Class blog for sharing and commenting on current events in biology.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

A Chemist Comes Very Close to a Midas Touch


ROSNER, HILLARY. "A Chemist Comes Very Close to a Midas Touch." New York Times. N.p., 15 Oct. 2012. Web. 22 Feb. 2013. <http://www.nytimes.com/2012/10/16/science/modern-day-alchemy-has-iron-working-like-platinum.html?pagewanted=2&_r=0&ref=chemistry>.
            The article I chose was an article on Paul Chirik and his impressive research. Dr. Chirik is a chemistry professor at Princeton who is studying alchemy. Alchemy is a power or process of transforming something common into something special. Alchemists centuries ago tried to change common metals such as iron or lead into valuable metal such as gold or platinum. Dr. Chirik has developed his own version of alchemy as he has learned to make iron function like platinum in chemical reactions crucial to manufacturing. Platinum is a metal used to manufacture every day life products such as denim and beer but it is also a relatively scarce metal with a limited supply and a high price. The science behind this development involves wrapping iron molecules in a ligand, which is an organic molecule that alters the number of electrons free to form bonds and it, also gives the molecule shape and that shape allows the iron to make these reactions. Dr. Chirik has also worked with cobalt to produce different plastics using inexpensive metals but this eventually proved inefficient because of the now high price of cobalt after being needed in Ipads and Iphones. Scientists such as Roderick Eggert support Dr. Chirik’s work with Eggert saying, “There’s a broad appeal and logic to focusing on more abundant elements in designing catalysts.” These catalysts usually use metals such as platinum, palladium, and rhodium but these are all very expensive. In Dr. Chirik’s work with Iron, there have been some issues such as the fact that iron rusts could make iron a challenge to use in manufacturing. One other thing that Dr. Chirik and his researchers are trying to accomplish is finding a way to use catalysts to convert nitrogen that’s in the air into nitrogen that is used in products such as fertilizer and carpet fiber. The research of Dr Chirik if developed could have an enormous effect on human life.

            The development of ways to use inexpensive metals instead of expensive metals could prove immensely valuable. For example, Dr. Chirik replaced platinum with iron which is incredibly efficient because while a pound of platinum costs 22,000$ a pound of iron costs only 50 cents. 50 cents is only .00002273 percent of 22,000 which when thought about is astonishing what using iron instead of platinum could do. For manufacturing companies, that would save them an enormous amount of money, so the price of production would decrease. With a drop in the price of production comes a drop in the price of the product and that would affect society because platinum is used to produce every day items like denim and beer and more. This drop in price of products would increase allow more people to buy these products and would increase the overall quality of life. Also, metals such as platinum are much more scarce then iron and using iron instead of platinum would stop platinum from running out in the long term which would be a problem or if there was ever a problem in using platinum to develop products, it would be good to have another way to produce this product such as using iron instead as Dr. Chirik is. This research is being funded by major companies, as it should because if successful, it would improve human life immensely. I chose this article because I am very interested in Chemistry and was searching for a Chemistry article and this one looked interesting from the preview.
            This article was on the whole well written and a good article. I thought that one thing the article did well was it brought you into the article with an interesting sentence which made me as a reader want to keep reading. It also gave interesting facts that kept you interested throughout the article such as the price of some of the metals used for production now compared to the price of Iron. However, one area where I think the article could improve is the explanation of the science behind Chirik’s scientific development. It gave a brief overview, explaining what the iron mixes with but especially if you weren’t a Chemistry student, it would be very hard to understand the explanation of the Science. This would be an easy improve if the writer just took an extra paragraph to explain the science and some of the terms he used in his explanation. A second weakness in the article was the ordering of the facts presented. The article went from Dr. Chirik’s iron/platinum development to his other developments and then back to the problems in his iron development and that was annoying as a reader. To improve this, I would have everything written on the Iron development in one section and then everything else in it’s own section.

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