What I learned last week #1

by Janie Jones

So the first week of spring semester has come and gone.

To prove I’m getting my educational dollar’s worth, I’m going to recount some factoids that I have learned so far.

1#  From O-Chem:  The same kinds of compounds responsible for what we “smell” are responsible for what we “see.”

Aromatic compounds (molecules containing cyclic species with alternating, or conjugate, double bonds) where first discovered due to their fragrance.  Now chemists know that not all aromatic compounds have fragrance, but it’s still impressive that this feature was recognized in the days before electron microscopes.  Interestingly enough they  are also responsible for color in such molecules as beta-Carotene.  The conjugated cyclic nature of beta-Carotene absorbs light at 455 nm on the portion of the electromagnetic spectrum visible to the human eye.  Furthermore, enzymes in the liver convert beta-Carotene from dietary sources into Vitamin A, and through the “magic” of chemistry the Vitamin A is transformed into an isomer known as 11-cis-retinal.  In the rod cells of our eyes, this 11-cis-retinal and a protein creates rhodopsin.  When light passes through our eye and encounters the rod cells containing this rhodopsin, the light causes rhodopsin to change the position of it’s bonds forming the isomer trans-rhodopsin triggering a nerve impulse which the brain translates as “vision.”  What is also fascinating about this process is that it happens in the tiniest fraction of a second (200 femtoseconds to be exact, if you know what a femtosecond is), but if no light were present the process would take about 1100 years according to my text book.

#2  From Biology:  Mammals that spurned millennia of evolving legs just to return to the sea.

Ever wonder how whales evolved?  We might never know the exact hows or whys, but science is giving us some ideas on the trail from land back to sea.  Apparently within the last 10 years some new evidence has given taxonomists reason to rethink previous family trees.  Genetic studies on the two species have suggested that whales closest mammal kin are hippos.  A discovery of an ancient whale species that still had external legs strengthened this genetic evidence by showing that hippos and ancient whale precursors share ankle bone structure too similar to be coincidental.  Creatively we can fill in the gaps, millennia ago an ancient mammal species diverged into aquatic habitats.  Some evolved into modern whales and eventually some evolved into hippos.  Fascinating.

#3  From Calc I:  My brain is a sieve.

It is very sad.  3 semesters of algebra (beginning, advanced and college algebra) and I totally have no recollection of some of the concepts Calc teacher expects us to recall.  Luckily, I still have my algebra textbooks.  Seems I need to re learn sections of algebra in order to do my Calc homework.  Be afwaid, be vewy, vewy afwaid.  This is just the pre Calc review.  We technically haven’t learned any real Calc yet.  Only 15 more weeks to go!  Yippee!

#4  From Ceramics:  One place where pounding and wedging is socially acceptable.

If you like to beat, smash and pound on things, working with clay is probably a perfect place for you to be.  I’m not so sure about the “pounding” and “wedging” as it’s called, but it does wake you up and keep you warm.  Which is what you need in a night class in the Great White North.  I think it will be fun, and hopefully I’ll beat the living snot out of my clay, burn off some frustration and not have my pieces explode in the kiln (which will happen if you don’t adequately beat your clay).  I’m sure the terminology here will make all sorts of fun off color material this semester.  That is if I actually have the time and motivation to blog regularly.

So,  now don’t you feel all smart and well rounded?

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