W. Stephen McNeil Stephen McNeil
Department of Chemistry
UBC Okanagan
3247 University Way, Fipke 352
Kelowna, BC, Canada
V1V 1V7
Office: Fipke 352
Phone: 250.807.8751

This is a growing list of journal articles that struck Steve as cool, interesting, or noteworthy. They are in no sensible order whatsoever. Most of them are not, in fact, about organometallic chemistry, because if he included all the papers he thought were cool from that field, there'd be a thousand papers here.

Not only are traditional lectures boring, they also suck at actually teaching people things. This should suprise exactly nobody who has been to university, ever, but now you've got a freaking PNAS paper that proves it. Proc. Nat. Acad. Sci. USA, 2014, 111, 8319-8320.

Some forms of red-green colour blindness are caused by lack of the L-opsin gene, which prevents you from generating the photoreceptors for your red cones. Put it back, hey presto, you can use gene therapy to cure red-green colour blindness in adult spider monkeys. Well, OK, not you, but these guys can.

Katherine Mancuso, et al. "Gene therapy for red-green colour blindness in adult primates" Nature 2009, 461, 784-787.

The latest ice core data from a 3.2km-long core sample now gives us a complete record of CO2 levels, methane levels, and temperature, now dating back 800000 years. Same story as before. Temperature and atmospheric levels of the greenhouse gases CO2 and CH4 are tightly correlated, oscillating up and down in a periodic 100000 year sawtooth pattern. At no point in the last 800000 years, prior to 1850, has CO2 ever been higher than 300 ppm, almost never above 280. For two thousand years before 1850, it was flat. Today it's 380 ppm and climbing (which is 35% above the normal maximum). At no point in the last 800000 years, prior to 1850, has CH4 ever been higher than 800 ppb, and almost never above 720. For two thousand years before 1850, it was flat. Today it's 1750 ppb and climbing (which is 140% above normal maximum).

Lüthi, et al. "High-resolution carbon dioxide concentration record 650,000-800,000 years before present" Nature 2008, 453, 379-382.

Just to benchmark that date: 800000 years ago, Homo sapiens didn't exist. Neither did Homo neanderthalensis or Homo heidelbergensis or Homo rhodesiensis; species of your genus that have been extinct for far longer than you can realistically imagine hadn't even yet appeared. 800000 years ago we were still just Homo erectus, passing the millennia with our marvellously innovative axes chipped on both sides of the stone, and this new-fangled idea of gathering as well as hunting.

The next time you hear somebody repeat that ridiculous nonsense where scientists say that bee flight is impossible, smack them. Then explain that "impossible" and "not explicable using an inadequate fixed-wing model and 1934 aeronautics theory" are not the same thing. Then give them these papers. By rolling the papers into a tube and smacking them.

Altshuler, et al. "Short-amplitude high-frequency wing strokes determine the aerodynamics of honeybee flight" Proc. Nat. Acad. Sci. 2005, 102, 18213-18218. You need fast strokes, twisiting the wings to maintin the wing-top as the leading edge, which creates a continual vortex at the top of the wing.

Combes, et al. "Limits to maximum flight velocity: Pitch control and roll instability in orchid bees during fast, forward flight", a symposium abstract in Int. Comp. Biol. 2005, 45, 980. Bees drop their hind legs down at high speed, which increases their fowrard pitch permitting faster flight.

Hey, guess what? Playing video games on a Wii burns more calories than on an XBOX, but not as much as, you know, actual exercise. This is a real study. Somebody spent money to study this. Dumbest research project ever, right? Wrong! This is brilliant! They got a both a Wii and an XBOX for the lab, and they bought them with a research grant! Final sentence: "Further research is needed to investigate the energy demands of active gaming across sexes, ages, and consoles." Translation: "We should get a PS3, too."

Graves, et al. "Energy expenditure in adolescents playing new generation computer games" Brit. Med. J. 2007, 335, 1282-4.

So, what do you do if you're trying to synthesize a volatile and air-sensitive carbonyl hydride complex, and you need to purify it by trap-to-trap distillation, but it decomposes above −20°C? Oh, and it's 1977. Obviously you move your vacuum line onto the roof. In Edmonton. In winter. At night. It's the world famous Liviu Vancea Polar Night Synthesis of Fe(CO)4H2.

L. Vancea and W. A. G. Graham. "A 13C NMR Investigation of cis-M(CO)4X2 and M'(CO)5X Derivatives (M = Fe, Ru, Os; M' = Mn, Re; X = H, I)" J. Organomet. Chem. 1977, 134, 219-227.

Thomas Midgley is the guy who invented both ozone-depleting chlorofluorocarbons and the toxic IQ-diminishing gasoline additive tetraethyllead. One day, a compressed gas cylinder blew up near him, and it shot metal fragments into his eye. Surgery in 1919 wasn't up to the task of removing it all. So he repeatedly bathed his own eye in liquid mercury to amalgamate and extract the metal! Holy. Crap. Ind. Eng. Chem. 1919, 11, 892.

The Earth is 4.55 billion years old. Craig Patterson figured that out in the 1950s, but it took him seven years to do it, because his method was based on lead isotope ratios and it turns out that in the US in the 1950s absolutely everything was contaminated with more lead that the stuff he was trying to measure. Fifty years of ever-refined measurements has never changed the calculated date, it's only narrowed the error bars.

Patterson's realization that 20th century lead levels were far above preindutrial background (side discovery: you can detect in Arctic ice core sample industrial lead pollution from the Roman Empire!) eventually led, in part, to the elimination of leaded gasoline in North America and Europe.

Patterson, C. "Age of meteorites and the Earth" Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta 1956, 10, 230-237.
Hong, et al. "Greenland Ice Evidence of Hemispheric Lead Pollution Two Millennia Ago by Greek and Roman Civilizations" Science 1994, 265, 1841-1843.

So yeah, biofuels, as we're currently doing it, is a really dumb idea. Says who? Says Science, that's who, pal!

Searchinger, et al. "Use of U.S. Croplands for Biofuels Increases Greenhouse Gases Through Emissions from Land-Use Change" Science 2008, 319, 1238-1240.

Homeopathy is crap.

Shang, et al. "Are the clinical effects of homoeopathy placebo effects? Comparative study of placebo-controlled trials of homoeopathy and allopathy" Lancet 2005, 366, 726-732. Spoloier alert: the answer is "yes".

The written decision in Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District should be required reading for every science student, law student, education student, and anybody who is even contemplating running for a local school board. The case was a challenge brought against a public school district that had mandated that Intelligent Design (ID) be presented in science classes as an alternative explanation to evolution. The trial's finding was that a presentation of intelligent design in public school science classes violates the United States Constitution because intelligent design is not science, but is rather an inherently religious doctrine.

Some highlights from the decision by (Republican churchgoing) Judge John E. Jones III :

"We conclude that the religious nature of ID [intelligent design] would be readily apparent to an objective observer, adult or child."

"The overwhelming evidence at trial established that ID is a religious view, a mere re-labeling of creationism, and not a scientific theory."

"Intelligent Design is not science. We find that ID fails on three different levels, any one of which is sufficient to preclude a determination that ID is science. They are: (1) ID violates the centuries-old ground rules of science by invoking and permitting supernatural causation; (2) the argument of irreducible complexity, central to ID, employs the same flawed and illogical contrived dualism that doomed creation science in the 1980's; and (3) ID's negative attacks on evolution have been refuted by the scientific community."

"ID's backers have sought to avoid the scientific scrutiny which we have now determined that it cannot withstand by advocating that the controversy, but not ID itself, should be taught in science class. This tactic is at best disingenuous, and at worst a canard. The goal of the ID movement is not to encourage critical thought, but to foment a revolution which would supplant evolutionary theory with ID."

Topical application of lavender oil causes man boobs. No, seriously.

Henley, et al. "Prepubertal Gynecomastia Linked to Lavender and Tea Tree Oils" N. Engl. J. Med. 2007, 356, 2541-2544.

This could very well play out to be the biggest scientific breakthrough since, oh, I dunno, the Haber-Bosch process? Cracking the genetic code? Whatever. Induced pluripotent stem cells is going to be a very big deal.

Yu, et al. "Induced Pluripotent Stem Cell Lines Derived from Human Somatic Cells" Science 2007, 318, 1917-1920.
Takahashi, et al. "Induction of Pluripotent Stem Cells from Adult Human Fibroblasts by Defined Factors" Cell 2007, 131, 861-872.

And the award for biggest kinetic isotope effect ever goes to the rearrangement of hydroxycarbene to formaldehyde at 20K. Half-life of HCOH is 2 hours. Half-life of HCOD is calculated to be 1200 years. That's a KIE of, oh, six million or so.

Schreiner, et al. "Capture of hydroxymethylene and its fast disappearance through tunnelling" Nature 2008, 453, 906-909.

Objects floating at a liquid-gas interface tend to clump together. It's called the "Cheerios Effect". That is awesome. It's also way more complicated that you think.

Vella, D. and Mahadevana, L. "The 'Cheerios Effect'" Am. J. Phys. 2005, 73, 817-825.

Mysterious fungus eats cellulose, craps diesel fuel! Now that's a biodiesel I could call "not totally stupid" with a straight face, except that it's already got a better name: mycodiesel! Hey, biochemists, go find me the suite of metalloenzymes responsible!

Strobel, G., et al. "The production of myco-diesel hydrocarbons and their derivatives by the endophytic fungus Gliocladium roseum" Microbiology 2008, 154, 3319-3328.

We used to think that the reason some people had weird smelling pee after eating asparagus and some people didn't was that some people had an enzyme that would take sulfur compounds in asparagus and turn them into, among other things, methylmercaptan (CH3SH). Turns out that no, actually, everybody has smelly pee, it's just that some people can smell MeSH better than others.

To figure this out, you get a guy to eat a half kilo of asparagus, pee in a cup, and get 300 other people to smell it. Wow. Slim pickings on the Volunteer For An Experiment bulletin board that day, I guess.

Lison, M., et al. "A polymorphism of the ability to smell urinary metabolites of asparagus" Brit. Med. J. 1980, 281, 1676-8.

Best use of an equilibrium arrow, EVER. Don't bother with the article, the abstract graphic is all you need.

Toma, S. H., et al. "{trans-1,4-Bis[(4-pyridyl)ethenyl]benzene}(2,2'-bipyridine)ruthenium(II) Complexes and Their Supramolecular Assemblies with ß-Cyclodextrin" Inorg. Chem. 2004, 43, 3521-3527.

In the inevitable zombie uprising, humanity's only hope is a fast, coordinated, aggresive assault to eradicate the undead hordes. You knew this, but it's nice to have high-end mathematical modelling to back it up. Certainly a contender for the the best first line you will ever read in a math research article.

Munz, P., et al. "When Zombies Attack!: Mathematical Modelling of an Outbreak of Zombie Infection" in Infectious Disease Modelling Research Progress; J.M. Tchuenche and C. Chiyaka, Eds.; Nova Science Publishers, 2009; pp 133-150.


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