Prof. Shillady's "Chemistry in the News" Page

Welcome to Prof. Shillady's Chemistry in the News webpage. The purpose of this page is to bring published science to high school students and teachers in an easy-to-understand format. Prof. Shillady  has read and summarized these papers, hoping to offer assistance to students who are doing research papers.  This page was inspired by participation in the NSF-sponsored "Virginia Urban Corridor Teacher Preparation Collaborative" (Profs. William Haver and Reuben Farley, Principle Investigators).  The Collaborative links Germanna Community College, Mary Washington College, Norfolk State University, Longwood College, J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College, the Mathematics and Science Center, and Tidewater Community College with Virginia Commonwealth University as the lead institution.  The main web page for the Collaborative is maintained at Longwood College; this page is a result of new course development in CHEMISTRY.  A new text "CHEMISTRY IN THE NEWS" has been written based on a very succinct outline-style Freshman chemistry text by George and Richard Sasin at Drexel University and augmented by over 40 recent articles, mostly from "Chemical & Engineering News".  This text will be updated each year by inserting new and deleting old articles.  The first pilot offering of this new course occurred during the recent 1997 Summer Conference of the "Urban Corridor Collaborative" June 16-July 16.  An updated version of the text will be ready by January 1998 and occasionally brief portions of the text will appear here on fundamental topics such as how to name compounds, how to balance reactions and new demonstration experiments.  However, the main function of this page will be to provide interpretation of recent science-news in broad terms for the general public.

The main concept of the new text comes from an article in "DISCOVER" magazine in the August 1995 issue, "Easter's End" by Jared Diamond.  This article reports that recent core excavations on Easter Island reveal that about 20,000 years ago Easter Island was a tropical paradise with plenty of large trees.  When Easter Island was colonized by Polynesian-speaking people they were able to build fishing vessels as shown by evidence of many dolphin bones found in trash pits,  However, over the course of time, trees were used as rollers to aid in moving many large statues to the point that when Easter Island was first discovered by the Dutch Explorer Jacob Roggeveen on April 5, 1722 (Easter) it was a barren grassland with only small shrubs and few animals such as insects and chickens.  This sad situation led to cannibalism among the inhabitants who were now trapped on the island with no materials to build ships.  Such a sad tale seems long ago and far away, but today there is a similar situation in Haiti where almost all the trees have been used to make charcoal and the barren land has led to mud slides which have chased fish away from the shore.  Probably Haiti can be restored by international aid, but the present situation shows that humans live "day-to-day" and usually do not plan for tomorrow even when it is possible.  These are the type of stories we need to consider through the eyes of modern scientific understanding.

  -Off to Mars!

Another "hot" news topic is the recent successful landing of a robotic explorer on the surface of Mars.  Some people ask why this exploration is necessary, although this mission is far less expensive than a mission with human explorers.  One factor is that there are some estimates that by the year 2025 the population of the Planet Earth will increase by 3 BILLION (!) people if current trends continue.  There are signs that the number of children per family is leveling off in many parts of the world (China enforces a policy of only ONE child per family!), but there is still a rapid population growth is some parts of the world.   Although Mars pictures look nice with a pink sky, the temperatures are VERY low and the atmosphere is VERY "thin" with only a low oxygen content.  In spite of these limitations, there is the driving force of increased population on Earth. Some scientists are already talking about using the release of gases which cause global warming on Earth to warm up Mars. If water can be found and melted, perhaps plants can be grown on Mars that would increase the oxygen content of the Martian atmosphere.  However, this might take hundreds of years.  Such ideas must be considered in light of the fact that 25 years is a generation and long range plans must carry over political elections, "small" wars, industrial paradigm shifts and day-to-day mortgage payments.  However, only a population which is educated in such concepts will have any chance at understanding and supporting long range environmental planning.

Recent studies in this laboratory have been concerned with how molecules dissolve in water. One biologically important molecule is the hormone MELOTONIN which is suspected to be the natural sleep agent secreted by the pineal gland when light levels are reduced as perceived by the optic nerve connected to the pineal gland. Using a form of specroscopy called Magnetic Circular Dichroism and computer modeling of many possible molecular conformations the best fit to the experimental data is a structure which forms a water-bridge structure and holds the molecule in a certain conformation. This conformation not only fits the experimental MCD spectrum, it is also calculated to be a very low energy structure. Thus it is a good candidated for a major structure of melatonin dissolved in water.


  See the "Chemistry in the News" journal.

  About the good Professor.

  Sample experiments from Prof. Shillady's new textbook.

  See Prof. Shillady's handpicked links to pages chemistry-related and otherwise.

There have been inquiries to this page since July 29, 1997.

Do you have any questions, suggestions, or comments? If so, then e-mail Prof. Shillady at:

Acknowledgements: Andy's Art Attack for artwork, the Animated GIFs Collection also for artwork,
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This page does not reflect an official position of Virginia Commonwealth University.