A New Animation Explains How Caffeine Keeps Us Awake

Let’s preface this by recalling that Honoré de Balzac drank up to 50 cups of coffee a day and lived to the ripe old age of … 51.

Of course, he produced dozens of novels, plays, and short stories before taking his leave. Perhaps his caffeine habit had a little something to do with that?

Pharmacist Hanan Qasim’s TED-Ed primer on how caffeine keeps us awake top loads the positive effects of the most world’s commonly used psychoactive substance. Global consumption is equivalent to the weight of 14 Eiffel Towers, measured in drops of coffee, soda, chocolate, energy drinks, decaf…and that’s just humans. Insects get theirs from nectar, though with them, a little goes a very long, potentially deadly way.




Caffeine’s structural resemblance to the neurotransmitter adenosine is what gives it that special oomph. Adenosine causes sleepiness by plugging into neural receptors in the brain, causing them to fire more sluggishly. Caffeine takes advantage of their similar molecular structures to slip into these receptors, effectively stealing adenosine’s parking space.

With a bioavailability of 99%, this interloper arrives ready to party.

On the plus side, caffeine is both a mental and physical pick me up.

In appropriate doses, it can keep your mind from wandering during a late night study session.

It lifts the body’s metabolic rate and boosts performance during exercise—an effect that’s easily counteracted by getting the bulk of your caffeine from chocolate or sweetened soda, or by dumping another Eiffel Tower’s worth of sugar into your coffee.

There’s even some evidence that moderate consumption may reduce the likelihood of such diseases as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and cancer.

What to do when that caffeine effect starts wearing off?

Gulp down more!

As with many drugs, prolonged usage diminishes the sought-after effects, causing its devotees (or addicts, if you like) to seek out higher doses, negative side effects be damned. Nervous jitters, incontinence, birth defects, raised heart rate and blood pressure… it’s a compelling case for sticking with water.

Animator Draško Ivezić (a 3-latte-a-day man, according to his studio’s website) does a hilarious job of personifying both caffeine and the humans in its thrall, particularly an egg-shaped new father.

Go to TED-Ed to learn more, or test your grasp of caffeine with a quiz.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

The Periodic Table of Elements Presented as Interactive Haikus

British poet and speculative fiction writer recently got a little creative with the Periodic Table, writing one haiku for each element.

Carbon

Show-stealing diva,
throw yourself at anyone,
decked out in diamonds.

Silicon

Locked in rock and sand,
age upon age
awaiting the digital dawn.

Strontium

Deadly bone seeker
released by Fukushima;
your sweet days long gone.

You can access the complete Elemental haiku here.

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via Mental Floss

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Interactive Periodic Table of Elements Shows How the Elements Actually Get Used in Making Everyday Things

Keith Enevoldsen, a software engineer at Boeing, has created an Interactive Periodic Table of Elements. As you might expect, the table shows the name, symbol, and atomic number of each element. But even better, it illustrates the main way in which we use, or come into contact with, each element in everyday life. For example, Cadmium you will find in batteries, yellow paints, and fire sprinklers. Argon you'll encounter in light bulbs and neon tubes. And Boron in soaps, semiconductors and sports equipment.

The Interactive Periodic Table of Elements (click here to access it) is a handy tool for chemistry teachers and students, but also for anyone interested in how the elements make a chemical contribution to our world. Also worth noting: Enevoldsen has released his Interactive Table under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

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via Mental Floss

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The Map of Chemistry: New Animation Summarizes the Entire Field of Chemistry in 12 Minutes

Philosophers, technologists, and futurists spend a good deal of time obsessing about the nature of reality. Recently, no small number of such people have come together to endorse the so-called “simulation argument,” the mind-boggling, sci-fi idea that everything we experience exists as a virtual performance inside a computer system more sophisticated than we could ever imagine. It’s a scenario right out of Philip K. Dick, and one Dick believed possible. It’s also, perhaps, terminally theoretical and impossible to verify.

So... where might the perplexed turn should they want to understand the world around them? Are we doomed to experience reality—as postmodern theorist Jean Baudrillard thought—as nothing more than endless simulation? It's a little old-fashioned, but maybe we could ask a scientist? One like physicist, science writer, educator Dominic Walliman, whose series of short videos offer to the layperson “maps” of physics, math, and, just above, chemistry.




Walliman’s ingenious teaching tools excel in conveying a tremendous amount of complex information in a comprehensive and intelligible way. We not only get an overview of each field’s intellectual history, but we see how the various subdisciplines interact.

One of the oddities of chemistry is that it was once just as much, if not more, concerned with what isn’t. Many of the tools and techniques of modern chemistry were developed by alchemists—magicians, essentially, whom we would see as charlatans even though they included in their number such towering intellects as Isaac Newton. Walliman does not get into this strange story, interesting as it is. Instead, he begins with a prehistory of sorts, pointing out that since humans started using fire, cooking, and working with metal we have been engaging in chemistry.

Then we’re launched right into the basic building blocks—the parts of the atom and the periodic table. If, like me, you passed high school chemistry by writing a song about the elements as a final project, you may be unlikely to remember the various types of chemical bonds and may never have heard of “Van der Waals bonding.” There's an opportunity to look something up. And there's nothing wrong with being a primarily auditory or visual learner. Walliman's instruction does a real service for those who are.

Walliman moves through the basics briskly and into the differences between and uses of organic and inorganic chemistry. As the animation pulls back to reveal the full map, we see it is comprised of two halves: “rules of chemistry” and “areas of chemistry.” We do not get explanations for the extreme end of the latter category. Fields like “computational chemistry” are left unexplored, perhaps because they are too far outside Walliman's expertise. One refreshing feature of the videos on his “Domain of Science” channel is their intellectual humility.

If you’ve enjoyed the physics and mathematics videos, for example, you should check back in with their Youtube pages, where Walliman has posted lists of corrections. He has a list as well on the chemistry video page. “I endeavour to be as accurate as possible in my videos," he writes here, "but I am human and definitely don’t know everything, so there are sometimes mistakes. Also, due to the nature of my videos, there are bound to be oversimplifications." It’s an admission that, from my perspective, should inspire more, not less, confidence in his instruction. Ideally, scientists should be driven by curiosity, not vanity, though that is also an all-too-human trait. (See many more maps, experiments, instructional videos, and talks on Walliman's website.)

In the “Map of Physics,” you’ll note that we eventually reach a gaping “chasm of ignorance”—a place where no one has any idea what’s going on. Maybe this is where we reach the edges of the simulation. But most scientists, whether physicists, chemists, or mathematicians, would rather reserve judgment and keep building on what they know with some degree of certainty. You can see a full image of the “Map of Chemistry” further up, and purchase a poster version here.

Find Free Chemistry Courses in our collection, 1,300 Free Online Courses from Top Universities.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Periodic Table Battleship!: A Fun Way To Learn the Elements

periodic-table-battleship

Nitrogen.

Phosphorous.

Arsenic.

Aw, you sunk my battleship!

Milton Bradley’s classic board game, Battleship, can now be added to the roster of fun, creative ways to commit the Periodic Table of Elements to memory.

Karyn Tripp, a homeschooling mother of four, was inspired by her eldest’s love of science to create Periodic Table Battleship. I might suggest that the game is of even greater value to those who don’t naturally gravitate toward the subject.

Faced with the option of learning the elements via shower curtain or coffee mug osmosis, I think I’d prefer to take out an opponent’s submarine.

Rules of engagement are very similar to the original. Rather than calling out positions on a grid, players set their torpedoes for specific element names, abbreviations or coordinates. Advanced players might go for the atomic number. the lingo is the same: “hit,” “miss” and---say it with me---“you sunk my battleship!

The winner is the player who wipes out the other’s fleet, though I might toss the loser a couple of reinforcement vessels, should he or she demonstrate passing familiarity with various metals, halogens, and noble gases.

To make your own Periodic Table Battleship set you will need:

4 copies of the Periodic Table (laminate them for reuse)

2 file folders

paper clips, tape or glue

2 markers (dry erase markers if playing with laminated tables

To Assemble and Play:

As you know, the Periodic Table is already numbered along the top. Label each of the four tables'  vertical rows alphabetically (to help younger players and those inclined to fruitless searching for the elements designated by their opponent)

Fasten two Periodic Tables to each folder, facing the same direction.

Uses markers to circle the position of your ships on the lower Table:

5 consecutive spaces: aircraft carrier

4 consecutive spaces: battleship

3 consecutive spaces: destroyer or submarine

2 consecutive spaces: patrol boat

Prop the folders up with books or some other method to prevent opponents from sneaking peeks at your maritime strategy.

Take turns calling out coordinates, element names, abbreviations or atomic numbers:

When a turn results in a miss, put an X on the corresponding spot on the upper table.

When a turn results in a hit, circle the corresponding spot on the upper table.

Continue play until the battle is won.

Repeat until the Table of Elements is mastered.

Supplement liberally with Tom Lehrer’s Elements song.

Those not inclined toward arts and crafts can purchase a pre-made  Periodic Table Battleship set from Tripp’s Etsy shop.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker, secular homeschooler and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Her play Zamboni Godot is opening in New York City in March 2017. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

The Periodic Table of Elements Scaled to Show The Elements’ Actual Abundance on Earth

elements_relative_abundance

When you learned about The Periodic Table of Elements in high school, it probably didn't look like this. Above, we have a different way of visualizing the elements. Created by Professor William F. Sheehan at Santa Clara University in 1970, this chart takes the elements (usually shown like this) and scales them relative to their abundance on the Earth's surface. In the small print beneath the chart, Sheehan notes "The chart emphasizes that in real life a chemist will probably meet O, Si, Al [Oxygen, Silicon and Aluminum] and that he better do something about it." Click here to see the chart -- and the less abundant elements -- in a larger format. Below we have a few more creative takes on the Periodic Table.

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via Pickover

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The Chemistry Behind the Smell of Old Books: Explained with a Free Infographic

Aroma-Chemistry-The-Smell-of-Books-724x1024

What gives old books that ever-so-distinctive smell? Andy Brunning, a chemistry teacher in the UK, gives us all a quick primer with this infographic posted on his web site, Compound Interest. The visual comes accompanied by this textual explanation. Writes Brunning:

Generally, it is the chemical breakdown of compounds within paper that leads to the production of ‘old book smell’. Paper contains, amongst other chemicals, cellulose, and smaller amounts of lignin – much less in more modern books than in books from more than one hundred years ago. Both of these originate from the trees the paper is made from; finer papers will contain much less lignin than, for example, newsprint. In trees, lignin helps bind cellulose fibres together, keeping the wood stiff; it’s also responsible for old paper’s yellowing with age, as oxidation reactions cause it to break down into acids, which then help break down cellulose.

‘Old book smell’ is derived from this chemical degradation. Modern, high quality papers will undergo chemical processing to remove lignin, but breakdown of cellulose in the paper can still occur (albeit at a much slower rate) due to the presence of acids in the surroundings. These reactions, referred to generally as ‘acid hydrolysis’, produce a wide range of volatile organic compounds, many of which are likely to contribute to the smell of old books. A selected number of compounds have had their contributions pinpointed: benzaldehyde adds an almond-like scent; vanillin adds a vanilla-like scent; ethyl benzene and toluene impart sweet odours; and 2-ethyl hexanol has a ‘slightly floral’ contribution. Other aldehydes and alcohols produced by these reactions have low odour thresholds and also contribute.

The Aroma of Books infographic can be viewed in a larger format here. And because it has been released under a Creative Commons license, it can be downloaded for free. For another explanation of this phenomenon -- this one in video -- see this previous post in our archive:  The Birth and Decline of a Book: Two Videos for Bibliophiles

Follow Open Culture on Facebook and Twitter and share intelligent media with your friends. Or better yet, sign up for our daily email and get a daily dose of Open Culture in your inbox. 

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via IFLScience

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