Forced From Home exhibit – this week only

Doctors without Borders has mounted a free exhibition, “Forced From Home,” in Pioneer Courthouse Square on the refugee crisis. Hours are 9 am – 5 pm. Days Mon 10/16 (that’s today) through Sun 10/22.

Here’s a brief description of what you will find at the exhibit (more info at forcedfromhome.com):

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Are Chemists Ready for Virtual Reality?

Virtual reality (VR), once the province of supercomputer labs, is going mainstream. A few months ago, I strapped on a VR headset in Prof. Joel Franklin’s computer lab so that I could explore multi-hued computer-generated landscapes, some realistic, others purely fanciful. Once “inside,” and edging my way towards a rocky cliff, I had to remind my mind and my body that I was still standing on the flat floor of a college physics lab.

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Unanswered Questions for Geoengineers & Reed College

“The Paris agreement aims to limit the global temperature rise to 1.5 to 2C above preindustrial temperature, but achieving this goal requires much higher levels of mitigation than currently planned. [emphasis added]” So begins an editorial, “How to govern geoengineering,” appearing on p. 231 of the 21 July 2017 issue of Science magazine.

The 3 authors, all of whom work at the Carnegie Climate Geoengineering Governance (C2G2) Initiative, describe the two most talked-about versions of “geoengineering” (human actions designed to intentionally change the climate): carbon dioxide removal (CDR) and solar radiation management (SRM). Both approaches currently run aground on unsolved technical problems, and, as the authors point out, “geoengineering does not obviate the need for radical reductions in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to zero, combined with adaptation to inevitable climate impacts. [emphasis added]”

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CO2 emissions melting sea ice

Portland temperatures topped 90F on Monday reminding us that summer is, if not yet here officially, right around the corner. And summer brings big questions for climate scientists like, “how much ice will remain in the Arctic when summer is over?”

As these some recent articles make clear, this past winter was a bad one for the Arctic so sea ice is already weakened, and to make things worse, rising CO2 emissions spell even more trouble:

If you don’t have time to read these articles, these quotes from the Cornwall article puts the American lifestyle in perspective,

“The jet fuel you burned on that flight from New York City to London? Say goodbye to 1 square meter of Arctic sea ice. … The average annual carbon emissions from a U.S. family of four would claim nearly 200 square meters of sea ice. Over 3 decades, that family would be responsible for destroying more than an American football field’s worth of ice … Each person in the United States is responsible for the destruction of 10 times as much ice each year as someone in India.”

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People’s Climate March – Portland

Tomorrow’s march is titled “Climate Action Rooted in Justice.” It starts at 12 pm in Dawson Park in NE Portland and winds for over a mile through NE Portland. The park is located between N Williams and N Vancouver adjacent to Legacy Emanuel Hospital.

Getting there:

  • Bike. N Williams is a N-bound bike boulevard that starts at the Rose quarter (N end of Eastbank Esplanade).
  • Bus. Trimet bus #4 takes riders from SE Division to N Williams & N Morris. 30 min ride.

For more details go this link. A statement from the organizers:  Continue reading

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Climate says, “Science is not a hoax!”

There are those (Trump, Tillerson, Pruitt, …) who pretend that the scientific evidence on changes in global climate is a hoax, but we know better. Science has the facts. Those deny the science are guided by one overriding concern: sticking to business as usual so that they can line their pockets. (The Rockefeller Family Fund vs. Exxon, Kaiser & Wasserman, NY Review of Books, 8 Dec 2016).

Well, guess what? Science is taking to the streets in the next few days. Come join us! Science is not a hoax.

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Bright Times for Computational Chemistry

I can still remember when computational chemistry was considered a special, esoteric (some would have said “useless”) sub-specialty within physical chemistry. Three recent articles in scientific journals show that the times have changed. Future research will have a computational component almost out of necessity because computation-based models are not only tools for rationalizing experimental results, they are increasingly the go-to tools for planning which experiments to perform. These research trends also point the way for education: chemistry instruction will become more reliant on computation-based models.

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Jury Says DuPont Must Pay for Harm Caused by Spilled Chemical

An Ohio jury has awarded $10.5 million in punitive damages to a man who claimed that his testicular cancer was caused by exposure to water that a Dupont factory had contaminated with perfluorooctanoic acid (also known as PFOA or C-8 because the molecule contains 8 carbon atoms). C-8 is used to make teflon, the perfluorocarbon polymer that has many uses ranging from Gore Tex raincoats to the coating on non-stick frying pans. PFOA exposure has been linked to at least six diseases so far, including testicular and kidney cancer.

The jury’s decision is significant in several ways: 1) it is the 3rd and largest award made against DuPont for discharges of C-8 from its Parkersburg, W. Va, manufacturing plant (and there are many, many more cases pending against DuPont because of these discharges), and 2) the jury awarded punitive damages, i.e., they are not just payment for the harm experienced by the plaintiff. As the Free Legal Dictionary puts it, “The purposes of damages are to punish the defendant for outrageous misconduct and to deter the defendant and others from similar misbehavior in the future.”

To learn more about this case and the extent of PFOA contamination in U.S. waterways, read:

Feb 24, 2017 update – DuPont and Chemours have settled 3,550 lawsuits by agreeing to a payment of $670 million to plaintiffs. (“DuPont, Chemours settle PFOA suits” CENews, 20 Feb 2017 and “DuPont Settles Lawsuits Over Leak of Chemical Used to Make Teflon” NY Times, 13 Feb 2017)

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Young People Sue For Stable Climate

Can you sue the government to force it to take action on climate change? This question was put to federal magistrate judge Thomas Coffin in Eugene, Oregon in early 2015 in a lawsuit, Kelsey Cascadia Rose Juliana et al. v. United States of America et al. (“Kids Get Their Day in Court,” Sierra, Sept/Oct 2016 p. 42).

Just to set things up… On one side are the plaintiffs: 21 youths aged 8 to 19. The young people are represented by Our Children’s Trust, and an amicus brief has been filed in support of their position by The Global Catholic Climate Movement, an international network that includes Pope Francis. On the other side is the defendant: the United States government (and its traditional 😉 supporters, the American Petroleum Institute and the National Association of Manufacturers). The position taken by the plaintiffs is based on an ancient legal doctrine called the public trust doctrine which holds that “the government has a responsibility to steward for future generations shared resources such as ocean fisheries and navigable rivers.”

To learn more, and/or sign a petition in support of the plaintiffs, follow this link to Our Children’s Trust. The case is supposed to go to trial in early 2017.

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Jobs for Computational Chemists at BASF

Wikipedia says that the German chemical giant, BASF, is “the largest producer in the world, operating 390 production sites on 5 continents, and employing approximately 122,000 in 2015. This past summer a C&E News article (“More Rabbits from Fewer Hats,” 20 June 2016, p. 26) took a look at BASF’s research directions.

C&E News noted that BASF is “the only chemical firm in the world to have an R&D bill of more than $2 billion,” but they also reported a change in direction. According to BASF board member, Martin Brudermuller, “Our research commitment will not increase at the same rate as before, but our commitment to R&D will not go down. … In the future we will need more computational chemists than lab technicians.”

Curious about what computational chemists do, and how this might appeal to an industrial giant like BASF, come see me.

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