Seeing A Hydrogen Bond
Using a mouthful of a technique called high-resolution atomic force microscopy, Chinese researchers have imaged a hydrogen bond at the highest resolution evar (except for maybe crystallography, but that’s a much more indirect way to look at things). These molecules (a tetrad of 8-hydroxyquinoline) are held in arrangement by the (white) hydrogen atoms’ atomic attraction to the partial negative charge in the nitrogen and oxygen atoms. Those N’s and O’s are little electron hogs, pulling that negative cloud away from their atomic neighbor and around their nucleus instead. They don’t become full ions, like sodium or chloride, but they do become just a tiny bit negative.
It’s similar to what happens in water, where the “electron hog” oxygen becomes slightly negative, making the hydrogen slightly positive:
This results in something called “dipole interaction” and it is one of the key ingredients of living chemistry. In fact, if those 8-hydroxyquinoline molecules were in a cell instead of on a copper microscope surface, there would be little water molecules bridging those gaps, tiny hydrogen bonding intermediaries holding the whole aqueous world together.
This kind of microscopy is the same technique that recently let Berkeley scientists see a covalent bond breaking and forming in real time, and is certainly up there on the “coolest thing I’ve seen this year” list. Next stop ionic bonds?
Glow with the Flow
Wind tunnel test of an experimental wing design from NASA painted with fluorescent oil to highlight flow patterns.
Follow that aerodynamic awesomeness with a video about how Game of Thrones animators designed Khaleesi’s dragons with the help of a computerized wind tunnel (via WIRED):
And finally, check out this kayaker going with the flow, fluid dynamics seen in foaming river (via Lucas Gilman):
(top image via NASA)
Butterfly wing | Dr. Douglas Clark
Want to learn more about the physics of butterfly hues? Then you’re going to want to read about how "Organized Chaos Makes The Beauty of a Butterfly Wing", by Brandon Keim.
While you’re at it, read Ed Yong on “The Origin of Really Shiny Species.”
Build an atom, complete with protons, neutrons and all requisite orbitals and electron spins. A pretty little look at the idealized, not-to-scale world of the elements. Great for a chemistry or physics reference anyway. That’s helium, carbon, iron and livermorium for those of you keeping track at home.
Interested in a diagram of an atom that’s more to scale? Get yourself an 11-mile wide computer monitor and head over to this site.
EDIT: An earlier version of this post said hydrogen instead of helium, because I’m a dummy and I was in a hurry.
The Curious Correspondence of Richard Feynman and James Watson
After reading about this interesting letter of encouragement from Richard Feynman to James Watson, I took a little journey of curiosity. I stumbled upon this letter, thanks to the Cold Spring Harbor archives.
It’s dated 1960, eight before Watson published The Double Helix, his personal memoir of the landmark discovery.
Here’s the text of the letter:
"Matt’s right, I’ve gotten married and am now on my honeymoon.
It would be so much fun to see you again that I can’t resist your invitation. I am also working on messenger RNA half-time, and I would like to try to do experiments with you and the bevy of beautiful lab girls.
But do I have to give a lecture to the biology dept? What do I know that they don’t know about biology? - nothing. I can’t think of anything I could say.
Do you want me anyway?
Ok, then - my wife and I will come to Cambridge on or about Jan 1 to work for 3 or 4 weeks. A deal?
Thank you very much,
Glycine [alias Richard P. Feynman]”
It’s full of interesting tidbits, like the fact that Feynman spent some time working on RNA biology (what?!), that he was rather anxious about his biology expertise, and that he was particularly excited to come work with Watson. Oh Richard, you certainly were a dog: “…the bevy of beautiful lab girls?" Mind you he wrote that on his honeymoon.
Just a reminder that our heroes are also human, and while that doesn’t excuse their faults or questionable behavior, peeling that away can paint a richer picture than any manuscript, memoir or equation ever could. Science is a uniquely human endeavor. To study it in full, we must appreciate its humanity completely.
If you’re curious why Feynman signed his letter “Glycine [alias Richard P. Feynman]," it’s a nod to their membership in the historic RNA Tie Club, where each scientist in its ranks was assigned an amino acid. Watson was “Proline” … which is rather bent, and has a tendency to put a kink in any chain it’s inserted into.
The fluid dynamics of sperm vs. the fluid dynamics of a sperm whale
You’re about to gain so much more respect for the epic journey those little swimmers take on their way to the egg. Tiny things like microbes and sperm experience a liquid world that’s like paddling through molasses at sloth speed.
MinutePhysics and Veritasium align their electrons and create a magnetic moment of epic proportions.
Yes, they have teamed up to answer that age-old riddle of physics and Juggalo gatherings: F**kin magnets, how do they work? I’ll go ahead and insert the requisite GIF here, so you don’t have to:
In the first video (above) Henry from MinutePhysics takes on permanent magnets, the solid bars and blocks that we’re most familiar with. Their magnetism, only possible in a tiny subset of elements from a very special region of the periodic table, comes from a combination of unfilled electron orbitals and Game of Thrones-style alignment among neighboring regions in a substance.
Derek from Veritasium takes on electromagnets in the video below, with a visit from floating cats, frame of reference-shifting convertibles and good ol’ quantum mechanics.
I’m very impressed by these videos, not only because they are clear and concise explanations of something that I have long wondered, but because they do something that even Richard Feynman had trouble doing, as seen in this clip from 1983’s Fun To Imagine interviews (although I’ll let Feynman off the hook a bit in the next post, stay tuned):
Bohemian Gravity and a cappella version of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody”
Brilliant. Although now I’m waiting for the “volcano version” where “MAMAAAAA” becomes “LAVAAAAAA. OOooooOOOooo!”
Quantum Queen! Brilliant way to start the day. McGill University master’s student Timothy Blais turned his thesis on three-dimensional gravity into a rock opera cover tune. He has also apparently learned to clone himself.
When you consider that Brian May is an actual astrophysicist and Freddie is named for the closest planet to the sun, this just gets better.
Source: Laughing Squid