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Submission + - Scientists Speak Out Against Wasting Helium in Balloons

Hugh Pickens writes writes: "BBC reports that Tom Welton, a professor of sustainable chemistry at Imperial College, London, believes that a global shortage of helium means it should be used more carefully and since Helium cools the large magnets inside MRI scanners — the medical devices that provide doctors with detailed images of what is happening inside their patients' bodies, it is wrong to use Helium for balloons used at children's parties. "We're not going to run out of helium tomorrow — but on the 30 to 50 year timescale we will have serious problems of having to shut things down if we don't do something in the meantime," says Welton. "When you see that we're literally just letting it float into the air, and then out into space inside those helium balloons, it's just hugely frustrating. It is absolutely the wrong use of helium." Two years ago, the shortage of helium prompted American Nobel Prize winner Robert Richardson to speak out about the huge amounts of helium wasted every day because the gas is kept artificially cheap by the US government and to call for a dramatic increase in Helium's price. But John Lee, chairman of the UK's Balloon Association, insists that the helium its members put into balloons, was not depriving the medical profession of the gas. "The helium we use is not pure," says Lee. "It's recycled from the gas which is used in the medical industry, and mixed with air. We call it balloon gas rather than helium for that reason.""

Submission + - Pyrex Is Not As Shatterproof As It Used to Be

Hugh Pickens writes writes: "When Pyrex cookware first came out, it was advertised as "icebox to oven" because it was made of borosilicate glass, which could weather large temperature changes without undergoing thermal shock, and shattering. Now Scientific American reports that when World Kitchen took over the Pyrex brand, Anchor Hocking started making pyrex products out of prestressed soda-lime glass which is more prone to shatter. Researchers calculate that a rapid temperature change of just 100 degrees Fahrenheit can fracture the new glass—compared to 330 degrees for the old stuff so it's possible to break a glass measuring cup with boiling water or explode a cool casserole dish by sliding it into a hot oven. One unfortunate use of Pyrex is cooking crack cocaine, which involves a container of water undergoing a rapid temperature change when the drug is converted from powder form. That process creates more stress than soda-lime glass can withstand, so an entire underground drug industry has been forced to switch from measuring cups purchased at Walmart to test tubes and beakers stolen from labs. "Scientists using Pyrex-brand glassware in the lab can breathe easy—that stuff is borosilicate still," writes Veronique Greenwod. "But to our cooking readers: be careful in the kitchen.""

Submission + - Chemists are Winning the War on Synthetic Drugs

Hugh Pickens writes writes: "Brandon Keim reports that the war on drugs has a new front with chemists fabricating synthetic mimics of marijuana, dissociative drugs and stimulants, and so far lawmakers appear to be a losing the war as every time a new compound is banned, overseas chemists synthesize a new version tweaked just enough to evade the letter of the law in a giant game of chemical Whack-a-Mole. “Manufacturers turn these things around so quickly. One week you’ll have a product with compound X, the next week it’s compound Y,” says forensic toxicologist Kevin Shanks. “It’s fascinating how fast it can occur, and it’s fascinating to see the minute changes in chemical structure they’ll come up with. It’s similar, but it’s different." During the last several years, the market for legal highs has exploded in North America and Europe and while people raised on Reefer Madness-style exaggerations may be wary of claims that “legal high” drugs are dangerous, researchers say they’re far more potent than the originals. “The results are toxic and very dangerous, especially for vulnerable people — people with previous psychotic episodes — and the young,” says chemist Liana Fattore. Reports of psychotic episodes following synthetic drug use are common and have led to a variety of laws but so far the bans aren’t working as the drugs can be subtly tweaked so as to possess a different, legal molecular form while performing the same psychopharmaceutical role. One obvious alternative approach is to ban entire classes of similar compounds rather than focusing on individual forms., however this is easier said than done. “The problem with that is, what does ‘chemically similar’ really mean? Change the structure in a small way — move a molecule here, move something to the other side of the molecule — and while I might think it’s an analogue, another chemist might disagree," says Shanks. That’s the crux of the entire problem. The scientific community does not agree on what ‘analogue’ essentially means.”"

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