Category Archives: Ethics

The Alkaline Diet

After reading Nicholas’ post on the claim made by the company that produced water ionizers, I was reminded of a similar claim made by advocates of the ‘Alkaline Diet’. I decided to investigate whether these claims were accurate, or like the ones made by the water-ionizer company, scientifically wrong.

The Alkaline Diet is based on the theory that eating specific foods can affect maintenance of the body’s ideal pH balance, and improve health. (Collins & Chang, n.d) A website promoting holistic treatments gave the following reasoning for the diet:

The pH of the blood must always fall between 7.35 and 7.45  (slightly alkaline) to ensure an appropriate concentration of oxygen in the blood. A pH lower than 7.35 (Acidosis) may portray the beginnings of a disease / aging, while a pH higher than 7.45 (Alkalosis) would result in seizure, and a possible coma.

In order to keep the blood within this pH range, the website then explains, 75% of alkaline forming foods must be consumed; however, the American diet consists of 80% of acid forming foods.

The body creates a buffering system in order to counteract this abundance of acidic food in the diet; this buffering system runs on electrolytes, which are important for the metabolic functioning of body systems. Adequate electrolyte supply will pose no problem on the buffer system, however a shortage of these electrolytes will make it difficult for the body to maintain homeostasis (a state of equilibrium). A shortage of electrolytes usually occurs as a cause of excessive consumption of acid forming foods. (Frequency Rising, n.d)

At first, this claim made sense to me. After all, medical websites confirm that the blood’s pH must fall within a certain range. (Collins & Chang, n.d) Furthermore, there is evidence that shows that the concentration of Oxygen in the blood is affected by the blood’s pH, and as I have previously learnt in Biology class, it is true that the pH of blood must remain within a certain range to ensure health.  (RSC, n.d) Another medical website mentioned diseases such as Acidosis and Alkalosis, the former caused by a blood pH lower than what it should be, and another caused by a blood pH higher than it should be. (Dugdale & Zieve, n.d) Was the claim made by the holistic website accurate? Upon further examination and reflection, it was clear to me what the problem was: the holistic website was trying to convince people on the basis of a logical fallacy!* Our body deals with acidic food with a buffer system that does not work properly when you consume excessive acidic foods?

What?

That makes no sense.

I soon realized that it was very easy to see the reason they would make this claim, as directly under the article, I saw this.

Water Ionizer Advertisement

This reminded me of Nicholas’ post, and confirmed my doubts: it was all just a marketing technique.

I decided to look at the biochemistry myself to determine the validity of the diet.

I found the concentration of Oxygen in the blood is controlled by a separate mechanism: oxygen flows around the body in blood by hemoglobin, a complex molecule with a central ion. (AUS-e-TUTE, n.d) The oxygenation of blood is an equilibrium reaction:

Hb4(aq) + 4O2(aq) <–> Hb4O8(aq)

A number of equilibrium reactions involving hemoglobin are responsible for the buffering of the blood: the net reaction being –

HbH+(aq) + O2(aq) <–> HbO2(aq) + H+(aq)

Metabolic reactions in the body release many acidic compounds, which lowers the blood’s pH by increasing the concentration of H+ ions present in the blood. This in turn, forces the equilibrium position to the left, resulting in acidosis. This decrease in oxygen supply causes fatigue and headaches. Acidosis is also the same condition you experience temporarily when you exercise without warming up, or when you engage in strenuous exercise when the available supply of oxygen cannot meet the demand for energy to complete the oxidation of glucose to carbon dioxide. (AUS-e-TUTE, n.d)

Thus, Acidosis really has nothing to do with what you eat.

Additionally, although electrolytes are important for the body, the only ion that affects the pH of the blood is the Phosphate Ion (PO42-), which is part of the Phosphate Buffer System. (Electrolytes, n.d) However, the primary buffer system for balance of the blood pH’s remains the Hydrogen Carbonate Buffer System.

Hydrogen Carbonate is produced in the body with water and CO2 (the end product of cellular metabolism) with the following reaction:

H2O + CO2 <–> H2CO3(aq)

The Hydrogen Carbonate is then involved in another (can be classified as a Bronsted-Lewry) reaction, which produces bicarbonate and the Hydronium ion:

H2CO3 + H2O <–> H3O+ + HCO3

If there is excess acid in the body (H3O+), the equilibrium shifts left.

H2CO3 + H2O <–  H3O+ + HCO3

Thus, the excess acid is neutralized by the base (HCO3)

The reverse takes place if there is excess base (OH) in the body: this reacts with the carbonic acid (H2CO3) and the equilibrium shifts right.

H2CO3 + OH <–  H2O + HCO3

This system thus operates under Le Chaletier’s principle, which states that “if a chemical system at equilibrium experiences a change in concentration, temperature, or total pressure, the equilibrium will shift in order to minimize that change ”. This reaction is the main mechanism used by our body to maintain homeostasis.

The Phosphate Buffer System plays a role in plasma and erythrocytes (components of blood)- (Tamarkin, n.d)

H2PO4- + H2O <–> H3O+ + HPO42-

Any excess acid reacts with monohydrogen phosphate to form dihydrogen phosphate –

H2PO4- + H2O <– H3O+ + HPO42-

Similarly, excess base is neutralized by dihydrogen phosphate –

H2PO4- + H2O –> H3O+ + HPO42-

So if this is all true, and the claim that eating alkaline foods can affect blood’s pH is not correct, then why do people continue to follow the Alkaline diet: and how can we explain their success stories?

The Alkaline Diet is “a diet of fresh fruits and vegetables, plenty of water, avoiding processed foods, coffee, and alcohol, which are all recommendations for a generally healthy diet anyway,” says Marjorie Nolan, who is an American Dietetic Association spokeswoman. (Collins & Chang, n.d) This is evident by an Alkaline Diet cheat sheet, which recommends eating cold-pressed olive oil instead of butter, frozen fruit instead of canned fruit, sparkling water instead of soda, honey instead of sugar, and so on. (Wilkinson, n.d) According to Nolan, any diet consisting of this meal plan is bound to prove successful, because it is “basically healthy”. She confirms however, that the body “regulates our pH between 7.35 and 7.45 no matter how we eat.” (Collins & Chang, n.d)

Alkaline Diet for Dummies: Cheat Sheet

Alkaline Diet for Dummies: Cheat Sheet

Alkaline Diet for Dummies: Cheat Sheet

So, what are the implications of this finding?


First, the negative implications: because the Alkaline diets promotes less consumption of dairy products and animal fats, followers of the diet if not careful, may develop calcium and protein deficiencies, according to John Asplin, an MD and kidney specialist. (Collins & Chang, n.d) A vegetarian myself, I was quick to disagree with this statement in my mind, however, he acknowledged that “vegetarians can be completely healthy in their diets, as long as they make sure to get adequate supplies of essential components to a diet.” Asplin also asserted that this could be seen as benefit also, because “many Americans over-consume protein”. (Collins & Chang, n.d) Another implication of this finding is that followers of the Alkaline Diet may not have a scientifically correct view of the functioning of their body, and this could lead to potential problems in the future. Followers of the diet may also waste money on expensive products (such as the water ionizer advertised on the holistic website) that do not affect our body in the way that the manufacturers claim.

What are the benefits? Because excess animal protein results in a higher risk of developing kidney stones, “eating a diet rich in vegetables, as with the alkaline diet” can lower this risk, according to Asplin. (Collins & Chang, n.d) It has also been suggested by research that an alkaline diet may slow bone loss and muscle waste, increase the growth hormone, and reduce the risk of certain chronic diseases (these are correlations however, and cannot be stated as a cause-effect relationship). (Schwalfenberg, 2011)

A negative correlation between the alkaline diet and incidence of cancer has also been shown, however the same results were obtained when the vegetarian diet was measured against cancer rates: additionally, as the study was correlational, there were many confounding variables that may have affected the results such exercise, alcohol consumption, smoking, genetics, etc. (Collins & Chang, n.d)

Nolan speaks of this finding, stating that “clinical studies have proved without a doubt that people who eat more fresh fruits and vegetables and hydrate properly do have lower rates of cancer and other diseases”, but that “it probably has nothing to do with blood pH”. (Collins & Chang, n.d)

The journey I took while examining this diet taught me to properly examine the agenda of the source making a claim before choosing to accept it: because the holistic website was advertising the water ionizer, they made claims that were scientifically inaccurate to make the product seem more appealing to customers. Web MD on the other hand, a medical website dedicated to providing people with factual information on clinical practices, provides evidence and information that supports the knowledge we have of the biochemistry of our body.

Thus, William Mundel, the vice chair of the department of General Internal Medicine at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, advises against diets that “want you to buy only their product” (i.e.: the water ionizer), “focus on a narrow spectrum of foods” (i.e.: eliminate all animal fats), and “claim that science has kept something secret, or that someone has discovered something that nobody else knows about”. These are the types of diets that tend to be scientifically wrong. (Collins & Chang, n.d)

* The logical fallacy used is Circular Reasoning / Begging the Question.

References

Chemical Buffer Systems- Acid-Base Balance. (n.d.). Boundless. Retrieved May 22, 2013, from https://www.boundless.com/physiology/fluids-and-acid-base-balance/acid-base-balance/chemical-buffer-systems/

Chemistry Tutorial : Oxygen Transport in Blood. (n.d.). AUS-e-TUTE For Astute Science Students. Retrieved May 22, 2013, from http://www.ausetute.com.au/blood.html

Chemistry for Biologists: Transport of Oxygen in the Blood. (n.d.). Royal Society of Chemistry | Advancing the Chemical Sciences. Retrieved May 22, 2013, from http://www.rsc.org/Education/Teachers/Resources/cfb/transport.htm

Collins, S., & Chang, L. (n.d.). Alkaline Diet: Pros, Cons, and Do They Really Affect Acid Levels in the Body?. WebMD. Retrieved May 22, 2013, from http://www.webmd.com/diet/features/alkaline-diets-what-to-know

Dugdale, D., & Zieve, D. (n.d.). Alkalosis – Symptoms, Diagnosis, Treatment of Alkalosis – NY Times Health Information . Health News – The New York Times. Retrieved May 22, 2013, from http://health.nytimes.com/health/guides/disease/alkalosis/overview.html

Life Balances: Electrolytes. (n.d.). John Kitkoski’s Life Balances Program: Home Page. Retrieved May 22, 2013, from http://www.lifebalancesprogram.com/Library/Electrolytes.html

Schwalfenberg, G. (2011, October 12). The Alkaline Diet: Is There Evidence That an Alkaline pH Diet Benefits Health?. National Center for Biotechnology Information. Retrieved May 22, 2013, from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3195546/

Tamarkin, D. (n.d.). Buffers. STCC Faculty Webpages. Retrieved May 22, 2013, from http://faculty.stcc.edu/AandP/AP/AP2pages/Units21to23/ph/buffers.htm

Wilkinson, J. (n.d.). Acid Alkaline Diet For Dummies – Cheat Sheet. For Dummies . Retrieved May 20, 2013, from http://www.dummies.com/how-to/content/acid-alkaline-diet-for-dummies-cheat-sheet.html

pH balance. (n.d.). Frequency Rising – Alternative Medicine and Holistic Health Products. Retrieved May 22, 2013, from http://www.frequencyrising.com/pH.htm

Oxytocin – drug of morality?

A few days ago while surfing the web, I came across a very interesting episode of Ted Talks regarding the chemical hormone oxytocin and morality.

From biology class I knew that oxytocin is a chemical produced during sex, meant to stimulate emotional attachment and feelings of trust, and an important hormone produced by females during labor. However, I was not aware that there was a specific drug responsible for inducing “morality.” And so, I researched on.

Bottles of oxytocin, this molecule has a 3 minute half-life and is extremely hard to keep at room temperature.
Bottles of oxytocin, this molecule has a 3 minute half-life and is extremely hard to keep at room temperature.

Oxytocin is a hormone produced mainly in the hypothalamus of the brain. From there, it can be released via the pituitary gland into the bloodstream to the rest of the body or it can stay in the brain and spinal cord, binding to oxytocin receptors and thereby influencing emotions and actions.

The hypothalamus produces oxytocin and the pituitary gland distributes it to the rest of the body.
The hypothalamus produces oxytocin and the pituitary gland distributes it to the rest of the body.

According to philosopher and neuroscientist Patricia S. Churchland, “Oxytocin and its cousin-compounds ground the human capacity for empathy.” The research of Paul Zak, neuroeconomist, certainly seems to support this claim. Showing a video of a young cancer patient with his father to a sample population, he and his team then measured their blood and found large increases in oxytocin. Knowing this, they then pioneered a study where “morality” was quantified by the generosity of each subject to a complete stranger. Giving a test subject an certain amount of money, each were told that if they send some of it to another test subject, that amount would be automatically tripled in the holdings of the other person. When oxytocin was introduced nasally into the system of test subjects, Zak found them to be ­­­­ more likely to be willing to give their money away, and thus, his subjects became more trusting. The implication of oxytocin being able to promote empathy, trust, and altruism is that indeed, it should help individuals become more “moral.” As Paul Zak noted during his presentation, his study concluded that heightened levels of oxytocin in the system “caused people to be more generous when asked to share money; and even to donate more money to charity.” But to what extent can we really rely on this molecule to make us better human beings?

According to recent research conducted by Dr. De Dreu, a psychologist of the University of Amersterdam, limitations do exist for this hormone. Based on his social experiments where Dutch test subjects were given moral dilemmas to choose whether or not to throw someone with either a Dutch name or a typical Muslim name to divert the path of a train headed for five nameless victims, “subjects who had taken oxytocin were far more likely to sacrifice the Muhammads than the Maartens.” Dr. De Dreu concluded from his studies that while oxytocin may spur bonding, trust, and empathy between individuals, it is limited to only “in-group” – perhaps to family members, peers, or people of the same race/nationality.

On a macroscopic level, the discovery of the possible connection between this special molecule and morality implicates the reduction of poverty. In conjunction with its tendencies of promoting selflessness, “oxytocin physiologically rewards those who maintain good social bonds with feelings of well-being,” heightening a person’s sense of empathy, and therefore casting them into an ideal mindset to be philanthropists. Aside from financial good deeds, oxytocin may just be the drug of morality simply because producing it makes us feel great. Next time you’re feeling down, go on, and give someone a hug. As Paul Zak states at the end of his Ted Talk, “eight hugs a day, you’ll be happier, and the world will be a better place.”

Bibliography:

DeAngelis , Tori. “The two faces of oxytocin.” American Psychological Association: Monitor on Psychology. 39.Feb. 2008 (2008): 30. Web. 9 Nov. 2011. <http://www.apa.org/monitor/feb08/oxytocin.asp&xgt;.

Wade, Nicholas. “Depth of the Kindness Hormone Appears to Know Some Bounds.” New York Times . 10 Jan 2011: n. page. Web. 9 Nov. 2011. <http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/11/science/11hormone.html>.

“Paul Zak: Trust, morality — and oxytocin.” Infographic. TEDGlobal 2011. Paul Zak . New York City : TED CONFERENCES, LLC, 2011. Web. 9 Nov 2011. <http://www.ted.com/talks/paul_zak_trust_morality_and_oxytocin.html>.

Shea, Christopher . “Rule Breaker.” Chronicle of Higher Education . 12 Jun 2011: n. page. Web. 9 Nov. 2011. <http://chronicle.com/article/The-Biology-of-Ethics/127789/>.

Green Fluorescent Protein: the Art and the Science

This summer I took a course at Rutgers University in New Jersey called GFP: the Art and the Science. It was taught by a biochemistry professor, Dr. William Ward (who had started his own company, Brighter Ideas Inc., to help others realize the potential of GFP), and supposed to be quite difficult. I gleaned this by the topics we were required to write about to get into the program. A lot of them weren’t things that normal students would know off the top of their heads, and questions often had terms like ‘chromophore’ and ‘cyclic tripeptide’ in them. We were supposed to be investigating GFP, a relatively new protein.

Our task was to use biochemistry purification techniques to purify a crude sample of GFP. Dr. Ward and his assistants had inserted the gene for GFP production into e. coli, produced numerous bacteria colonies and put the colonies in to a blender. The result was a green, cloudy, viscous mixture of dead, disembodied bacteria, DNA, other proteins, and ribosomes, etc. These were referred to as ‘contaminants’. Because we only wanted the GFP this meant that we would have to get rid of everything else, which would be difficult. One of the techniques used was chromatography, which is a method for separating substances based on certain criteria, such as charge, polarity, hydrophobicity, density, size, shape, affinity, and solubility. We used ammonium sulfate precipitation, hydrophobic interaction chromatography (HIC), ion exchange chromatography (IEX), and high pressure liquid chromatography (HPLC) to purify the crude GFP sample. After each round of purification we used a spectrophotometer to measure the purity of our sample. We ended up purifying the crude sample, which was only about 25% GFP, to a sample that was nearly 100% GFP. But how to these purification techniques that we used work? Why are they so effective?

GFP

Nearly pure GFP on a UV light

GFP2

samples of the purest GFP

GFP3

collecting samples of GFP as it elutes from the chromatography column

Ammonium sulfate precipitation is a method used to purify GFP by altering its solubility. It solidifies GFP into a mass that does not easily dissolve in water. Therefore, when the crude GFP sample is centrifuged, the GFP separates from the more soluble contaminants by forming a pellet on the bottom. HIC purifies the sample by resulting in only the molecules that have a similar hydrophobicity. IEX purifies the sample by resulting in only molecules with a similar charge. Hydrophobicity and charge are two important characteristics of GFP. By purifying the crude GFP sample using by using these two criteria, a high level of success was ensured.

However, you may be asking yourself why GFP is important. If scientists are interested in purifying it, this must mean that it is worth isolating for further study or for further applications in real life. GFP is special simply because it glows green when exposed blue light. It first came to the public knowledge when a Japanese organic chemist and marine biologist, Osamu Shimamura, decided to investigate what allowed aequorea victoria jellyfish to glow green. He was the first person to isolate GFP from the jellyfish and find out which “part of GFP was responsible for its fluorescence” (Zimmer, Marc). He, along with Roger Tsien and Martin Chalfie won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in the year 2008 for the “discovery and development of the green fluorescent protein GFP” (nobelprize.org, 2008), which only demonstrates the level of interest it has created in the scientific community. GFP can be modified for a large number of uses – it has been used to create glowing animals/pets, used as a marker in a cancer cell to track the activity of cancer in certain situations, and used in brains to create fluorescent multicolored neutrons which result in beautiful rainbow pictures of brain activity. It is even possible for GFP to be manipulated to express different colors. However, in order for GFP to be used in this fashion GFP must first be isolated, purified and studied, which is why the success of our purification was so important. Only by purifying it can the true potential of GFP be realized.

Works Cited

  1. “Martin Chalfie – Autobiography”. Nobelprize.org. 24 Jul 2011 http://nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/chemistry/laureates/2008/chalfie.html
  2. Zimmer, Marc. “Green Fluorescent Protein – GFP History – Osamu Shimomura.” Connecticut College: Home Page. Web. 24 July 2011. <http://www.conncoll.edu/ccacad/zimmer/GFP-ww/shimomura.html>.
  3. Zimmer, Marc. “Green Fluorescent Protein – Cool Uses.” Connecticut College: Home Page. Web. 24 July 2011. < http://www.conncoll.edu/ccacad/zimmer/GFP-ww/cooluses0.html>.

Some pictures:

The rainbow of GFP colors

The rainbow of GFP colors

brainbow1

A “brainbow”

300px-GloFish

glofish – genetically modified pet fish

Image Sources

  1. http://www.conncoll.edu/ccacad/zimmer/GFP-ww/cooluses0.html
  2. google images
  3. Green Fluorescent Protein: Wikipedia.org page

Clone Wars

The other day I was rewatching the famous Jurassic Park movie, one of my personal favorites. I was mainly just looking for some cheap thrills, but before any dinosaurs even showed up I became intrigued by the plot device that revives these extinct creatures. In the movie, a billionaire clones dinosaurs using DNA taken from mosquitoes fossilized in amber. Obviously, this is scientifically inaccurate (or else we’d have dinosaurs today) but the prospect reminded me of an article I read recently, in which a Japanese scientist claims he will clone a woolly mammoth in five years. “Wait, how is it possible to revive an animal that lived almost 6 million years ago?” you may ask. To answer that question we have to explore the process of cloning.

Artistic rendering of a woolly mammoth

Simply put, cloning is “the creation of an organism that is the exact genetic copy of another”. Many organisms reproduce asexually and thus clone themselves naturally, but artificial cloning is a relatively unfamiliar technique. There are two main types of artificial cloning: embryo twinning and the more advanced somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT). Artificial embryo twinning involves imitating the real life creation of twins, in which the fertilized egg, called a zygote, divides into two embryos. The genetically identical embryos are placed in a surrogate mother where they will be delivered.

SCNT is different, as it is the transfer of somatic cells, which are any cell in the body except sex cells. The process takes the nucleus of a somatic cell and places it in an egg cell, where it grows into an embryo. The embryo is implanted into a surrogate mother and carried to term normally. You may have heard of Dolly the sheep, who drew headlines in 1997 when she became the first mammal cloned from an adult cell using SCNT. Since then dozens of other kinds of animals have been cloned, including water buffalo, monkeys and camels.

Now back to woolly mammoths. The scientist plans to transfer frozen mammoth nuclei to an African elephant to hopefully create an embryo with mammoth DNA. And while we’re talking about reviving the dead, let me remind you that the premise of cloning extinct animals is not entirely farfetched. In 2008 the Pyrenean ibex, declared extinct in 2000, was successfully cloned using DNA collected from the last-known survivor. (Sadly, the newborn kid died seven minutes after birth.)

With the success of Dolly inevitably came pondering about the applications of this type of process to humans. We discussed in class that science and medicine don’t treat animals the same as humans. Animal research, for instance, is an invaluable tool for scientists; new drugs and medicines are often first tested on animals so they can be deemed safe for humans. Unsurprisingly, animal cloning is not a big problem but human cloning is a completely different issue. The ethical implications of this type of process are palpable.

The American Medical Association has an entire division dedicated to medical ethics, and their current stance is that “Physicians should not participate in cloning-to-produce-children at this time because further investigation and discussion regarding the harms and benefits of this use of cloning are required.” In my opinion, this is the right stance on the issue because cloning is still a relatively new technique. Like stem cell research or genetic engineering, the entire matter is a good example of science sometimes overstepping moral boundaries imposed by society. Scientific progress is often hindered by these ethical ambiguities, and scientists must be careful when researching controversial topics.

Bibliography

Gray, Richard, and Roger Dobson. “Extinct Ibex Is Resurrected by Cloning.” Telegraph. 31 Jan. 2009. Web. 23 Jan. 2011. <http://www.telegraph.co.uk/science/science-news/4409958/Extinct-ibex-is-resurrected-by-cloning.html>.

Purewal, Sarah Jacobsson. “Scientists to Clone Woolly Mammoth in Five Years.” PCWorld. 17 Jan. 2011. Web. 23 Jan. 2011. <http://www.pcworld.com/article/216872/scientists_to_clone_woolly_mammoth_in_five_years.html>.

“Waking the Baby Mammoth | Time Line.” National Geographic Channel. Web. 23 Jan. 2011. <http://channel.nationalgeographic.com/episode/waking-the-baby-mammoth-3630/time-line>.

“What Is Cloning?” Learn.Genetics™. University of Utah. Web. 23 Jan. 2011. <http://learn.genetics.utah.edu/content/tech/cloning/whatiscloning/>.

CFCs, earth’s cancer

Last week, I went to take a toefl test, and listened to a lecture that was about the depletion of ozone layer due to the synthetic chemical, chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs a.k.a. Freon gas). Since I’m taking IB HL chemistry, I was excited to listen to the lecture. Also, since my father is working at Samsung, mainly the refrigerator and AC department, he often tells me about the importance of reducing the use of CFC. When he was explaining why our family is living abroad, he reasoned this CFCs as one of the major reasons. Since Korea is now considered as a developed country, Korea should not produce CFCs anymore. So, in order for Samsung to keep manufacture the fridge and AC, it was important to move to China. After the lecture, I soon became very curious about how CFCs react with ozone layer and break apart ozone layer.

CFCs are inert, non-toxic, non-flammable, and odor-less synthetic chemicals. They were first synthesized in 1892, but the public couldn’t find their usage until the 1920s. Since they are stable and apparently harmless, CFCs are used as refrigerants in air conditioners and refrigerators, manufacture of foam packaging, and as degreasing agents. Despite CFCs’ diverse usage in industry and science, I was surprised at how CFCs are responsible for the depletion of the ozone layer.

Where ozone depleting substance can be found

How do these non-toxic, non-flammable CFCs are major reasons for the depletion of the ozone layer? After the CFCs are emitted, they are brought up to stratosphere. Let’s talk about stratosphere first. There are five different types of layers in the atmosphere, and stratosphere is between 10km and 50 km altitude This layer is important because it contains ozone layer, which shields lives on earth from the Sun’s harmful ultraviolet (UV) radiation.

Layer of atmosphere
Layer of atmosphere

When the CFCs are brought up to stratosphere by strong upward-moving air currents in the tropics with other chemical compounds such as Methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O) and water, they react with the sunlight (UV), and polar stratospheric clouds (PSCs), and emit chlorine atom, which is highly reactive because it is unstable with seven valence electrons. As soon as atomic chlorine is formed, it reacts with O3, which is ozone, and breaks up the ozone, forming oxygen gas (O2) and ClO.

The reaction with chlorine, nitrogen, oxygen, hydrogen, and bromine gases destroys ozone, and this process is called catalytic processes. A catalytic reaction cycle is a set of chemical reactions, which results in the destructions of many ozone molecules while the molecule that started the reaction is reformed to continue the process. Because of this process, each chlorine atom can on average ruin nearly a thousand ozone molecules before it is converted into a form harmless to ozone. For better understanding, watch the animation (3rd graphic) in the following link. CLICK

CFC

So, what effort did the nations around the world had done to reduce the production of substances that destroy the ozone layer?

In order to reduce the amount of CFCs being emitted, the Montreal Protocol, an international treaty, was designed to protect ozone layer by phasing out the production of substances that was believed to be responsible for ozone destruction. Since September 16, 1987, when the agreement was signed, it has undergone seven revisions. As a result, the amount of CFCs and other substances that break up the ozone has been reduced significantly.

World reduction of CFC
World reduction of CFC

The reduction of CFCs has brought significant change in my life. Because Korea cannot emit any CFCs anymore, our family had to move to China. Also, it has affected my father’s industry greatly. First of all, economically, Samsung now has to spend more money to get substitutes for CFCs and getting efficient substitute is its one of the major problems they need to solve. Also, the world regulation of CFCs changes the current of what the big companies around the world focus on when they manufacture goods. For example, Samsung, since it is not allowed to emit any CFCs or other substances that might harm the ozone layer, will now try to transfer its technologies to the developing countries, and develop new fields, such as medical machineries.

Bibliography

“where ozone depleting substances can be found.” the ozone hole. Web. 15 Jan 2011. <http://www.theozonehole.com/ozonedestruction.htm>.

“The CFC Problem.” CFCs. Web. 15 Jan 2011. <http://www.theozonehole.com/cfc.htm>.

“World production of CFCs.” CFCs. Web. 15 Jan 2011.

Welch, Charles. “Ozone destruction.” The ozone hole. The Ozone Hole Inc., n.d. Web. 15 Jan 2011. <http://www.theozonehole.com/ozonedestruction.htm>.

Welch, Charles. “Ozone destruction.” The ozone hole. The Ozone Hole Inc., n.d. Web. 15 Jan 2011. <http://www.theozonehole.com/cfc.htm>.

An Arctic Without Ice

Global warming and the destruction of our planet have been topics of great concern for years now. It seems as though I’m constantly being reminded to reduce, reuse, and recycle, to take quick showers to waste less water, and conserve energy by turning off the air conditioning. Now that 2011 has begun, being “green” and “eco-friendly” has become all the more important. But still people (and by people I do include myself as well) do not understand the severity of the issue. Many believe that greenhouse gases are not a problem our generation will have to face and simply put the worry aside. Although perhaps no one explicitly said it, it was my generation and the future’s problem to solve. Sadly, however, the consequences of the deterioration of the environment may be nearer in the future than expected. One very recent example is “that the fate of [the Arctic waters] was almost certainly wrong”, reports NewScientist in its debrief of 2010 science.

IFA1

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) apologized for its inaccurate prediction – concluded by “non-peer-reviewed sources” – of the time at which the Arctic would become ice-free. In fact, the date first proposed by the IPCC is now predicted to occur at least 30 years earlier, in 2035.

IFA2

The Arctic ice extent has decreased more rapidly than expected in the last 30 years. As the summer season – the melting period – lengthens and intensifies, more sea ice melts. At the same time, the ocean water absorbs solar energy, increasing the heat content of the ocean and delaying the formation of ice in autumn and winter. Therefore with global warming causing temperatures to increase, more sea ice disappears during summer without having the time to reform in winter.

However, NASA believes that global warming is not to blame for this decrease in the Arctic’s ice extent. Scientist Son Nghiem explained that as perennial ice (the thicker, more lasting ice) diminished in the last several years, the Arctic Ocean was “dominated by thinner seasonal ice,” which would melt much faster and responds more quickly to winds. These Arctic winds compress the sea ice and move it out of the Arctic to lower warmer latitudes, where the ice melts quickly. The shift from perennial to seasonal ice decreases the “reflectivity of Earth’s surface,” allowing for more solar energy to be absorbed by ocean water.

IFA3

Whether by Arctic winds or global warming, the ice extent is still predicted to be practically nonexistent in the Arctic by 2035. Using satellite observations, scientists have theorized this new date and having learned from their previous error, these “computer stimulations indicate that Arctic sea ice retreat will not continue at a constant rate into the future,” explains the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

This Arctic time bomb presents a threat to hundreds of its inhabitants, including seals and polar bears, both which rely on the ice for survival. Recent studies estimate that the polar bear population will decline by more than 30 [ercent in 45 years simply due to reduced habit range and quality. Along with a climate change in nearby areas, coastal areas around the world could be gravely affected. The melting ice contributes to the global sea level; the “complete melting of the Greenland ice sheet would result in over a 20-foot rise in global sea level,” states The Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming. Oceanic currents could also be affected, disturbing marine ecosystems and weather patterns.

IFA4

But it’s not 2035 just yet. Individual countries within and nearby the Arctic zone, as well as international organizations, are conducting research to try to find solutions to this Arctic “shrinkage”. Geo-engineering is also working to slow global warming. Plans to save the Arctic – according to “A Geo-Engineering Proposal to Save the Arctic” by David Sassoon – have included building a 300 kilometer-long dam in the Bering Sea to halt permafrost thawing and melting, fertilizing the ocean with urea, and deploying mirrors in space. Evidently, there is room for improvement and more proposals in geo-engineering.

As IPCC’s first prediction, this new prognosis may be equally as false with the increasingly high temperatures. Although the Arctic will surely be monitored closely for any change in its negative progression, it may not be long until we hear news of its even more rapid decline. It is thus important for people to realize how soon and drastic measures to save the Arctic are needed to be taken. 2035 may not signify the end of the world as we know it, but it will be catastrophic for all if the environment continues to worsen.

Bibliography:

“Future of Arctic Sea Ice and Global Impacts – Sea Ice.” NOAA Arctic Theme Page: a Comprehensive Arctic Resource. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Web. 12 Jan. 2011.

“Global Warming Impact Zones | The Arctic Circle.” Impact Zone – The Arctic Circle. The Select Committee for Energy Independence and Global Warming. Web. 12 Jan. 2011.

Highfield, Roger. “Global Warming Forecast Predicts Rise in 2014 – Telegraph.”Telegraph.co.uk – Telegraph Online, Daily Telegraph and Sunday Telegraph – Telegraph. 09 Aug. 07. Web. 12 Jan. 2011.

“Ice-Free Arctic.” Skeptical Science: Examining Global Warming Skepticism. 7 Nov. 2010. Web. 12 Jan. 2011.

“NASA – NASA Examines Arctic Sea Ice Changes Leading to Record Low in 2007.” NASA Examines Arctic Sea Ice Changes Leading to Record Low in 2007. NASA – Home. Web. 12 Jan. 2011.

Sassoon, David. “A Geo-Engineering Proposal to Save the Arctic | SolveClimate News.”SolveClimate News | Daily Climate News and Analysis. Solve Climate News, 23 Sept. 2008. Web. 12 Jan. 2011.

“Short Sharp Science: 2010 Review: A Year in Brief.” Science News and Science Jobs from New Scientist – New Scientist. New Scientist TV, 31 Dec. 2010. Web. 12 Jan. 2011.

Geo-Engineering, AKA Plan B

Global Warming.

Those words just jump out of the page, don’t they? Immediately, pictures are conjured of flooding, icebergs melting and deserts forming. When confronted with a solution, the first things that popped into my head were images of electric cars and solar panels. The last thing that I would think of would be artificially changing the climate. Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to Geo-Engineering, AKA ‘intentional large scale manipulation of the global environment’ (Hall).

Fig. 1: Ready for some Geo-Engineering?

A combination of an earlier blog post, and a personal interest in the subject of global warming prompted me to seek alternate solutions to global warming. This is what brought me to geo-engineering.

Currently, one of the major ideas in the subject is to emulate the eruption of a volcano. In 1991, Mount Pinatubo, in the Philippines, erupted, sending millions of tonnes of dust and debris in the air in a cloud that hung in the air for over a year. According to the Scientific American, a notable scholarly journal, this screen reflected around 2 percent of sunlight , and as a result, global temperatures fell by half a degree Celsius. Geoengineers have emulated the same process by injecting a mist of sulphuric acid  into the stratosphere (20-25 km up, The Economist) using modified planes or blimps. To keep up this screen, it is estimated that only a modest 80 aircraft would be needed. (The Economist). Spraying a million tons of sulphuric acid each using these aircraft, with an operational life of 20 years would add up to only 1-2 Billion US Dollars each year, an amazingly low amount, when confronted with the astronomical figures needed to create means to reduce emissions. This, over a few years, could cool down the Earth by a few degrees! From an economist’s point of view, this is just amazing.

Fig. 2: A Lockheed P-791: An experimental aircraft that could possibly do the job.

Sadly, this is not all there is to it. It is true that when Mount Pinatubo erupted in 1991, global temperatures cooled by half a degree, however, ozone levels in the atmosphere fell by a staggering 3%. Current research suggests that this insertion of sulphuric acid into the stratosphere would lead to the degeneration of the ozone layer, and an increase amount of ultraviolet (UV) radiation coming through. Also, worryingly, all current environmental simulations predict that spraying sulphuric acid into the atmosphere will result in decreased rainfall in specific areas of the world- in some places more than others. This means that an agreement on this process could also result in intense political ramifications, especially in today’s nuclear-armed world. These are some of the reasons why this process has not been adopted.

Other potential ideas to orchestrate this artificial climate change would be to dump millions of tonnes of Calcium Oxide (quicklime) into the ocean, which would trap carbon dioxide in the ocean. Unfortunately, millions of tonnes of quicklime deposited in the ocean could change the pH levels of the ocean, causing much harm among the sensitive inhabitants of the deeps.

Fig. 3: Foraminifera, a species of plankton that has increasing difficulty to create its protective shell with increasing ocean acidity levels.

It is what it is- a plan B. A cheaper, though harmful solution to a major problem that we ourselves have caused. The undertaking of these policies could destroy ecosystems, change weather patterns and ocean currents. Economically speaking, it is a godsend, but environmentally speaking, it is completely unethical. As an environmentally conscious student, I would have to take the environmentalist side, as its effects outweigh its benefits- I believe in reversing this problem, not taking shortcuts. However, this does not mean that we should disregard geo-engineering. The future is promising. Already, alternate ideas, such as bleaching roofs white to reflect sunlight, are emerging. As research goes on, who knows what will be discovered. The future may not be as hot as we think it will be.

Works Cited:

Biello, David. “What Is Geoengineering and Why Is It Considered a Climate Change Solution?.” Scientific American 06 Apr 2010: Web. 22 Nov 2010. <http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=geoengineering-and-climate-change>.

“Geoengineering Lift-off.” Economist 04 Nov 2010: Web. 22 Nov 2010. <http://www.economist.com/node/17414216>.

Hall, Wayne. “Climate Change and Geoengineering.”Global Research 20 Oct 2005: Web. 22 Nov 2010. <http://www.globalresearch.ca/index.php?context=va&aid=1120>

“Chlorinating” Haiti

The earthquake in Haiti is perhaps the most frequently discussed issue in recent days. And it has every right and need to be so. Everywhere I go, I’d hear about the disaster, devastation, deaths and such immediate impacts. Jessie’s earlier post had covered the scientific explanation of earthquakes, and here we will discuss some of its immediate implications, and relevant solutions.

Haiti
Haiti

I had volunteered during the relief effort for the Sichuan Earthquake over a year ago (an earthquake in China of a similar devastating caliber), so I have some personal perspective into what this sort of disaster entails. Often, beyond the direct damages caused by the earthquake, there is also a second level of harm, caused from infections from wounds, malnutrition, or the subsequent diseases and epidemics caused by the lack of adequate medical care or sufficient aid in food or water.

However, I have also heard frustrating news about the aid being delayed, due to bureaucracy and other issues. As a result, I decided to look into some solutions that science may provide us.

A volunteer injects chlorinated chlorine into drinking water in Zimbabwe
A volunteer injects chlorinated chlorine into drinking water in Zimbabwe

Chlorine chemistry is an effective application of science to clean water, and is currently employed by many donors as a form of aid for Haiti.  Arch Chemicals, an American chlorine and biocides manufacturer, is providing their relief in the form of tablet chlorinators.

After some research, I found out that Chlorine and many of its compounds are “highly toxic,” (Derry, 202) and could have direct effects on humans. Furthermore, “chlorine compounds such as chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs) are potent greenhouse gases. In the stratosphere, chlorine radicals break off and catalyse the destruction of ozone.” (Derry, 202)

So why would we add such a dangerous substance to drinking water?

This is a process called “chlorination”, invented by a US Army Major, who realized that adding chlorine to water was “the most effective way of killing the micro-organisms which cause disease was by chlorination”

Lewis-structure diagram of chlorine
Lewis-structure diagram of chlorine

Chlorine, with seven valence electrons on its outer shell, will readily accept an electron, and is thus highly reactive. When added to water, chlorine reacts and forms hypochlorous acid and hydrochloric acid.

Cl2(g) + H2O(l) –> HOCl(aq) + HCl(aq)

The HOCL then dissociates in water to form H+ and OCL- ions. These chemicals “penetrate the…protective membrane…[of] pathogens (agents that cause disease).

The addition of chlorine serves two main functions to cleaning water:

  1. killing bacteria and micro-organisms
  2. remains as a residue to prevent new bacteria from contaminating the water
Donated clean water to be distributed in Haiti
Donated clean water to be distributed in Haiti

At the end of my research, I am pleasantly surprised that what began as a personal musing about a current issue had turned into a scientific investigation. This is an example of how science can be practically applied to take an active role in solving a social and political issue. Indeed, Haiti is not simply a issue for social science classes. We can apply statistics to analyse the damage, make a dramatic rendition, music, or painting of the catastrophe, or write about it in a creative piece. It comes to show how the different subjects (areas of knowledge) we learn in school, whether science, math, history, or English, are all so relevant and essentially interrelated.

Works Cited

Derry, Lanna, Fiona Clark, Janette Ellis, Faye Jeffery, and Carol Jordan. Chemistry for use with the IB Diploma Programme Options Standard and Higher Level. 1st ed. Pearson, 2009. Print.

A Dollar Saved is a Quarter Earned.

I’m a shell collector. I love walking along beaches and rummaging around for  pretty shells and shiny round rocks. My magpie-like tendencies have caused me to lunge for the shine of half buried beer bottle caps and worthless shards of cheap deep blue glass. One rare find on the beach, is a sand dollar. I recently was given a sand dollar by a friend of mine and looking closely at it, I realized I have no idea what a sand dollar actually is! When I was young  my mother told me it was mermaid money, and as I got older I assumed that it housed a small sea creature, but that creature would have to be really small! So I decided to investigate the nature of these strange beach treasures. Here is what I found…

Sand Dollars belong to the phyla Echinodermata which means “spiny skins”, and when alive are round and flat,  growing to about 8 centimeters  in diameter. Ranging in color from gray to blackish-red, but usually a dark purple, the texture of its case/shell gives the Sand Dollar a velvety look. Thus they retain a soft and distinctively non shell-like appearance. White Sand Dollars found on the beach are actually the dried shells of the dead animals. Enjoying clean sand and shallow water, the Sand Dollar feeds on diatoms (photosynthetic algae) and detritus (organic waste material from decomposing dead plants or animals). Food is moved by tiny cilia (movable hair-like projections) to the mouth, which is located near the middle of the underside of the shell.

Sand Dollars come in many colours.
Sand Dollars come in many colours.

The closest phylogenetic relative to the Sand Dollar is the Sea Urchin, despite their decidedly differing appearances. The Sand Dollar is flat with tiny spines on the top of its soft shell. Those tiny spines and its tube feet contribute to the above described velvety look.  Sea Urchins are prickly-looking marine animals, spherical in shape and covered with long movable spines. Sand Dollars, along with Sea Urchins, are consumed by  sea stars, snails, and skates.

Sand Dollar Detail
Sand Dollar in detail.

Because Sand Dollars prefer warm shallow areas with clear sand, the same area preferred by human resort developers, their populations are somewhat threatened as more and more humans desire a visit to the beach. As of yet they are not officially endangered. It seems that this is the life of marine animals. Oceans are big and people seem to think that if its in the ocean, its no longer a concern. For example, the garbage islands floating in the Pacific mires of discarded toothbrushes, old plastic shreds and tires, are the result of an endless dumping of human made trash into the oceans. Just think: if Sand Dollars were killed by the pollution of our only world’s oceans, I would never have recieved a pretty shell as a gift, (Sand Dollars have an off-center flower with five petals on their top). I also would never have explored a little biological anatomy and learned about an animal that has been around for millions of years.

Are Laws Better Left Unbroken?

(adapted from my post in the ToK Blog)

As I sat in math class today, Mr. Thiessen made a comment on the famous cartoon character “Bugs Bunny.” He was amused by these shows because they “broke almost every law of physics.” For example, when two characters fall off a plane, they actually accelerate at differing rates over differing time periods, allowing them to take turns to whack each other over the head.

Characters of Looney Toons
Characters of Looney Toons

For a rational thinker, the claim may be hard to comprehend. Mr. Thiessen, in addition to being our math teacher, is a highly-educated physicist. With his academic background, he should be an avid supporter of the laws of physics, and it is, one would believe, clearly out of character that he should love something for breaking those laws.

In fact, the laws of natural sciences are often upheld to authority beyond reproach. In my experience, when one hears a claim or argument that is backed by scientific research or a widely accepted theory, the claim is usually qualified as reliable. Scientific discovery provide the backbone to our urban lives, from everyday utilities such as the lamp or the microwave, to experimental cloning and the Large Hadron Collider.

The Large Hadron Collider
The Large Hadron Collider

However, Mr. Thiessen’s sentiment is not difficult to understand. Absurd cartoons like “Looney Toons” or “Tom and Jerry” are loved by viewers because of their eccentricity. By breaking these laws of natural sciences (talking animals, anyone?), it had elevated the plot beyond real life, and was appealing to emotion, to the innate desire for adventure inside, I’m sure, the many of us.

Furthermore, the breaking of physics laws provides spectacle, an essential element of drama. This appeal to sense perception through visual and sound elements will invariably raise the audience’s interest.

Tom and Jerry
Tom and Jerry

Of course, laws are important to us. Legal restrictions set forth by the government maintain order in society, so that we don’t have murderers and rapists running free on our streets. The laws of grammar are the backbone to most languages (at least, those that I am aware of), and allow the writing to be structured and comprehensible. Laws of ethics, our moral standards, decide much of our paradigms, and define what we believe we should or should not do.

These laws define an ideal society, at least to those who envisioned these rules. Yet, to me, and I’m sure also to Bugs Bunny, perfection is boring. And sometimes, laws can in fact be broken.

Had the colonists not rebelled against the British Tea Tax and Stamp Taxes, America would have probably remained under colonial rule. We would probably be attending the Shanghai British School. Some of the most acclaimed writers and poets, by the likes of Langston Hughes or Franz Kafka, have often broken the rules of grammar in their writing. Moral standards are more constant, and are regarded as our fundamental principles, but that doesn’t mean they are invincible to change. We don’t still cut off the noses of our infidel wives, do we?

Thinking Outside the Box
Thinking Outside the Box

We need not disregard all laws and plunge into anarchy, but we need realize that sometimes, it’s fine to break the laws. So, let’s sit back, relax, and watch Bugs Bunny shatter the accomplishments of brilliant physicists into many, many pieces.