Element 112 — Copernicium

copernicium
Copernicium (Cp) is found beneath mercury (Hg) on the periodic table

Element 112, a few atoms of which were created in Germany in 1996, finally has an official name. The new name is copernicium (symbol Cp), in honor of astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus (1473-1543). “Copernicium” replaces the temporary name ununbium (un=one, un=one, bi=two for 112, symbol Uub) that element 112 has had since it was created.

It is appropriate to refer to such elements as being created rather than discovered, as they do not exist in nature. The copernicium atoms where created by smashing zinc and lead nuclei together at high speeds. The copernicium-227 atoms created by this reaction decayed by alpha decay with a half life of about 240 microseconds.

I can see chemistry students confusing the symbols for Cu (copper) and Cp (copernicium).

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WebElements — The most popular periodic table on the internet.

Wikipedia Ununbium

BBC News — New element named ‘copernicium’

The Inner Life of the Cell — The Extended Version

This item was originally posted in September, 2006. It is now part of my blog recycling program. Because I have new readers of The GeoChristian, I will occasionally go back and re-use some of my favorite blog entries. There is a version of this video on YouTube that I don’t think was available last year. The EXTENDED VERSION, with a technical description of what is going on, is absolutely amazing to watch.

The Inner Life of the Cell is a computer animation of the inner workings of a white blood cell. Absolutely amazingboth in terms of the animation, and the processes it portrays. It is a testimony to the wisdom and power of the Creator.

I got this link from my biochemist friend Glenn at Be Bold, Be Gentle.


Image from the movie “The Inner Life of the Cell.”

The movie is also on YouTube.

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Atoms in motion

Here’s a nice, simple graphic showing the motion of particles in a gas. Some are moving faster, some slower; the average velocity is a function of the temperature.

Here’s the caption from the Wikipedia article on temperature:

The temperature of a gas is a measure of the average kinetic energy of its atoms or molecules as they move and collide. Here in this animation, the size of helium atoms relative to their spacing is shown to scale under 136 atmospheres of pressure. These room-temperature atoms have a certain, average speed (slowed down here two trillion fold).

I like the graphic because it is simple, yet it clearly communicates the concepts of transfer of kinetic energy from one particle to another, and average speed.

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Simple Cells?

This item was originally posted in March, 2006. It is now part of my blog recycling program. Because I have more people reading The GeoChristian now than I did a year ago, I will occasionally go back and re-use some of my best blog entries.

Having read a number of technical books and papers on the topic of the origin of life, I believe that there is more here than a “god of the gap” kind of argument. Experiments have shown that conditions may have been present on the early Earth for the formation of a few basic building blocks for life in the primeval oceans, such as amino acids. But the complexity required for a metabolizing, reproducing cell to develop is an enormous leap beyond this. We can argue against the naturalistic origin of life not because of our ignorance–this is the idea of invoking the “god of the gaps”–but because of our knowledge of just how improbable this occurrence would be.

Prominently displayed in the back of my science classroom at Bucharest Christian Academy is an oversized poster showing biochemical pathwaysthe enzyme-mediated processes that occur in all cells, in organisms ranging from bacteria to humans. The poster presents an incredible amount of information, outlining processes such as electron transport in the mitochondria (in eukaryotes), and the synthesis and degradation of amino acids, carbohydrates, lipids, and nucleotides. The poster is a little overwhelming to my middle school and high school students, but that is part of my purpose for having it. Even the most simple living cells are incredible machines, and I want them to have a glimpse of what that means.

For the web site of the week, I have chosen a similar metabolic pathways poster from the ExPASy Proteomics Server. By clicking on individual tiles on the poster, you can zoom in to see details of various processes, with the names of the enzymes that control molecular transformations in blue.

biochem_chart

From discussions with biochemists, my understanding is that the simplest cell that could perform the basic functions of life (such as respiration, digestion, reproductionprocesses that define life) could do without some of the processes diagrammed on this poster. However, this primitive cell would still have to include about 60% of the processes depicted on these types of posters. This defines the magnitude of what needs to be explained in any naturalistic explanation for the origin of life.

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I did find one article (I’m sure there are many) on the internet that puts a lower limit on the number of proteins in the most primitive cell at 300. Note that on the metabolic processes poster I have here, only the blue names, the enzymes, are proteins. The other substances are all substances that are produced or modified by those enzymes.

My biochemist friend Glenn added this comment when I posted this last year:

There’s an additional complexity issue that’s not reflected in the 2D network map of biochemical pathways: the 3D structure of the cell is critical for enzyme function and the transport of substrates/products. Many of these enzymes are membrane-associated, for example, and their orientation in the membrane defines their overall function. Experimental data suggests that very few enzymes are “floating” around in a cellular soup; it’s a viscous, structured arrangement. So you could put all the enzymes on the chart into a tiny test tube, and add all the substrates in solution, but it wouldn’t operate as a cell does. Yes, enzymatic reactions would occur. But it’s not a sustaining cellular system.

Nerve Gas

Books and Culture has an fascinating review of two books about nerve gas:

War of Nerves: Chemical Warfare from World War I to Al-Qaeda by Jonathan Tucker

Chemical Warfare: A Study in Restraints by Frederic Brown

Some quotes from the review:

My favorite of Tucker’s tales is the story of Boris Libman, a native of Latvia who could have walked straight out of the works of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. Born in 1922, Libman was just 18 when the invading Russians confiscated his family’s land and property and drafted him into the Soviet Army. He was seriously wounded early in the war, returned to duty after a long recovery, and was again badly wounded, the second time left for dead. He survived the war and applied to study at the Moscow Institute for Chemistry tuition-free as an honorably discharged disabled veteran. Libman was turned down because he was officially dead. He managed to prove he was alive, attended university, and became quite a talented chemical engineer. He supervised production of thousands of tons of nerve gas on impossible schedules for many years. In trying to do his best for the Soviet Union, he made an error with a containment pond for toxic wastes. A storm caused a flood, the pond burst its dike, and tons of toxic waste poured into the Volga River. Months later the delayed effects of the spill killed millions of fish for 50 miles downriver. Libman was blamed and sent to a labor camp to appease an outraged public. But as it turned out, no one else could run the nerve gas plant, and Libman was quietly released and returned to work after one year.

Poison gases were used in WWI, but not to any large degree in WWII. All sides recognized the hideousness of these weapons, and the tactical difficulties in their use. Modern day terrorists don’t have the same qualms:

Quite rightly, Brown took a measure of comfort in reflecting that the restraints which existed in World War II continued in the Cold War era. Alas, this modest reassurance does not carry over to our own day. Terrorists are not soldiers. As their name suggests, their purpose is to inflict terror on the civilian population, while at the same time they can trust traditional Western reticence not to respond with indiscriminate murder in retaliation.

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Science Videos #1

Thermite reaction – a chemical reaction that generates enough heat to melt iron.

Alkali metal reactions – I’ve put sodium in water for a science demonstration, but that seems rather tame compared to rubidium or cesium in water!

Tacoma Narrows Bridge – the ultimate engineering mishap. Concrete and steel are flexible!

Liquid metal – watch the ball bounce, and bounce, and bounce…

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