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CHF staff and scholars provide a behind-the-scenes guide to activities at CHF, with reflections on science education, provocative explorations of chemistry in the wider world, and much more.

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All posts in Technology

Darkness

“A mathematician is a blind man in a dark room looking for a black cat which isn't there.” This remark contains the truism that looking for a black object in the dark is challenging, even if the object is there. And what is the blackest known material? A recent report from the University of Michigan reveals that single-walled carbon nanotube forests fit the bill as the blackest of them all.

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Posted In: Technology

The Secret of a Stradivarius: Physics or Chemistry?

Music aficionados swear that instruments by Antonio Stradivari and Giuseppe Guarneri are the very definition of superlative. Could it be physics: the shape and structure of the instrument producing perfect intonation? Or could it be chemistry: the varnish and other finishes adding the final definitive touch to timbre excellence? A new study suggests it may be neither.

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Posted In: History | Technology

Stinky Bacteria

Hydrogen sulfide is toxic, flammable, and smelly. Think rotten eggs and you’ve identified this simple gas. It is commonly found in natural gas and has uses in the synthetic chemistry of sulfur compounds. H2S is also produced by many kinds of bacteria, but until illuminated by a recent paper its function was generally a mystery. The new work reveals that inactivation of H2S production renders clinically nasty bacteria much more susceptible to most ordinary antibiotics.

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Posted In: Technology

First Person: Claire Schultz

Most of CHF’s oral histories focus on scientists—the individuals producing scientific research. But CHF also has an insider’s look into how that research gets to others, via the interviewees in our Scientific and Technical Information Systems collection. One of these interviewees is Claire Schultz, who observed wartime technologies turn into to computerization and, ultimately, the internet – a tool that would revolutionize scientific research and human knowledge worldwide.

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Posted In: History | Technology

Holiday Chemistry Gift Guide

A popular sport at this time of year is the gift guide—suggestions of cool items for every possible taste. You can find guides for men, women, teens, babies, and other assorted humans, for techies, for design and arts fans, and even for tree huggers. I couldn’t find one for chemistry aficionados, however, so here is my own offering to fill this vital gap.

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Posted In: Technology

Using CO2

Watching the United Nations climate change conference going on in Durban, South Africa this week, it’s evident that the world’s political systems are largely deadlocked on ways to slow the rate of addition of CO2 to the atmosphere. But what if we could recycle CO2 by using it as a starting material for the carbon-based chemistry that now originates with oil?

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Posted In: Policy | Technology

We May Soon Be Talking About Rare Earths Less Rarely

It’s not often that chemical issues drive international politics. But China’s recent decision to temporarily halt most of its production of rare earth elements has been a hot news topic. What’s all the fuss about?

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Posted In: Policy | Technology

Energy: Cheap, Clean, and Forever

What if we had a source of power that generated no greenhouse gases and was essentially limitless? We do. It’s called hydrogen, and every molecule of water on earth contains a molecule of H2, just itching to be combusted for energy.

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Posted In: Policy | Technology

Christmas Countdown with the Othmer Plates

CHF supporters may recognize Donald and Mildred Othmer as the founders of the Donald F. and Mildred Topp Othmer Library of Chemical History at CHF. But friends and family knew them as Don and Mid. This holiday season we would like to share CHF’s collection of the Othmers' Christmas plates. A different plate will be unveiled each day leading up to December 25.

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Posted In: History | Technology

Holidays and Hunger

Today is Thanksgiving and most Americans are celebrating with friends, families, and feasts. Such occasions raise our spirits and lie on the plus side of the ledger. It’s also worth reflecting that not all of our fellow citizens share in the banquet.

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Posted In: Policy | Technology