Old-school chemistry set mimics one made in 1936

When I was young, I found my father's old geology sample set from when he was a kid. One of the rocks had a faintly yellowish look to it and was labeled "uranium." Ah, those were the good old days. Liability worries and an overly protective society have taken a lot of the fun out of science kits for kids. The Heirloom Chemistry Set Kickstarter wants to bring the magic back.

A quick look at chemistry sets on Amazon finds a lot on offer, but few that sound compelling. Most have a token number of bland chemicals to work with, not the sort of mad-scientist, chemistry-explorer type of environment that really gets kids excited.… Read more

Glow-in-the-dark ice cream: Next food craze?

Novelty foods are all the rage. Just look at the cronut craze that hit New York earlier this fall, with fans shelling out upward of $100 and waiting hours in line for a taste of the new twist on the breakfast staple.

Now, a British foodie has unveiled what might become the next cronut: glow-in-the-dark ice cream.

To create the glowing treat, inventor and entrepreneur Charlie Francis, founder of the Lick Me I'm Delicious ice cream company, synthesized the protein that gives jellyfish their glow. It's similar to the way that scientists produced glowing bunnies earlier this year. … Read more

Engineers write programming language to help build synthetic DNA

Chemical reaction networks make up an old language of equations that detail how chemicals behave together. Now engineers at the University of Washington are taking this language into the 21st century with a computer program for chemistry that can help direct the movement of synthetic molecules.

This standardized set of instructions on how to "program" how DNA molecules interact in a test tube or cell could pave the way for smart drug delivery systems and disease detectors at the cellular level, the researchers report this week in the journal Nature Nanotechnology.… Read more

Eureka! A scientific formula for the perfect grilled cheese

Science has provided us with many wondrous things, but what about dinner? Well, actually, it has gone there too, but generally, molecular gastronomy tends to consider itself a little above the humble cheese on toast.

Luckily, we have the British Cheese Board and the Royal Society of Chemists. Together, they have performed rigorous testing on grilling conditions and conceived a scientific formula for creating the absolute perfect grilled cheese. … Read more

Experimenting with fireballs in space

Here on planet Earth we're used to flames -- whether from a candle or campfire -- reaching upward to the sky with slender limbs hungry for oxygen and driven by rising hot air. But in space, sans our planet's strong gravitational pull, flames are more likely to take the shape of eerie fireballs.

Within the flame of a regular candle wick, there's quite a bit going on. As the video below released this week by NASA explains, molecules from the wick are being cracked apart and vaporized by the flame, then combined with oxygen to produce light, heat, carbon dioxide, and water, as well as soot.

In recent years we've become quite familiar with how flames can extend and expand quickly in their greedy quest for more fuel and oxygen; witness countless western wildfires of the past decade. But researchers aboard the International Space Station have observed that flames in microgravity behave much differently, staying in a small spherical shape and letting oxygen molecules come to them.… Read more

Tiny crystal flowers bloom in a beaker

When you think of the word "crystal," you think, perhaps, of wedges of quartz stone, ice crystals, and salt -- not organic flowing forms or flowers. But by manipulating chemical gradients in a beaker of fluid, Harvard postdoctoral fellow Wim L. Noorduin has managed to control the growth of barium carbonate crystals to form very controlled sculptures of flowers, with petals, stems, and leaves.

How the crystal forms depends on the mixture of chemicals in a solution. As the chemical gradients react, the pH can change, causing the crystals to grow away from or toward the gradient, enabling Noorduin to coax the forms into leaves radiating outward, a ling, thin stem, or the petals of the flower head. … Read more

NASA confirms rumors about Mars discovery 'incorrect'

What were you hoping for with the big juicy Mars discovery that a NASA researcher hinted at? Aliens? Kuato? Jimmy Hoffa?

As you'll no doubt recall, NASA investigator John Grotzinger was quoted as saying that data from the Curiosity rover suggested a discovery of epic significance. Well, here's your official oven-fresh serving of disappointment.

Today NASA confirmed there's no earth-shaking finding from the soil samples analyzed with Curiosity's on-board chemistry lab. … Read more

Life's first cells may have evolved in geothermal pools

Earth started as a violent place, its surface churned by continuous volcanic eruptions and cloaked in an atmosphere that would have been poisonous to today's life-forms. Furthermore, the thin primeval atmosphere may have provided only scant protection from the young sun's harsh ultraviolet glare. Given these inhospitable conditions, scientists have long wondered: How did the first cells come to be nearly 4 billion years ago?

Conventional scientific wisdom holds that life arose in the sea. But a new study suggests that the first cells--or at least the ones that left descendants still extant--got their start in geothermal pools, … Read more

Google Doodle celebrates Vitamin C pioneer with oranges

Google continues its growing tradition of celebrating scientific and cultural pioneers who might not be household names, but whose work is part of our daily lives. While today's citrus-filled doodle on the search engine front page first appears to indicate that Google has sold out to Tropicana, it's actually a tribute to Albert Szent-Györgyi's 118th birthday.

What, you weren't already taking the day off to celebrate? In case you're not in the know, Albert, whose full name is Albert von Szent-Györgyi de Nagyrápol, is the person credited with discovering Vitamin C and the citric acid cycle. That work earned him a Nobel Prize in 1937. He was also one of the first to look into connections between free radicals and cancer, and according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, "his discoveries about the biochemical nature of muscular contraction revolutionized the field of muscle research."… Read more

Green chemicals company Genomatica files for IPO

Genomatica, a company that makes chemicals from plants rather than oil, said today it plans to go public and raise $100 million.

The company today filed its S-1 document with the Securities and Exchange Commission and laid out its strategy and risks. Genomatica follows a handful of other green-tech companies that have filed to go public this year, despite the recent rocky ride of the stock markets.

San Diego-based Genomatica makes industrial chemicals used in the production of everyday products, such as plastics used in car interiors, pharmaceuticals, and apparel.

Instead of using oil or natural gas as a feedstock … Read more