before we can be sure that Q-carbon has practical use, but if verified, the discovery could prove revolutionary for technology and industry. 

Written by: Aisling M Williams


Narayan, J.; Bhaumik, A. Novel Phase of Carbon, Ferromagnetism, and Conversion into Diamond. J. Appl. Phys. Journal of Applied Physics. Dec 2015, 118, 215303.

mrsciguy. "Supercooled Water". Online Video Clip. Youtube. 11 Feb 2016. Web.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Simone Aloisio, PhD (right) with student researchers presenting his
project studying mercury levels in cigarettes.
Five chemistry research projects were represented by CSUCI students this year at SCCUR.

The Southern California Conference for Undergraduate Research is an interdisciplinary research conference showcasing the best undergraduate research currently underway across California. The event includes research from a wide variety of academic fields ranging from political science and gender studies to ecology and physics. 

Hosted on November 21st at Harvey Mudd College, the conference attracted student representatives from across the state. Among those in attendance were CSUCI science researchers representing five projects carried out under the supervision of advisors Simone Aloisio (pictured above), Ahmed Awad and Brittnee Veldman.

The event ran from 8 AM to 5 PM and opened with a keynote address by Nadia Abuelezam, a Harvey Mudd alumni and Harvard graduate. Her talk entitled Understanding the Global HIV/AIDS Epidemic with (Sexy) Mathematical Models interspersed discussion of the technical details of her research with the story of how she came to be involved with it, along with pieces of advice she learned along the way.

A variety of student-led research presentations followed, along with three independent poster sessions where rows of posters summarizing research projects were showcased in the college’s Activity Center. Representatives from each group stood by their posters to explain the details and answer the questions of attendees.  

The conference is a first for many of the students in attendance, serving as valuable practice before they move on to present at larger national events. Students gain insight into a wide variety of research projects along with experience in public speaking and networking.

The interdisciplinary focus of the conference also provides a unique opportunity for students to communicate across fields of study.  

“A lot of Chemistry researchers were interested in our poster,” said Angel Torres, whose research focuses on materials chemistry, “but I feel like I got the most out of explaining the research to non-science majors. They asked questions I wasn’t expecting which forced me to think about our project differently. The process of trying to verbalize science concepts without using jargon actually helped me understand them more clearly myself.”

Written by: Aisling Williams

Friday, October 30, 2015

A commonly-performed chemistry demonstration at W. T. Woodson High left five students and a teacher injured on Friday morning after the experiment started an out-of-control fire. All of the students’ injuries were serious enough to warrant hospitalization, with two of the five being transported by helicopter. One student is in critical condition.

The experiment in question, commonly referred to as “the rainbow experiment”, is meant to show how the color of fire depends on the compound undergoing combustion. Similar experiments are virtually ubiquitous in high school level chemistry classes, with one even making an appearance in the TV show Breaking Bad.

The exact cause of the accident is not known with certainty. However, students present at the time of the accident describe the teacher “adding more alcohol straight from the bottle” in an attempt to keep the reaction going after the flame had begun to die down. Shortly thereafter, the students near the front of the room were suddenly engulfed in flames. One student describes it not as an explosion, but more of a “sideways fireball”.

 Of the 31 students and 2 teachers present, 5 students and one teacher were injured.
Following the accident, the school was evacuated. The fire was still burning by the time firefighters arrived and had damaged 50% of the room, but fortunately it was subdued before it spread further.

This is not the first time the rainbow fire experiment has caused accidents. According to the American Chemical Society, the demonstration should not be performed indoors. "These demonstrations present an unacceptable risk of flash fires and deflagrations that can cause serious injuries to students and teachers," the ACS said.

An extremely similar incident occurred in 2004. Once the colored flame began to die down, the teacher attempted to add more fuel before the small fire had completely gone out. That accident left a 15-year-old student with burns to 40% of her body. The student in question describes her experience in the video below.

The effort required to avoid this sort of accident is minuscule, and yet it continues to occur year after year. This serves to demonstrate the unfortunate reality that safety measures are often neglected at every level of chemistry. When accidents are uncommon it is very easy for even professionals to become complacent. Although it is vital to remain vigilant at every level, it may be especially true for those teaching younger students. Demonstrations at the elementary and high school levels are for more than sharing the beauty of chemistry. They are also an opportunity to lead by example, and to instill in students a healthy respect for the dangers involved.

Written by: Aisling Williams


Jackman, T., Shapiro, T. R., and Brown, E. (2015) Six injured in chemistry classroom fire at Woodson High School in Fairfax. Washington Post. The Washington Post.

(2015) Chemistry Experiment Sparked Explosion in Va. High School. NBC4 Washington.

Gilligan, Vince. "Breaking Bad - Pilot." Chemistry Class. HBO. N.d. YouTube. Web. 30 Oct. 2015

Matt Ackland (mattacklandfox5). Twitter.

USCSB. "After the Rainbow." YouTube. USCSB, 10 Dec. 2013. Web. 30 Oct. 2015.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

The steroid growth hormones given to cattle on factory farm operations have long been of interest to environmental scientists. Because these drugs pose the most serious risk to aquatic life, past studies have focused mainly on their transport to bodies of water via surface runoff. However, a recent study confirms the viability of a vector no one had ever considered before – dust.

Researcher Brett Blackwell setting up monitoring equipment.
Credit: Jerod Foster
Cattle given drugs such as steroids do not break them down completely. The compounds are excreted in their manure, which can then dry and be pulverized into airbourne dust.

Researcher Philip N. Smith, an ecotoxicologist at Texas Tech, first considered the possibility when he was out duck hunting downwing from a cattle feed yard. The dust in the air was so thick that it coated his teeth, and he began to wonder what was in it.  He and colleages at the Environmental Protection Agency set up sampling equiptment at five feed yards in Texas and Oklahoma, which remained collecting samples and taking measurements for two years. 

After analysis was complete, they determined that the most abundant hormone was the estrogen 17α-estradiol, which appeared on 94% of filters with a mean concentration of 21-ng/g particulate matter.

The biggest risk posed by such airbourne contaminants is to aquatic life. The particles were large enough that people are unlikely to inhale them, as they would not travel very far. Only those people working on feedlots or living very nearby would be exposed to appreciable quantities, but the health impacts of such exposures are not well-understood.

The largest feed yard in the study was found to emit 63 mg of 17α-estradiol per day in dust alone. This amount is comparable to what might be transported each day in runoff, making dust a significant source of potential environmental harm.

By: Aisling Williams


Lockwood, Deirdre. “Cattle Feed Yard Dust Can Transport Steroids Into Environment.” Chemical & Engineering News: (2015) n. pag. 7 July. Web. 25 July 2015.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

The European Space Agency’s comet lander Philae has successfully delivered a long-anticipated data stream to Earth after several nerve-wracking months of silence.

The dishwasher-sized lander, dispatched from the Rosetta spacecraft which now orbits comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, landed rather roughly on the surface back in 2014.Unfortunately, the machine unexpectedly settled in a shadowy crater and ran out of power after 60 hours without sunlight to charge its solar cells.

Because the comet has been moving nearer to the sun, the lander may have been able to harness the increased solar energy and recharge itself. The earthbound scientists at European Space Operations Centre in Darmstadt, Germany, held their breath and powered up the lander’s listening capabilities on March 12th.

A real-scale representation of the comet's size
compared to the city of Los Angeles.
On June 14th Philae’s message finally arrived, indicating that it is in fact receiving power.
Rosetta is the first man-made object to orbit a comet, and Philae the first to land on one. The mission promises to be rich with discoveries that will lend insight into many unanswered questions about the natural world. Comets and other such deep-space objects represent goldmines of information about the early universe and the physical history of the solar system, and by extension the Earth and her human inhabitants.

One such mystery that the mission hopes to investigate is the relative abundance of left-handed chemical isomers in the biological world. Many molecules come in mirror-image “versions” of one another. Despite being composed of the same atoms, and those atoms being connected in identical ways, they are physical reflections of each other and possess unique physical and chemical properties. For reasons poorly-understood, biological systems overwhelmingly favor the left- versions of molecules.

One theory proposed in 1983 posits that spiraling radiation generated during supernovae is responsible. The polarization of the radiation emitted during the collapse of primordial stars may have twisted those first molecules into left-handed orientations, resulting in a dominance that we still see today. If the preference for left- chirality is found to extend outside the Earth biosphere, a cosmic origin would be the most reasonable explanation.

The lander possesses an array of cutting-edge scientific instruments, including UV, visible and infrared spectrometers, remote imaging systems, and radar.

One of the first images received by the lander revealed what appeared to be
"sand dunes". The scale of this image is massive; the length of a human
being would be represented as a single pixel.
The mission has already uncovered an abundance of information about the comet. Although it is massive enough to have a gravitational field, the rock is only about ¼ to 1/8 the volume of the object that wiped out the dinosaurs. Its gravity, although strong enough to hold onto the Rosetta orbiter, is incredibly weak. The escape velocity of the comet is about 1/300,000th of Earth’s. In
simpler terms, if a person standing on its surface jumped with the amount of force needed to reach one centimeter from the ground on Earth, they would escape its gravity and float off into space, never to return. If you stepped off of a chair on this comet, it would take you a whole 1.3 minutes to eventually fall to the ground.

As it moves nearer the sun, the comet will heat up and begin expelling dust and gas. This stream of detritus, when comets such as Philae’s swing near enough to the sun, can become ionized by solar wind and produce the luminous glowing tail which is visible from Earth. These mysterious streaks of light have been objects of wonder since the dawn of human kind, and now through the culmination of our thousands of years of scientific inquiry, we will for the first time finally have the chance to reach across the vast gulf of the cosmos and touch one. 

Written by Aisling Williams


Claudia. "The Sound of Touchdown." Web log post. ESA Blog. European Space Agency, 20 Nov. 2014. Web. 16 June 2015.

Doherty, Paul. “Rosetta Mission|Spring 2015 Update.” Online video. Youtube. Exploratorium, 15 May 2015. Web. Jun. 27 2015.

Wilson, Elizabeth K. “Comet Lander Philae Wakes Up.” Chemical & Engineering News: (2015) n. pag. 15 June 2015. Web. 17 June 2015.