Sad Gap and Coffee Comic

I made a vlog today about how I address the Sad Gap. If you’re not a part of the nerdfighteria youtube sphere, I will explain. The Vlogbrothers have both talked about it recently (see Hank’s video or John’s video). The sad gap is the place between finding out about a problem and being in a position to do something – anything – about it. It’s possible to fall right into the sad gap and end up not actually doing anything at all.

Like, let’s say someone finds out about climate change. He learns that driving a car – something he regards as perfectly necessary for getting through the day’s required tasks – is contributing to a slow moving but world-wide catastrophe. Knowing that, every day is worse. Driving is how he gets to the job that feeds his children but driving his car will make his children’s lives worse. And, scratching just a little below the surface, just about everything else he does daily also contributes to the problem. Heating the home? Turning on lights? Eating dinner? Streaming a movie? Flying to see grandparents?

Welcome to the sad gap. All the solutions are out of reach and retreating into ignorance is far more comfortable. And there are people who will be happy to take your money or attention to tell you that it’s not such a big problem anyway.

The first thing about getting out of the sad gap is to focus. Nobody can solve all of it. At best, we can avoid unnecessarily contributing to the problem, and maybe make a little contribution to one part of the solution. That doesn’t mean to tune out the other problems. Knowledge is power, after all. Also, big problems have a way of overlapping.

But! This hypothetical person wants to address climate change. The refugee crises, and the next Ebola outbreak, and the current war, (and and and) they all have to take a back seat. These other problems are not irrelevant – solutions may not repeat but they may rhyme. Climate change will create more refugees. Climate change will affect the animal reservoirs of Ebola in unpredictable ways.

But! The other side of the sad gap is action. Action requires focus: cutting emissions, driving less, going electric where possible, and pushing utility companies to go renewable. There are a set of actions that, if a few of us did them with focus, we could make the problem smaller.

Battery Chemistry Article

I like to read about people doing their part by focusing on some very specific problem. Example: we need renewable energy. Renewable energy needs storage. That probably means cheap batteries. And that probably means we need to replace lithium at some point. And that means we need to make stable replacement chemistry. And that means we need to understand what makes the current batteries unstable. And that means we need to put a 1000 degree furnace in front of a super-powered X-ray beam to watch what the material does during synthesis.

That’s how deep this particular rabbit hole goes, as of today. Blast your batteries with high intensity x-rays while synthesizing? Yes, please! So cool.

It turns out that sodium ion batteries fall apart after a few cycles. One reason is that defects are produced while the battery materials are made. The defects are like microscopic cracks, and sodium ions exploit those cracks to ruin the material during charging. This group investigated these synthetic defects using x-rays during synthesis.

Here’s the ANL press release

And here’s the Primary source:

Xu, Gui-Liang, Xiang Liu, Xinwei Zhou, Chen Zhao, Inhui Hwang, Amine Daali, Zhenzhen Yang, et al. “Native Lattice Strain Induced Structural Earthquake in Sodium Layered Oxide Cathodes.” Nature Communications 13, no. 1 (January 27, 2022): 436.

Pepto Bismol Article

I gather that also this year, scientists solved the detailed chemical structure of Bismuth Subsalicylate, the active ingredient in Pepto Bismol. That’s a rabbit hole I didn’t even know existed, but I’m glad someone is out there developing the tools to solve it.

Here’s a Pop Press Article

Here’s the primary source:

Svensson Grape, Erik, Victoria Rooth, Mathias Nero, Tom Willhammar, and A. Ken Inge. “Structure of the Active Pharmaceutical Ingredient Bismuth Subsalicylate.” Nature Communications 13, no. 1 (April 13, 2022): 1984.


I did make a comic this week. Here’s that story. One day in graduate school, I made a fresh batch of coffee. The little coffee maker alarm went off when it was done brewing. One of the graduate students in in the office said, “what’s that beeping?”

I told him, “It’s just the coffee maker saying I have a fresh pot ready.”

He asked “but, isn’t that your coffee pot on your desk?”

“Ah, right, so it is. Yes. It’s just the coffee maker saying I have a mess to go clean up.”

The coffee had overflowed all over the office counter and floor. Huge mess.

I used “storyboard that” to rough out the first version – it looks fine. I also tried to draw it without hiring an actual cartoonist didn’t go so well. Hey, it’s fun anyway.