The American Chemical Society sends you a mug every year when you pay your dues. Each year the element featured on the mug advances along the periodic table by 1 atomic number. This year I got carbon, or element 6, which has a nice drawing of graphite on it. I joined ACS when I was 34, meaning to get an osmium mug I will have to live to be 110, so literally what is the point can you tell me.
I just had a paper published in The Journal of Materials Chemistry A about some research done at Brookhaven National Lab. It’s cool and new because it uses extremely high-power X-rays that can penetrate thick materials, even metals. The technique was developed to find points of strain inside high-performance materials like turbine blades. We use it to do the same thing, but inside batteries. And not just small batteries, but very thick ones, like D-cell batteries, which are an inch or two across.
Inside the battery, the X-rays bounce off crystal faces of the materials, and because of that you can know things about how far apart the atoms are. A D-cell has zinc at its center (anode) and manganese dioxide around its outside (cathode). The lines in the image above are like fingerprints of these materials. (And the numbers like (002) refer to the crystal faces themselves.)
Another cool thing about this technique is that it is very fast. You can scan the battery in a few minutes. This means that as it’s charging and discharging you can watch the materials changing in real time, inside the sealed battery. Basically this is what we do in the paper, seeing some things no one has ever been able to see before (except by cracking a battery open after cycling it, which can sometimes be effective, but not always). Brookhaven (on Long Island, in New York) is one of the only places in the world you can do this.
We took the data for this paper during a couple of intense sessions at Brookhaven. One was almost a year ago during a snowstorm, and another was a 20-hour block of borrowed time that ended with a fire alarm.
Occasionally I do this when I need battery materials: Crack open a D cell battery and pull out the anode.
The anode is a gooey cylinder at the center of the battery. In the second picture I’ve peeled off one layer of cellophane and one layer of paper from the anode. Inside it’s just a shiny jelly of zinc particles. Zinc is a high energy material, so by dissolving it you can get power. That’s how a battery works, basically.
There’s a cathode too, which is made of manganese oxide. It’s a black powder caked around the inside of the cell. You can also see the nail or pin sticking up at the center. This is the electrical contact to the zinc jelly.
Karl Kordesch, the chemist who invented the alkaline battery, died in 2011.
Have I ever told you guys about the time that I got a very long and formal email from my friend D. Janes about Women in Chemistry and how their numbers are increasing and it’s important we keep up the trend?
And I had no idea why he was sending me such a long, formal, sincere email, which was completely out of character? And so I replied and said “I think women who do chemistry are pretty hot!” because that’s the kind of thing he might expect from me?
But then did I tell you how the President of the American Chemical Society was D. James and the email was actually from him?
And I sent him that reply I thought I was sending to my friend D. Janes? Who was writing me long formal emails for some reason? Did I ever tell you that?
Today marks the beginning of National Women’s History Month, which this year celebrates women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
At Brookhaven Lab, we have many inspiring women engaged in innovative scientific research, including chemist Joanna Fowler, who received the 2009 National Medal of Science, the nation’s highest award for lifetime achievement in science.
Fowler, pictured above with President Barack Obama, is the Director of the Radiotracer Chemistry, Instrumentation and Biological Imaging Program at Brookhaven National Laboratory. She is world renowned for her work in brain research and the study of diseases like addiction, which she investigates using an imaging technique called positron emission tomography (PET).
You might remember her from her photo with that cool chemistry setup in our post on her contributions to PET imaging. In 1976, Fowler and her colleagues synthesized 18F-fluorodeoxyglucose (FDG), a radiotracer used in PET. Today, FDG is widely used in hospitals and research centers throughout the world to diagnose and study neurological and psychiatric diseases and to diagnose cancer.
The photo with the cool chemistry setup is the best ever
(btw, how a PET scan works using anti-matter was featured on Clear Science once)
KcD drew the periodic table as characters for her senior thesis project at the Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design. So of course I immediately clicked though to see what osmium looked like. The project website is here. (Kc you could have just asked what I look like okay?)
helenepertl asked: Hello. Do you know of where I could find more pictures of complicated chemistry lab installations such as the one that was on your blog earlier? Are there any websites, I mean, for that kind of porn.
For times like this I keep a bookmark to Adams & Chittenden Scientific Glass. I’m an electrochemist, so I’m partial to that section.
The Periodic Table TABLE!
No discussion of osmium, but otherwise awesome.