My phone is eating my brain, also new video is up!

I posted a video about chromatography, but first I want to talk about focus and cell phones. The comic is almost a verbatim conversation I had with my wife. It’s hard to escape my phone even for the time it takes to use the restroom. That can’t be good for my psyche.

I was thinking about doing a deeper dive on that, but it just doesn’t fit the theme of the blog/vlog any more. It fits better over at my other site, Student Pro Tips, but I have not updated that for a long time. Then I thought, maybe I SHOULD update that site and maybe add a video, too! Because I need more projects. I have not done that yet… we will see. [EDIT: I posted the video and blog post about this whole thing]

Research summary on the subject:

  1. There have been several meta-analyses and reviews on smartphone addiction and smartphone effects on cognition and learning.
  2. There’s a thing called Nomophobia now: “The term NOMOPHOBIA or NO MObile PHone PhoBIA is used to describe a psychological condition when people have a fear of being detached from mobile phone connectivity.”

All that from a comic.

Ok, about chromatography. Here’s the video.

I was first really introduced to chromatography in 2nd year organic chemistry. Mostly we avoided it when we could. But chromatography is at the core of analytical chemistry the way that telescopes are at the core of astronomy. Learning about a chemical starts with purifying that chemical, and that often means chromatography.

Chromatography involves something mobile flowing through something stationary. All the chemicals in the sample have their own preferences about whether they want to be in the stationary part or the mobile part. In paper chromatography, water wicks through some paper and carries molecules along. Every molecule decides whether it is flowing in the water (mobile) OR stuck to the paper (stationary). The degree to which each chemical does one or the other determines its average speed. If it LOVES the paper and doesn’t dissolve at all, it doesn’t move. If it loves the water and doesn’t care about the paper, it moves along as fast as the water. Many things are somewhere in between. Different speeds mean that the chemicals can be separated from each other.

It’s not really magic, but it seems like it. It’s as if you put a shot of vodka into one end of a hose and out the other end comes half a shot of water and half a shot of pure ethanol. And it’s not the same as distillation. Distillation is more like “boiling off” different components. The ethanol is easier to boil, so the first vapors are mostly ethanol. But “mostly” is important here: you can’t get 100% ethanol this way. With the right kind of chromatography, you can.

I’m a little frustrated with the video – I had to upload twice on account of accidentally deleting a time-lapse and I forgot to correct my camera’s white balance settings. Sigh. Next!


‘The Birds Outsmarted Us’: Magpies Help Each Other Remove Scientists’ Tracking Devices

Crows are fun and interesting birds. There are a couple of crows near where I work that are starting to recognize me as a sucker who carries peanuts. So that’s fun. These people wanted to study Magpies, a related corvid, and so they put little tracker backpacks on them. The Magpies couldn’t take them off by themselves, but the other Magpies helped them take them off.

Scientists capture a memory forming in the brain of a living fish

There was still a fair amount of debate over how memories are stored in the brain. This study pretty conclusively showed that synapse formation is critical. Synapses are the connections between brain cells. There was some question over whether synapse strength or synapse growth was the mechanism of memory. This seems to put the debate to bed (at least for fish). The fact that this can be observed in a live fish as it learns is some breathtaking science.

Poop surveillance proved its worth during COVID-19 pandemic – Los Angeles Times

This may seem gross, but sampling wastewater to detect coronavirus is non-invasive and it works. We can get an idea for the disease burden without having to do door to door testing of individual people. That’s really useful. There are some real challenges: how well does the virus RNA survive in wastewater? Does that change with temperature and thus with season? What is the relationship between an exact number of viruses in a liter of wastewater and an exact number of people who are sick? These are hard questions to answer, but I have been following scientists solving these problems for the last two years. It’s going to be an important tool going forward.


Taylor Tomlinson Gets a Digital Makeover

This was very funny. Taylor Tomlinson makes me laugh and is now my wife’s favorite comedian. The straight-man chemistry between her and the “assistant” character was hilarious. The photoshops were creative.

VW Beetle converted to electric in a day

Old cars are almost all mechanical. There’s not much electronic in them. Likewise, a lot of the things that new cars do to make driving easy (like power steering, power brakes, and air conditioning) are just absent in these old cars. Replacing the gas engine with an electric motor is almost drop-in simple without all those additional systems that would have to be adapted as well. These folks were able to do it in a single day for an old VW beetle.

The cult of Squishmallows

This is part of a series on things that are not cults but seem like cults. Amanda from Swell Entertainment discusses collectible plush toys and the strong (almost cultlike) following for this specific brand. I am not at all interested in plush collectible toys, and yet Amanda makes me interested in this strange cultural subject.

Backflow Incense Burners Are Really Weird

I saw backflow incense burners on YouTube at one point. I, too, was curious how they work. Steve Mould does a good job at describing the phenomenon and making some good explanations for how they might work. He also does a cool demonstration with a burning sticky note so that we can see that the phenomenon can be replicated in a different context.

MARIN – Follow-up research container loss Wadden

This is a great analysis of an occurrence where some cargo was lost in a storm. I love these sorts of exhaustive analyses. It’s especially fun when they build huge wooden models and play with them in a big pool and it still counts as science.

Unions And Strikes Are Good – SOME MORE NEWS

Walmart commissions instructional (read “propaganda”) videos for their employees to watch about how “unions are bad, mmkay.” You can infer reliably from that fact that unions are actually a good thing for workers overall. I’m sure there are frustrations with unions. But it’s clear that we need more of them. Here’s a funny and informative run-down on that.