Friday, July 13, 2012


I totally enjoy forensic science, and chemistry is my obsession. So that leads one to wonder about what my future profession may be. Well, here is the thing, I love explosives. If it goes boom, I will find it fascinating (no, not the bomb crazed fanatic arsonist type of way, I really just enjoy the complexity of the reactions that cause them). 
And recently, I came across a compound that has made me crazy to know more.   
Octanitrocubane(bit of a mouthful isn't it?) This compound is so complex, awesome, and, way to expensive to synthesize in any great quantity(trust me this is a good thing).
So. what is it? Well, basically put, it is an extremely powerful (likely the most powerful at this point) non-nuclear explosive. This leads one to think that such a compound would be highly unstable. And that is the catch. Octanitrocubane is such a stable compound that it needs a detonator to go boom. The fact that it is so stable would make it a great explosive to use in construction as well as many military applications. .
But, the most interesting thing about this compound has to be its shape. It is its shape that lead many scientists to be extremely doubtful to its ability to ever be synthesized. Octanitrocubane has a cubane of carbon at its center. The reason why people were sceptic was the fact that carbon forms 109 degree angles, not 90 degree ones. But, a Professor from the University of Chicago would prove them wrong. Prof. Philip Eaton was able to synthesize cubane in 1964.

And in 2000 he was able to get nitro groups ( a component found in almost every explosive) to attach.
Because of this, Octanitrocubane has a  20% greater performance than HMX. This mainly do to the breakdown of the explosive into CO2 and N2, and the absence of water vapor.
Sadly only small amounts have been produced in the lab, not quite enough for performance testing as of yet.

So, go off into cyber land and gain more knowledge about this fascinating compound my science minions. :) And, if you have something else that you find interesting, give me  a holler about it and the next article just might feature it. 

Monday, July 9, 2012

The Gnome Did It

This is a blog dedicated to the exploration of science....but how about a little break? Here is a little literature diving  into the world of humor.

The Gnome Did It
Year: 2011
Day: May 19                                                              
Time: 14:00
Place: High School

I was sitting in my Advanced Literature class contemplating memories of the past three years. I was sad that my high school days were finally coming to an end, but at the same time I was looking forward to entering into the adult world.  I glanced at the clock with bitter sweet anticipation of the end of my last day of high school.
 I quickly turned to find the source of such an exclamation from my class mates.  To my surprise and delight, Holly, my best friend, had decided to bring devil triple chocolate cupcakes to tempt us with on our last day. The cupcakes were smothered in sinful milk chocolate, sprinkled with M&M’s, and baked to perfection. The scent of ambrosia permeated the air and my fellow seniors and I were drooling over such luxurious treats. The fact that these magnificent works of culinary art had enough calories to last a week did not enter into our minds. We all edged toward the cupcakes drawn by some unexplainable force that compelled us to eat them.  
“Does anyone want one?” Holly asked the class while holding the tray up to tempt our eyes as well as our noses.
Was the answer not obvious to her? Did she not understand that every one of us was fighting an internal battle to stay seated and not tear the cupcakes from her hands and devoured them? I had always thought that Holly was a bright student, but she proved me wrong with that question. Holly stood in front of us with a tray full of heaven, yet she did not understand that she was in danger of the animalistic need for chocolate that had enveloped us all.
Everybody’s hand shot up, and a chorus of “YES!,” exploded through the room. Holly seemed startled over our enthusiasm, but only momentarily. When she recovered over her shock, she started to walk toward us. She walked toward the beasts with her offering.
As Holly approached us, a new thought entered into our minds; who will be the chosen one? Who will be the first to taste one of her chocolate masterpieces? We warily regarded one another from the corner of our eyes. We were all aware of the fact that we would fight to the death to obtain the first cupcake. We all braced ourselves, and prepared for war.
Holly, totally oblivious to all that was transpiring between her classmates, turned toward me. I wanted to laugh in triumph over this feat. I would be the chosen one, I would be the first to sink my teeth into the sugary goodness, and I would reign supreme.
 Holly stopped in front of my desk and extended her plate of temptations toward me. My mouth watered and my hand shook as I reached for the biggest chocolaty delight smothered with mouthwatering frosting. Just as I was about to touch it, a low primitive growl erupted from my classmates. I froze with my hand just an inch away from perfection. I turned my head and saw all ten of my fellow classmates glaring at me with jealousy and sugar lust in their eyes.
I slowly retracted my hand from temptation, and it was the hardest thing I have ever done. My classmates regarded me with caution; waiting for my next move. I suddenly vaulted over the desk and protectively crouched in front Holly and her tray of goodness bearing the biggest fruit of heaven. Bring it on, I thought. I would risk my life for that cupcake from heaven; it was mine.   
Suddenly they all moved to form an impenetrable wall between me and the door. There would be no escape, they knew it, I knew it, and yet I could not allow this to happen. I would not let these intellectual nerds get the better of me. 
Suddenly an idea entered my mind. It was dangerous, stupid, and had the potential to end with my demise. But I did not care; my chocolate morsel was at stake.
“Hand over the cupcakes,” they all said in a demonic voice while they slowly edged closer to me. I could feel Holly trembling behind me in terror and knew that I had to act now before she dropped the tray and caused the world to end as the cupcakes of such purity hit the floor.
I slowly straitened to regain my total height and glared at my fellow classmates. Their eyes gleamed with triumph as they assumed that they had won. They rubbed their hands together and drool started to puddle on the floor. The time to act was now. I braced myself and prayed that this would work.
I bolted toward Dr. P’s desk with inhuman speed brought on by my chocolate craving. The beasts behind me descended on Holly and her tray. Holly screamed, and just as they were about to lay their filthy hands on heaven’s gifts, my hand grabbed the mouse on Dr. P’s desk.
“Stop!” I shouted. “Or else I will delete all of the term papers!” I would do it to. I no longer cared that we had spent two months on these papers, nor did I care that many of us had shed sweat, blood, and tears to finish them on time. I was desperate, and grades meant nothing to me at that moment.
They all froze. As one they turned toward me with looks of horror and disbelief.    
“Move away from the cupcakes.” I demanded.
They saw the determination in my eyes and knew that I was serious. They slowly backed away from Holly.
“Put your hands behind your heads!” I instructed. Sweat started to roll down my neck as I tried to keep my hand from shaking on the mouse. One of the guys glanced back at the cupcakes with longing and took a hesitant step toward them.
“Stop and put your hands behind your head or I will click!” I demanded. The guy looked at me fearfully and did as instructed.
“Ok..ok…ss..sorry…just don’ anything rash,” the guy stuttered with dread. I was beyond thinking rationally by this point. I had to get to my cupcake.
“Holly,” I said. “Carefully put the cupcakes on my desk, and then tie these guys up with the duck tape on Dr. P’s desk.” I gazed fearfully at her as she placed the cupcakes of the gods on my desk. Once they were safely on the desk, I breathed a sigh of relief.
My classmates did not like being tied up, but I did not care. Once they were all secure, I took my hand off of the mouse and heard a sigh of relief emitted from the room’s occupants.
Finally the time had come. I slowly approached the altar that held the golden cupcakes. I felt almost unworthy to be in their mighty presence. As I came upon them, my legs gave out and I kneeled before their greatness. Tears pricked my eyes as I reached out to take the biggest chocolaty delight smothered with mouthwatering frosting.
As my hand wrapped around this masterpiece, I trembled with anticipation. It was a work of perfection. The chocolate frosting gleamed in the over head lights, the scent of chocolate overwhelmed my senses, and the sight of so much chocolate in one creation nearly blinded me.  The cupcake would send me into a sugar high induced coma, but I did not care. I slowly lifted the cupcake to my mouth and almost cried at its perfection. A single tear left my eye as I went to take a bite.
…and remember you have to take out your retainer before you eat anything; these words suddenly whispered through my mind. I froze with my mouth a centimeter from the cupcake. NO!, I screamed to myself; I cannot wait. I do not care about the retainer. But the cupcakes may not taste as good with the retainer in, I thought to myself. I could not tarnish such greatness by subjecting it to the man made contraption that would obscure my sense of taste.
I slowly put the cupcake back on the tray with a shaking hand while I wanted to scream in frustration. I placed my hands in my mouth to extract the orthodontic torture device. My classmates made sounds of disgust when the device and all of its saliva exited my mouth. I looked around for a place to put it, and saw a pile of napkins that Holly brought. I placed the retainer in one of them and put in on her desk. Once this time consuming task was done, I turned back to the chocolaty morsel.
I grabbed the biggest chocolaty delight smothered with mouthwatering frosting once again. This time there would be no interruptions. I brought the sinful masterpiece of culinary art to my month once again in a sweet anticipation of an overload of chocolate.
I whirled around and saw Holly’s desk on the ground, and standing beside it with an expression of extreme evil was the garden gnome.  In its claw-like hands was my retainer. My mind froze. Not again, I thought. This was the same gnome that stole my homework, broke valuable stuff, and did all of the evil things that I blamed my brothers for. I glared at the little demon and prepared for war once again.
“Give it back,” I said through clenched teeth. I was not going to get in trouble again because of the gnome’s sick sense of humor.
“Never,” he said evilly, and then started to cackle with glee.
I took a step toward him with the intent to grab him. He smiled evilly and ran out the door. I followed close behind. But as I ran out the door, I saw his extended foot too late. I tripped and went flying toward the floor. It was at this moment that I remembered that I still had the cupcake in my hand. I watched with a horrible sense of dread as the heavenly creation went flying out of my hand and into the air. It spun in a dazzling display of chocolate that would mesmerize any who witnessed it. I suddenly hit the ground with a thud, but this pain was nothing compared to the crippling agony I felt when the gnome caught the chocolaty delight, and disappeared into thin air with it and my retainer. I laid there in disbelieving silence as all my dreams of chocolate disappeared.
Wait, I though, the tray of goodness was still in the classroom; all was not lost. I scrambled to my feet and darted back in to the class, and froze in horror. NO!, I screamed to myself as my legs gave away and I hit the floor. I stared at Dr. P with resentment as he finished off the last of the cupcakes. The rest of my classmates were staring at him with sorrow as tears streamed down their faces. I cried in agony against such a betrayal.  How could he? Does he not torture us enough with due dates and term papers? I would have let my classmates have a cupcake after I was done with the biggest chocolaty delight smothered with mouthwatering frosting. But to make them sit, tied to their chairs, as he ate the cupcakes one by one, was just cruel.
I felt fragmented, lost, and no longer held in place. I stared at the clock as the last seconds tick by before the bell rang in a silence filled with longing. All I had wanted was a cupcake; was that so wrong? I was tempted with a sinful chocolate confection, and in the end, I lost the biggest chocolaty delight smothered with mouthwatering frosting, my retainer, and scared my best friend and classmates.
I will have my revenge. I will catch that gnome.

~Anna O'Malley

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

It has been confirmed!


The Higgs Boson Explained

So, we have all heard the news. The Higgs Boson has been practically found(they found it, they found it)!!! Woot!
Some of you may be wondering about what the Higgs boson is and why it is so important? So, I have dug up some research on it, and have presented it in a way that I hope will help to explain why the Higgs is awesome.

Higgs and Mass and Matter

"The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not Eureka! (I found it!) but rather, 'hmm... that's funny...'"
--Isaac Asimov

The Universe, as we know it, is a vast abyss filled with a vast number of subatomic particles and waves that work as one; the other, or at times both in an intricate coordinated harmony. They work in this harmony in order to make the elements that combine, react, and form everything that we see, know, and are. Scientists are currently trying to fit this harmony of movements, interactions, and masses into a perfect equation that will finally answer many of the multitudes of phenomena that we experience every day; thing such as the notion that some objects have mass while some quantum entities seem to lack it. The current theory that has captured the attention of the scientific community is the Standard Model. Up till know, this model has passed every inspection and test, but there is one major problem that is plaguing this model at the moment. The major part of the Standard Model that is missing is the foundation that it stands on. The Higgs Field which is, theoretically speaking, the ocean of the universe, has to be found, and the hunt for this mysterious field has been going on for many years. But in order for the Higgs field to be found, scientists must first find the fundamental makeup of the Higgs field. While the Higgs Field is theorized as the ocean that the universe is submersed in, the Higgs Boson is its water molecule (Possible Hints Particle). If the Higgs Boson is found, then the Higgs field must exist. When the Higgs Boson is found, it will bring new meaning to the Standard Model, the big bang, and everything we thought we knew about mass.

The Universe is governed by two principles that are unable, at this time, to coexist with each other in any rational theory. The theory of general relativity explains the macro world, while the quantum theory explains the micro world. It would seem that the fundamentals behind the Standard Model would not be even considerable based off of these facts, but since gravity only has minute, if any, effect on particle physics, it can be excluded at this time from most of the calculation that are attributed to the Standard Model (Standard Package). The Standard Model offers scientist a new perspective on energy, mass, and the relationship of quantum entities, and “ties quantum mechanics and electromagnetism” together (Henry). The Standard Model shows that a lot of the particles that we know today are made up of even smaller subunits. It is almost like a Nesting Doll, as soon as it seems that the last doll is present, another one is found inside. This model encompasses twelve of these subatomically tiny pieces that fit together in many combinations, which make up everything in this universe. But, to acquire a better understanding of the Standard Model, scientist must first understand these fundamental building blocks of the universe (Standard Package). It is theorized that “everything in the Universe is found to be made from twelve basic building blocks called [the] fundamental particles”, which includes; “the six quarks…the 'up quark' and the 'down quark'…followed by the 'charm quark' and 'strange quark', then the 'top quark' and [the] 'bottom quark'” (Standard Package). Alone with the quarks are the six leptons; “the 'electron' and the 'electron-neutrino', the 'muon' and the 'muon-neutrino', and the 'tau' and the 'tau-neutrino,” and they are all governed by three of the four fundamental forces: the strong force, the weak force, and the electromagnetic force (Standard Package). Each of these three fundamental forces is paired with a characteristic boson (Fig. 1). The “gluon mediates with the strong force”, and it, in a sense, “glues quarks together.” The electromagnetic force is carried out by photons which transmit light. The weak force is represented by the W and Z boson; “they introduce different types of decays” (Inquiring Minds). The last carrier force in this foundation is the Higgs boson. The Higgs Field is made up of Higgs bosons, and it is this field that “interacts with other particles to give them mass” (Inquiring Minds). So in order for the standard model to be theoretically correct in its definition of mass, the Higgs boson has to be found.

The Higgs field is this great force that encompasses the universe. It is an abyss that interacts indefinitely with everything, but it would be quiet illogical to try to find the Higgs field as a whole. So, in order for physicists to prove that it really does exist, they must first find evidence of the Higgs Bosons that makes up this field. The Higgs Bosons have been elusive entities that has frustrated scientist for decades with their unwillingness to be found. It would seem that finding something that is so ubiquitous would be easy, yet the Higgs Boson remains elusive to even the keenest of minds. They exist everywhere, but they are so infinity small that trying to catch one to analyze, for even just the smallest amount of time, is proving difficult. This is where particle accelerators have come in handy. Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory’s (Fermilab) Tevatron and the Conseil Europeen pour la Recherche Nucleaire’s (CERN) LHC have both been hard at work to find this elusive particle. These particle accelerators take particles and slam them together at speeds close to that of the speed of light, in the attempt to recreate the environment seen at the beginning of the Big Bang. When these collisions occur, scientists observe an eruption of subatomic particles, waves, and other interesting bits (Henry).  The Big Bang was the starting point for the creation of all particles, so scientists are trying to pin down the Higgs Boson that was created during this collision. They have been able to condense the search between “130 and 150 gi­ga­elec­tron volts, the un­its used to weigh subat­omic par­t­i­cles,” through the collaborated work on analyzing thousands of collisions. (Possible Hints). If it truly does exist, it is only a matter of before scientists finish shifting through their data and yell, “Eureka!” 
Higgs bosons are the force particle that will give all objects, particles, and strings their mass, or in some cases, explain why certain particles such as photons seem to lack it(Aczel, 150). The Higgs boson is the carrier force for the Higgs field. These bosons interact with everything, and it is these interactions that are “believed to endow particles with their masses” (Aczel, 150). As entities zoom through “space,” they interact with these bosons. The larger the entity; the more interaction will take place (Lincoln).  To get a better understanding of these interactions, image a room filled with scientists conversing with one another. The scientists are the Higgs Bosons, and their conversations are the field. Now image that Albert Einstein were to walk into the room. He would attract instant attention. As Einstein would walk across the room, he would gain mass in the sense that his admirers would interact with him, and slow down his progress with resistance. Whereas, if Hwang Woo-suk where to walk into a room, he would most likely be ignored, and his path undisrupted. (Aczel, 160). Einstein can be theorized as a large entity, such as a large Top Quark, while Hwang Woo-suk is like a massless photon (Lincoln). This is essentially the same thing that happens as other entities zoom through space (Fig. 2). The more a subatomic particle interact with the Higgs field; the larger it’s mass, and vice versa. If the Higgs is found, it will finally answer the question; why do we have mass, which is a question that has plagued scientist since the beginning of the Big Bang theory.

The Big Bang was the instantaneous moment in time when our universe took off. Infinitesimal time after it began, it saw the formation of quarks, lepton, and shortly after that, neutrons, and photons (Aczel, 149). Though, at the beginning, there was not any mass in the universe. So the question still remains---how did the universe obtain its mass? For the longest time, it was theorized that all of the mass in the universe had to be condensed at one single point Aczel, 148). It was impossible to understand a concept that theorized that all of the mass that is present in the universe was packed into an infinity small point. This concept was understood when it was looked at tin the sense way for the concept of sheer energy. The only problem with it was at the time there was not a formula that connected energy and mass. This concept, implies that “mass was somehow created some time after the Big Bang---after the immense initial explosion” ( Aczel, 148). It was not till the emergence of the quantum field theory that there became a way to mathematical show that mass could be created out of energy, but yet again, how (Aczel, 148)?
When it comes to the Higgs field, the how, is all about symmetry. This field, which is directly responsible for mass, was the result of the spontaneously broken symmetry that took place directly after the Big Bang (Aczel, 150).  In the young universe, it is theorized that the Higgs field had perfect symmetry, but as the “temperature in the universe dropper, the symmetry of the Higgs field was spontaneously broken, and the field had a particular “direction” in the abstract mathematical space in which the original symmetry has existed” (Aczel, 152). In other words, when the field lost its perfect symmetry, it caused movement in direction off its original starting point, in a sense. Picture a room full of basketball ball players. No one is moving. Then, out of the blue, someone shoot a hoop. This then causes a chain reaction, where everyone starts to take shots. The breaking of symmetry caused chain reactions that rapidly took over (Aczel, 153). The basketballs can even be theorized at the bosons that bounce of the surface and can give mass. Its movements and interactions are what caused the initial development of mass. While the Higgs field permeated space, its interactions, carried out by its carrier bosons, gave other entities their mass (Possible Hints). The key to finally unlocking the door on the origin of mass is dawning.
The Higgs boson contributes the force needed for the formation of mass on an object. Theoretically, matter only has mass because of its interaction with the Higgs. One of the most interesting things about these interactions is that, just because two particles are the same relative size, does not mean that they have the same mass (Lincoln). And, without the interaction of the Higgs, matter and mass would not exist, theoretically. The Top quark has more mass then an electron, but they are both relatively the same size (Lincoln). While size does play some role when it comes to how much interaction a subatomic particle has with the Higgs field, this is not the only fragment that has to be considered.   
The Higgs Boson is the final key that is needed to back up the Standard Model. The confirmation of existence of the Higgs Boson will have scientists bouncing off the walls. The discovery of this boson will confirm its field’s existence. Its presence will “neatly tie together elements of quantum mechanics and electromagnetism,” into a mathematical reality (Henry). It will prove that some particle have higher mass, not due to their size, but due to their interaction with the Higgs field. There is even some discussion that this field and its bosons may “even interact with other particles we have yet to discover, like the ones that may make up dark matter” (Henry). The discovery of the Higgs will bring about many changes in the way that scientists’ had previously viewed the universe. Its presence alone will give rise to a better understanding of the Big Bang theory, the Standard Model, and even on String theorys. 
While the Higgs boson could be the key to unlocking many of the problems and misgivings about mass and the Standard Model, it could just as likely not exist. The Higgs particle is only one small piece that is missing from the Standard Model. This Model does not encompass all four of the forces that are known to affect the universe (Standard Package). While gravity is not a strong force at the subatomic level, it is a force none the least. The main problem associated with the Standard Model is that it can’t elegantly connect the macro and micro worlds (Hawkings, 52). Antimatter and dark matter are not addressed in this theory as wall. (Possible Hints). It also lacks an explanation for the reason behind the Big Bang (Possible Hints). If the Higgs particle is never found, this is not the end of the world.  There are plenty of other models out there that can use the absence of the Higgs to prove their authenticity, and the superstring theory hopes to be able to use data form the collisions at the particle accelerates to prove this theory as well (Possible Hints).
The elusive Higgs Boson is giving science a run for its money. These bosons work together to form the intricate workings of the Higgs Field; a field that was first birthed moments after the Big Bang. Symmetry was destroyed in a fraction of a blink of an eye, and the field was let loose onto a forming universe. On its way to totally encompass the universe from its origin, it interacted with the different subatomic particle, and thus mass was created, and it is this creation of mass that is what has scientists extremely intrigued on this theory. The Higgs is being hunted by devoted scientist from around the world in the hope that it will finally answer fundamental questions. Is this the actual answer behind mass or just another theory? The Higgs boson and the standard model will both contribute greatly to the realm of the advancement of science if proven, and while the Standard Model is not the mother of all equations to answer every physical and chemical phenomena, it will go a long way to helping scientists understand the subatomic realm, and how mass relates to different subatomic particles and entities. 

Works Cited:
Aczel, Amir D. Present at the Creation: the Story of CERN and the Large Hadron Collider.
 New York: Crown, 2010. Print.
 Hawking, S. W., and Leonard Mlodinow. The Grand Design. New York: Bantam, 2010. Print.
Lincoln, Don. "What Is a Higgs Boson?" YouTube - Broadcast Yourself. FermiLab. Web. 01
Dec. 2011.
Henry, Alan. "What Is the Higgs Boson and Why Is It Important to Science?
ExtremeTech."Latest Technology News | Tech Blog | ExtremeTech. Ziff Davis, Aug.
2011. Web. 01 Dec. 2011.
"Inquiring Minds." Fermilab. U.S Department of Energy, 25 Mar. 2004.
 Web. 25 Nov. 2011.
"Possible Hints of Much-sought Mystery Particle Reported." The World Science. World Science,
17 Aug. 2011. Web. 20 Nov. 2011.

"The Standard Package." European Organization for Nuclear Research. CERN,
2008. Web. 25 Nov. 2011.

And for those of you who prefer visuals:
What the Higgs Boson is:

News Update, OMG we think we found it!: