Archive for the ‘Fun’ Category

Our Newest Instrument

Wednesday, February 4th, 2015

I received this fantastic gift for Christmas, and it has made a great addition to the office:


While I don’t chew gum, I’m a huge fan of jelly beans. If you’re curious, 7.5 pounds of Jelly Bellys will fill the reservoir perfectly. I highly recommend the fruit bowl mix—it contains most of the best fruit flavors without all of those weird ones, like buttered popcorn and margarita.

And if you end up getting one of these beauties, don’t be a knob—put it on free spin.

La Cucaracha

Wednesday, July 2nd, 2014

La cucaracha, la cucaracha,
Ya no puede caminar…


I stumbled upon this lovely scene in the men’s room by my lab last night.

At some point in every single laboratory I’ve ever worked, I’ve encountered a dead cockroach lying flat on its back. Without exception, my first thought is always:

What horribly toxic substance has this poor creature encountered to cause her
to die alone and out in the open like this?

After a few seconds of thoughtful reflection, I usually convince myself the cockroach died of natural causes and we are all safe. In other news, I wish I could say that I’ve never seen a labmate do this:

Fortunately, I haven’t had the excitement of seeing a live one racing around the floor in a long time.

Columbia Professor Dance Party

Saturday, December 15th, 2012

This video is pretty hilarious:

Congrats to Breslow, Nakanishi, and Sames for having good senses of humor. The holiday skits at Harvard were canceled a long time ago because a few people there took themselves a little too seriously.

Also, thanks to the three tipsters who e-mailed me different versions of this link. (And, of course, now that I’ve gone back and checked, this video has already made the rounds on Twitter. I will now go back under my rock. Bye.)

A Defense Party to Remember

Monday, October 1st, 2012

A beloved member of our group defended her thesis today and will be departing for her postdoc in a week. She gave a fantastic talk and will be missed dearly. This was the centerpiece of her defense party:

Yep, that’s a moon bounce, set up right next to the Beckman Institute at Caltech. Pretty epic. I can’t think of any similarly notable defense parties I’ve attended, aside from the time we purchased $200+ of food at McDonald’s and built a pyramid of burgers and apple pies. It was heaven.

Congrats, GK!

The Copper-to-Silver-to-Gold Alchemy Demo

Friday, September 21st, 2012

As part of the outreach effort for our NSF Solar Fuels center at Caltech, we run a program that enables high-school students to conduct research using a Caltech-built kit to screen the activity of metal oxides in the photoelectrolysis of water (into molecular hydrogen and oxygen). During the summer, we host a select group of students to work on projects aimed at improving the kit and method. I briefly talked about my participation in the program before, and you can read more about it here.

On the last day of work this summer, aside from cleaning up the lab, we let the students select a few experiments from Bassam Shakhashiri’s fabulous Chemical Demonstrations series. The students I helped supervise selected the “copper-to-silver-to-gold” demonstration, in which a copper penny is plated with zinc (to appear silver) and then heated to yield a top layer of brass (which appears gold). The London Olympics could not have been better timed:

To my relief, the demonstration was remarkably cheap and easy to set up. All you have to do is grab a stock solution of NaOH, a bottle of zinc granules, and some pennies coined prior to 1983. (U.S. pennies dated before 1983 are composed primarily of copper, whereas more recent coins are copper-plated zinc.)

When you drop a penny into a beaker of zinc granules immersed in near-boiling 0.5 M NaOH, zinc will plate onto the copper such that the coin appears silver within two or three minutes. When the penny is washed and heated on a hot plate set to ~200-300 °C, the zinc and copper blend to form a brass alloy that is golden in color. This transformation happens quickly, within 20 seconds or so.

The zinc suspension can be used indefinitely; I think we plated around 15 pennies. The students had an assembly line going:

So, that’s it. The copper-to-silver-to-gold alchemy demo gets my full endorsement. It is cheap, easy, and a lot of fun. The students got to learn a little electrochemistry and materials chemistry, plus they all wound up with a cute conversation piece as a souvenir.

Long Weekend, Big Plans

Friday, August 31st, 2012

My plans for Labor Day weekend are all set thanks to a nice discovery during a group clean-up yesterday:

Plenty of gloves? Check. Multiple boxes of FIXANAL? Check.

Who would name a brand of buffer concentrates “FIX ANAL” and shape the container like a…well…errrr?

Germans. That’s who. I guess you can just add this to the list of cross-cultural marketing blunders, though I am not certain that there wasn’t someone who did this on purpose. Who else sells buffer mix in an odd tube like that?