Chemistry

From the Vault: Hollywood Acid

From the corrosive blood of the "Alien" xenomorph to the various Bond and Batman villains' use of the iconic acid vat, popular media presents us with a dramatic and largely unrealistic vision of acidic power. What are our strongest acids and superacids actually like? How do they generate those acid effects in the movies? And just what sort of blood courses through the xenomorph's veins? Robert Lamb and Joe McCormick explore in this episode of Stuff to Blow Your Mind. (Originally published May 12, 2016)

Don't Drink the Salt Water

Whether you draw your wisdom from 18th century poems or experience in the surf, you probably know that drinking seawater is a terrible idea. But exactly why shouldn’t you drink saltwater? What happens if you do? Can it really drive you mad with hallucinations? In this episode of Stuff to Blow Your Mind, Robert and Joe look to the world of biology for answers.

Poison and the Rhino Horn

Can a chalice made of rhino horn detect poison? Can its ground powder serve as an aphrodisiac? The science is at best sketchy on both fronts, but such beliefs continue to endanger the world’s remaining rhinoceros species. In this episode of Stuff to Blow Your Mind, Robert and Joe explore the magical beliefs surrounding rhino horn and exactly what science has to say about the matter.

Greek Fire: The Byzantine Secret Weapon

To engage the ships of Byzantine Empire was to risk the horrors of Greek fire, a medieval weapons system that empowered ships to spew forth flaming liquid on enemy ships and crew members. The secrets of Greek fire are lost to history, but historians and scientists continue to theorize its formula and deployment details. Join Robert and Joe as they discuss the weapon’s history, predominant theories on its specifics and the risks and rewards of secret keeping.

The Quest for Hollywood Acid

From the corrosive blood of the "Alien" xenomorph to the various Bond and Batman villains' use of the iconic acid vat, popular media presents us with a dramatic and largely unrealistic vision of acidic power. What are our strongest acids and superacids actually like? How do they generate those acid effects in the movies? And just what sort of blood courses through the xenomorph's veins? Robert and Joe explore in this episode of Stuff to Blow Your Mind.

Will-o'-the-Wisp: A Light in the Swamp

There was a time when strange lights appeared in the marshlands. Commoners might have known the eerie luminescence as "Will-o'-the-Wisp" or "Hinky Punk," while the learned pondered the mysteries of "Ignis Fatuus." Superstitions aside, what natural phenomenon was at work here, before accounts of false fires in the night largely vanished from history? In this episode of Stuff to Blow Your Mind, Robert and Joe search for answers.

We Love the Periodic Table

The periodic table is an invaluable tool for scientists across the planet -- but how does it work? In this episode, Allison and Robert explore the creation of the periodic table. Tune in to learn more about the history and structure of the periodic table.

A New Way to Smell Old Books

I love the smell of old books. It's just one of the reasons they'll have to drag me kicking and screaming into the world of Kindles, Nooks and BeBooks. So it's rather amusing that while the forces of technology and science seem intent on carrying out a kind of print holocaust, some scientists are hard at work creating new ways to smell books.

Ig Nobel Prizes 2009: Bar Fights and Tequila Diamonds

Granted, I'm not actually the kind of guy to ever wind up in a bar fight. But if I WERE to find myself fighting for my life in an East Texas roadhouse, which bottle should I choose to smash over the head of my attacker? An empty or an unopened brew? Leave it to science to nail down an answer for us.

Periodic Table Gets New Element

As my fellow science blogger and periodic table enthusiast Allison Loudermilk is out on maternity leave, I'll have to be the one to blog about the latest development in the bagging and tagging of elements. We have a new one, folks -- a super heavy, man-made metal with the temporary title of 112 or "ununbium," which is Latin for 1-1-2.