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The Weekly Blab 5.24

The Weekly Blab

Volume 5, Issue 24—February 27, 2011


Looking for the Sun…

This has been quite a week, with everything piling up at once.  First, I’m in the process of doing final edits on the B.A. in New Media Arts degree proposal and the four Science Education degrees.  These should be heading downtown this coming week.  The Regents Advisory Committee on Academic Affairs meeting was all day Wednesday, down in Macon.  Then on Thursday, Alan Gabrielli and I were downtown to answer questions about our STEM II proposal (we at least have made the finals) from the BoR committee, and then rushed back for the Engineering Week festivities and a bevy of meetings, including the Polytechnic Summit Task Force.  Friday brought another group of meetings, including the final meeting for the Academic Integrity Task Force.  On top of all that, I’m teaching a class and had a bunch of grading, and gave an exam (though since I was in Macon that morning, actually Alan had to give the exam).  Whew! 


SPSU Rules OK!

As some of you may have already heard, SPSU students took both the Georgia Engineering Student of the Year Award (Ronald Rodriguez, Mechatronics Engineering) and the Georgia Engineering Technology Student of the Year Award (Troy Galloway, Civil Engineering Technology) from the Georgia Engineering Alliance at Saturday’s gala meeting.  That’s the first time that has ever happened, as far as I know.  Congratulations to both students!


Polytechnic Summit

Work continues on the planning for the Polytechnic Summit (June 8-10), which will be held at SPSU.  We’re about to launch a Facebook page, and there’s already a website up.  I’d like to remind you all (faculty AND staff) to sign up to deliver a paper at the summit, and to encourage your students to deliver a paper as well.  The theme of the conference is “The Polytechnic Opportunity”, where’re we’re going to talk about what makes teaching, learning, working, and doing at a polytechnic different and great.  So here’s your chance to give a talk about what you know best. 


On the Facebook page, we’re going to be running a little contest.  Playing off of the “only at SPSU” website (but hopefully not as snarky), we’re going to have a contest for who can come up with the best posting on the subject of “only at a polytechnic”.  What we’re looking for is an experience you’ve had as a faculty, staff, or student that could only have happened by attending or working at a polytechnic.  There will be weekly winners as well as a grand prize for the overall winner.  So, look for the polytechnic summit on Facebook (it should go up on Friday or so), and start posting!


Interesting Times in Chemistry

I mentioned last time that it is the International Year of Chemistry, and it is indeed an interesting time for the field.  Despite the fact that Chemistry is a mature science, some pretty startling discoveries have popped up lately in some pretty fundamental places.  A lot of times, students get the idea that all the big stuff has already been discovered, and all that’s left is fairly esoteric and very complicated.  Not so!


In the past few years, two fairly startling discoveries have been made in our understanding of two of the more common elements, Boron and Carbon.  A new allotrope (an allotrope is a physical form of an element—like graphite and diamond for carbon) has been discovered for boron, namely g-boron, and this is the weirdest of all known allotropes of any element.  Unlike all the others, this one is ionic.  Before you say “big deal”, let me point out that to be ionic, something has to have a cation (positive ion) and an anion (negative ion), and to this point one always needed two elements to do that.  Since an allotrope is a pure, single element, its being ionic was thought to be impossible.  Nonetheless, boron does it.  The allotrope turns out to consist of pairs of boron atoms (which have a partial positive charge) and clusters of 12 boron atoms (which have a partial negative charges) that alternate with each other in all three dimensions.  This is exactly the same structure as common table salt (NaCl), the archetypical ionic compound.  The compound is, thus, a boron boride.  So, that was quite unexpected.


As for carbon, it has long been known that graphite consists of sheets of fused hexagons of carbon atoms.  The bonds within the sheets (i.e., in the x and y directions) are quite strong.  The sheets are only weakly held together in the z direction—that is, the sheets slide easily over each other, making graphite a good lubricant.  What’s new is that two scientists (Andree Geim and Kostya Novoselov) discovered how to separate the sheets from each other, resulting in an allotrope of one atom thick sheets of graphite, called graphene. 


Two interesting things here—first, the way graphene was originally made.  The two scientists took a flake of fractured graphite (about 100 atoms thick), and placed it on a piece of scotch tape.  Folding the sticky side of the tape over the flake (so that the tape was stuck to the flake at the top and bottom), they pulled the tape apart, and voila!  Two layers of about 50 atoms thick.  Repeating the procedure, they eventually got the thickness down to a single atom.  Not exactly complicated, right?


Second, what is the graphene good for?  It turns out that the answer is—almost everything!  Graphene is a two dimensional quantum field (and being studied to confirm all sorts of ideas about quantum mechanics), and conducts electrons as if they were nearly weightless—they move far faster (with far less resistance) than they should.  This has obvious applications in the computer and electronics industry, where it is thought we’ll be seeing “wallpaper” made of graphene which will be able to act as a TV set.  Further, some Chinese scientists have noted that graphene is harmful to bacteria, and as such, makes a great protective “wrapping paper” for foods.  This is just the tip of the iceberg—graphene is being investigated for almost every purpose you can think of.  The 2010 Nobel Prize in Physics went for the discovery of graphene.


The discovery of graphene comes about 20 years after the discovery of Buckminster Fullerene by Curl, Krato, and Smalley, another allotrope consisting of a sphere of 60 carbons.  Both fullerenes and graphene are under extensive study in the field of nanotechnology. 

To Never Forget

My Aunt forwarded this cartoon to me.  No further comment necessary.


Last Week’s Trivia Challenge

Last week’s contest focused on English (that is, what the British call stuff).  The winner was Cheryl Hammock, who works in the development office.  Of course Cheryl had a slight advantage—she’s British!  Still, she only got four of the five right, but the judge’s decision is final!


1.  What we call a French fry, the British call…  Chips

2.  What we call a potato chip, the British call…  Crisps

3.  What we call a “buzzer” (like on an alarm clock), the British call… A Bonger

4.  What we call “Oil of Olay”, the British call… Oil of Ulay

5.  What we call “having lots of energy”, the British call “being… Full of Beans


The best of British to you on the contest!


This Week’s Trivia Contest

This week’s contest is about the Flintstones.  So, gird up your stone-age knowledge and the first with the most gets the disc.  No using the internet!


  1. In what town did the Flintstones live?
  2. What were Fred and Wilma’s daughter’s name, and Barney and Betty’s son’s name?
  3. What’s the next line in the theme song:  Let’s ride with the family down the street….
  4. What was the name of the lodge that Fred belonged to?
  5. During the closing credits, when they leave the drive-in theatre, what movie was playing?