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One of my work duties is to give safety training on the principles of electrostatic safety: ESD training we call it. The group of people who go through my training are new employees. These folks come from all walks of life with education ranging from high school/GED to BS chemists & engineers to PhD chemists. In order to be compliant with OSHA and with what we understand to be best practices, we give personnel who will be working with chemicals extensive training in all of the customary environmental, health and safety areas.

I have instructed perhaps 80 to 100 people in the last 6 years. At the beginning of each session I query the group for their backgrounds and ask if it includes any electricity or electronics study or hobbies. With the exception of two electricians in the group, this survey has turned up a resounding zero positive responses.

Admittedly, there could be some selection bias here. It could be that people with electrical knowledge generally do not end up in the chemical industry. My informal observations support this. But I’m not referring to experts in the electrical field. I refer to people who recall having ever heard of Ohm’s law. One might have guessed that the science requirements for high school graduation may have included rudimentary electrical concepts. One might have further suspected that hobby electronics could have occupied the earlier years of a few attendees. Evidently not. And it does not appear that parents have been very influential in this matter either.

I’m struggling to be circumspect rather than righteous. It is not necessary for any given individual to have learned any particular field of study. It is not even necessary for most people to have studied electricity. But it is important for a core of individuals to have done so. So, where are they? And why aren’t more people curious enough to strike out on their own in the acquisition of electrical knowledge?

Back to electrostatics. In order to have a working grasp of electrostatic principles, the concept of the Coulomb has to be conveyed. Why the Coulomb? Because it is the missing piece that renders electrostatic concepts as mechanistic. It is my contention that a mechanistic grasp of anything can help a person to reason their way through a question. The alternative is rote memorization. The mechanistic approach is what drives learning in the natural sciences.

To be safe but still effective as an employee, a person needs to be able to discriminate what will and what will not generate and hold static charge to at least some degree in a novel circumstance. By that I mean how accumulated or stranded charge can form and what kind of materials can be effectively grounded. If you are working with bulk flammables, your reflexes need to be primed continuously to recognize a faulty ground path in the equipment around you. At the point of operation, somebody’s head has to be on a swivel looking for off-normal conditions.

It is possible to cause people to freeze in fear and over-react to unseen hazards like static electricity. But mindless spooking is a disservice to everyone. To work around flammable materials safely requires that a person understand and respect the operating boundaries of flammable material handling. Those boundaries are grounding and bonding (see NFPA 77), avoiding all ignition sources, good housekeeping, and maintaining an inert atmosphere over the flammable material.

Much of electrostatic safety in practice rests on awareness of the fire triangle and how to avoid constructing it.

Back to electrical education. There are numerous elements of a basic understanding of electricity that will aid in a person’s life, including safely working around flammable materials. One element is the concept of conduction and what kinds of materials conduct electric current. Another is the concept of a circuit and continuity. Voltage and its relationship to current follows from the previous concepts.

I would offer that the ability to operate software or computers is secondary to basic knowledge of how things work.

Connecting these ideas to electrostatics are the Coulomb and the Joule. One volt of potential will add one Joule of energy to one Coulomb of charges. One Ampere of current is one Coulomb of charges passing a point over one second. Finally, one Ohm is that resistance which will allow one Ampere of charge to move by the application of one volt.

For a given substance- dust or vapor- a minimum amount of energy (Joules) must be rapidly released in order to cause an ignition. This is referred to as MIE, Minimum Ignition Energy, and is commonly measured in milliJoules, mJ.

A discussion on sparking leads naturally into the concept of power as the rate of energy transfer in Watts (Joules per second), connecting to both the Joule and Ohm’s Law. Rapid energy transfer is better able to be incendive owing to the finite time needed for energy to disperse. Slow energy transfer may not be incendive simply because the energy needed to initiate and sustain combustion promptly disperses into the surroundings.

A discussion of energy and power is useful for a side discussion on how the electric company charges for energy in units of kilowatt hours (kWh). This is a connection of physics to money.

The overall point is that a rudimentary knowledge of electrical phenomena is of general use, even in the world of chemical manufacturing. I often hear people talk about the importance of “tech” in regard to K-12 education. By that they seem to say that using software is the critical skill.  I would offer that the ability to operate software or computers is secondary to basic knowledge of how things work. Anyone with a well rounded education should be able to learn to use software as they need it.

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A recent paper (free) in Geophysical Research Letters reports the discovery of long anticipated ionospheric disturbances caused by the passing of the moon’s shadow over the earth during an eclipse. The paper, submitted by the MIT’s Haystack Observatory, reports the occurrence of ionospheric bow waves associated with the shadow ground-track of the August, 2017, North American eclipse.  The online source, MIT News, summarized the discovery.

 

I’ve been using a Mettler-Toledo (MT) RC1e reaction calorimeter for about 6 years. Our system came with MT’s iControl software, RTCal, and 2 feed pumps with balances. Overall it has proven its worth for chemical process safety and has helped us understand and adjust the thermal profile of diverse reactions. Like everything else, MT’s RC1e has many strengths and a few weaknesses.

The RC1e’s mechanical side seems reasonably robust. Our instrument sits in a walk-in fume hood resting on a low lab benchtop supported by an excess of cinder blocks- it is a heavy beast. During installation we discovered that the unit would not achieve stable calibration with the hood sash down. The control box mounted on the instrument didn’t work properly on installation. After a trip to the repair shop, the box was returned as functional but without finding the fault.

Recently we had a mixing valve fail in the heat transfer plumbing, resulting in down time. Diagnosis of this was unsuccessful over the email and phone, necessitating a service call. Parts may not be inventoried in the US and consequently must come from Switzerland. Expect Swiss prices and less than snappy delivery. Hey, it’s been my experience.

A chiller unit is required for RC1 operation and can add 15-30k$ to the setup cost. Users will have to contend with the loss of floor/hood space in the lab for the chiller and RC1. Chillers can take many hours to get down to the set temperature. Given that RC1 experiments can also be lengthy, plan accordingly. Our (brand new Neslab 80) chiller requires nearly 2 and 1/2 hours to get from +20 C to -20 C, which is the upper chiller temperature we use, depending on the reaction chemistry. For reactions that are on the sporty side, we’ll drop the chiller to – 50 C.  This is near the  minimum temperature for the water-based chilling fluid we use. Early on I opted for an aqueous lithium formate solution with a very low freezing point. It’s a little spendy, but a pool of it on the floor cannot warm up to become combustible and an ESD ignition hazard. Also, it is odorless.

The chiller required the wiring-in of a dedicated single-phase 240 VAC circuit. With the chiller using single-phase and the RC1e using 3-phase 240 VAC, it is important to assure that one cannot inadvertently connect into the wrong power circuit (idiot proofing). The chiller plug design should already prevent this. It is critical that the electrician is alert to this and does NOT jury-rig the plugs to use the same style of connectors because he has only one style in the parts bin.

Some comments on the collection and interpretation of RC1 thermograms.

  • It is critical that those who request RC1 experiments understand the limitations of the instrument. For instance, we use a 2 Liter reaction vessel with a 400 mL minimum fill volume. Refluxing is not allowed owing to the huge thermal noise input from the reflux return stream. Special equipment is said to be available for reflux.
  • Experiments must be carefully designed to elicit results that can answer questions about feed rates and energy accumulation.
  • Like many instruments, the RC1 needs a dedicated keeper and contact person for inside and outside communication. A maintenance logbook should be kept next to the instrument if for no other reason than to pass along learnings from previous issues.
  • If thermokinetic measurement is part of your organization’s development SOP, someone on staff should be reasonably familiar with chemical thermodynamics. That can be a chemical engineer, as may often be the case.
  • The users of thermal data are likely to need help with interpretation of the results. Be prepared to offer advice on interpreting the data, taking care not to over-interpret. If you don’t know, say so. It is easier to claw back “I don’t know” than “yeah, go ahead and do that …”.
  • Do not be anxious to singlehandedly bear the weight of responsibility for safety. Safety is a group responsibility.
  • Be curious. How do the insights and learnings from the data translate into best practices? What changes, if any, can the process chemists make to nudge the process for better safety and yields? A credible specialist in RC can make comments or ask questions that lead to better discussions on thermal hazards. Be a fly in the ointment.
  • Never forget that a reaction calorimeter is a blunt instrument for the understanding of a reaction. An RC1 thermogram is a composite of overlapping solution-phase phenomena. Interpretation of results can be greatly refined by pulling timely aliquots for NMR, GC/MS, or HPLC analysis.
  • A database should be constructed to collect and immortalize learnings from all safety work and RC1 learnings fall into that group.

There is the question of who collects and presents the data. An engineer or a chemist? Engineering thermodynamics is a big part of a chemical engineer’s education and skill set. As a plus, an engineer can take thermal data and apply it to scale-up design for safety and sizing of equipment and utilities. You know, the engineering part.

Do not be anxious to singlehandedly bear the weight of responsibility for safety. Alpha males- are you listening??  Safety is a group responsibility that should originate from a healthy group dynamic.

There’s a good argument for a chemist to conduct RC experiments as well. A trained synthesis chemist is qualified to conduct chemical reactions within their organization. That includes sourcing raw materials, handling them, running the reaction, and safely cleaning up the equipment afterwards. But interpreting RC1 data has a large physical chemistry component. In my experience, run of the mill inorganic/organic synthesis people may have seen PChem as an obstacle rather than a focus in their college education. Their skill set is in instrumental analysis like NMR and chromatography, mechanisms, and reaction chemistry. I would recommend having a PhD chemist with a focus on thermo in a leadership role when calorimetry is a key part of a busy process safety environment.

Safety data can be collected and archived all day long. The crucial and often tricky part is how to develop best practices from the data. I would offer that this is inherently a cross-disciplinary problem. Calorimetric data from reaction chemistry can be collected readily, especially with the diverse and excellent instrumentation available today. Adiabatic temperature rise, ΔTad, can be determined by a chemist, but it’s the engineers who understand how the equipment may respond to a given heat release. A smooth and efficient technology transfer from lab to plant happens when good communication skills are used. Yes, SOP’s must be in place for consistency and safety. But the positive effect of individuals who have good social skills and are prone to volunteering information cannot be underestimated.

 

An automated Windows update disrupted my life today. It swooped in overnight like a winged wraith, did its dark deeds, and flapped quietly back to the dank hole from whence it came. My RC1 data may yet reside unscrambled on the disk drive, but it lies orphaned from the mother iControl application which mockingly professes no recollection of 18 hours of sweet data lovingly produced. The curs in IT can only “tsk, tsk” in their antiseptic way while bobbing pointed heads in faux dismay. Another first-world difficulty uncovered for all to see.

I found myself up north in Casper, Wyoming, with friends for the 8/21/17 solar eclipse. We were modestly equipped for the spectacle. A member of our small group brought a Celestron 8″ Cassegrain telescope with solar filter and clock drive. We set up in an uncrowded neighborhood and began the wait.

Knowing that Casper would be crowded I had arrived 2 days early to explore some of the local geology. Jeez- I guess that makes me a geotourist. This activity gives a person a mission to complete. Pick some locations to visit and go do it within your time constraints. There is a beginning, a middle, and an end. Success consists of finding the location of interest, getting samples and photographs of unique rocks, stata and general landforms.

I’ve had good luck with the Roadside Geology series of books by Mountain Press Publishing. In the case of the eclipse trip, I secured a copy of the Roadside Geology of Wyoming ahead of time at a local Barnes and Noble. These books are quite well written and illustrated, especially important if you’re not packing a degree in geology.

The unique value of the Roadside Geology books is that the content is divided into state regions then subdivided into stretches of highway that you can drive along. Commonly along the highway can be seen many large scale features described in the book. Even better, photographs and diagrams of road cuts are frequently highlighted. In hilly or mountainous regions there are many road cuts that allow you to view underground features.

Lately I’ve taken to wearing a yellow reflective vest along the roadside while taking a close look at the exposed formation. People don’t expect to see some yay-hoo walking along the road with a  hammer and a notebook as they careen around the curves on a mountain road. Best not to surprise drivers.

Teapot Rock north of Casper, Wyoming.

There is a bit of interesting US history attached to the geology of the Casper area. The Teapot Dome scandal erupted during President Warren G. Harding’s administration in 1922. Harding’s Secretary of the Interior, Albert Bacon Fall, was caught taking bribes in exchange for awarding oil rights to a subsidiary of the Sinclair Oil Company.  The oil field was within the Navy Petroleum Reserve north of Casper.

“Teapot” Dome takes its name from Teapot Rock– a formation that, at the time, had a feature that resembled a spout. This feature is no longer there. “Dome” comes from an anticline fold in the oil bearing stata below. It is part of the larger Salt Creek Oil Field.

The seeing in Casper was good right up to the back third of the eclipse. The Celestron was rigged to throw an image onto a white screen. A chain of sunspots were visible early in the eclipse. As I was equipped with only my Samsung 6 for photography, I did not manage to get great pictures, nor was it really my intent. Sometimes you have to put the camera down and look. Just before totality we saw Baily’s Beads and the diamond ring. The autofocus of the Samsung was unable to produce a sharp image of the beads on the projection owing to the low light level.

Close-up of sunspots early in the eclipse.

When totality arrives you can look at it directly with the naked eye. It’s best to view it without the distraction of equipment. During totality it became noticeably cooler. The eclipsed sun had a wispy corona around it, reaching into space. Around the horizon back on the ground was a beautiful 360 degree sunset. People in the neighborhood were cheering. What a thing to see.

 

Pinhole projection using aluminum foil and a cereal box.

 

Here you can see some knucklehead trying to get a view through a pinhole projector cleverly disguised as a box of corn flakes. He commented that the image was only slightly better than nothing. In fact the image projecting through a colander onto the pavement was superior (below).

 

 

 

 

 

Multiple images of eclipse as projected through a colander.

 

Enroute to other things I ran across an old Gulf R&D patent, US 3294685, titled “Organic compositions containing a metallo cyclopentadienyl”. Sifting through the description my eye caught the interesting content below:

July 1941. A test spray was prepared by dissolving 2.5 grams (3.2 percent) of iron dicyclopentadienyl in ml. of a typical household insecticide base oil. The tests made with this solution employed a dosage of IO-second discharge. An equilibrium :period of 15 seconds followed by an exposure period of 70 seconds, during which the mist was permitted to settle on adult house flies confined in a screen-covered dish, was employed in the tests. The results of the tests showed that of the flies which had been contacted with the base oil containing 3.2 percent by weight of iron dicyclopentadienyl, 53.6 percent were dead after 24 hours. Of theflies which were contacted with the base oil alone, only 13.0 percent were dead after 24 hours. Check flies which were confined for 24 hours without having been contacted with either the base oil or the base oil containing iron dicyclopentadienyl had a death rate of only 0.4 percent. The better than fifty percent mortality of the flies treated with the base oil containing iron dicyclopentadienyl is indicative of the insecticidal properties of naphthas containing a small amount of iron dicyclopentadienyl. Naturally, the amount of metallo cyclopentadienyl used in insecticidal compositions-will vary with the particular compound employed and also depends upon the particular insects for which the spray is intended. The amount of iron dicyclopentadienyl employed in insecticidal compositions intended for use on flies is between about 1.0 and 10.0 percent by weight.

Ya know, a greater than 50 % kill rate seems to be getting a bit sporty for the flies. The ol’ boys at Gulf were studying the suitability of a variety of ferrocene analogs for fuel additive application. What lead them to go from octane enhancement and smoke control to killing flies is not revealed in the patent.

Notice the nomenclature in the patent language. The word ferrocene is not mentioned. Looking at the timeline we see that the Gulf ‘685 patent was filed April 21, 1952, not long after the publication of this curious iron cyclopentadienyl compound by two groups, Kealy & Pauson on 12/15/51, and Miller, Tebboth, and Tremaine on 1/1/52. Though Pauson and Keely published first, an examination of the papers show that Miller, Tebboth, and Tremaine were first to submit- July 11, 1951 vs August 4, 1951 for Pauson and Kealy.

The day before Gulf filed the patent application, April 20, 1952, a groundbreaking paper by Wilkinson, Rosenblum, Whiting, and Woodward was published on the proposed structure of iron bis-cyclopentadienyl. It is reported that the name ferrocene was invented by Mark Whiting, a student of R.B. Woodward and coauthor of the 1952 paper in JACS. The name derives from the ferrous ion and the aromatic (“benzene”) nature of the cyclopentadienyl ligands.

The curious structure was proposed largely on the strength of a single C-H IR band at 3.25 μ. Since all of the C-H bonds appeared to be equivalent, the only structure compatible with the formula, charges and symmetry was the famous η5 (eta five) sandwich structure. Later the word metallocene finds use for this class of substances.

There is disagreement as to some of the details outlined above. An excellent article by Pierre Lazlo and Roald Hoffmann navigates some of the narrower channels in the history of ferrocene. It is well worth the read. Lazlo & Hoffmann suggest that Woodward is thought to have conceived the sandwich structure.

Ferrocene and derivatives would soon prove useful in many areas. A more obscure application is found in the field of rocket propellant additives and function as burn rate stabilizers. In fact, certain ferrocene derivatives appear on the US Munitions List, 22 CFR 121.1, Category V, (f)(4) Ferrocene Derivatives. A good overview of ferrocene and other metallocenes can be found in Wikipedia.

Circling back to the beginning of this piece, the patent application for Gulf ‘685 was filed 4/21/52, only 4 months after the publication on 12/15/51 of the Pauson & Kealy paper and two weeks later the Miller, et al., paper on 1/1/52. In the 4 months between Pauson & Kealy and the Gulf patent filing, two independent groups had published papers reporting the preparation of iron dicyclopentadienyl by different methods, a Harvard group had postulated a structure for the compound using IR data and a novel bonding type, and the Gulf R&D group had produced various analogues for testing as fuel additives. In this short time interval, the first organo-iron compound was taken from a literature source through industrial R&D and a patent application. As a premium, Gulf even determined that it had insecticidal properties. Much happened in a short time.

 


Wilkinson, Rosenblum, Whiting, and Woodward J. Am. Chem. Soc., 1952, 74 (8), pp 2125–2126. DOI: 10.1021/ja01128a527

Kealy and Pauson, Nature, 168, 1039 (1951). Received Aug. 7, 1951.  DOI: 10.1038/1681039b0

Miller, Tebboth, and Tremaine J. Chem. Soc., 1952,0, 632-635. Received July 11, 1951. DOI: 10.1039/JR9520000632

Laszlo P., Hoffmann R. ACIEE, 2000 Jan; 39(1):123-124.  DOI: 10.1002/(SICI)1521-3773(20000103)39:1<123::AID-ANIE123>3.0.CO;2-Z

Dear Rep. Lamar Smith,

Yer a smart feller there, Lamar. Ya have a BA from Yale and that JD from SMU. Ya passed the bar exam and started private practice in San Antone. In 11 years ya worked yer way up ta national ‘lected office.  It’s an accomplishment no matter how’ya look at it. And that America Invents Act piled on some mighty fine improvements ta the patentin’ process. That was good work there boy.

As chair of the House Committee on Science, Space and Tech-nology, ya been perty skeptical ’bout them snooty climate science boys with their jar-gon and their uppity attitudes actin’ all high’n mighty-like ’bout climate n’such. A good ole’ boy from the Hill Country ought ta be able to pick up on that fancy c’mputer modelin’, right?

I think that ya ought ta throw some of yer many talents inta climate modelin’ yerself. You’d be doin’ the scientific folks a favor. You’d roll up yer sleeves an’ dig in ta clean’n up that po-litically correct climate data. Darn tootin’ you would. I’m sure the folks at NOAA would give ya a desk er somethin’ ta do yer cipherin’.

Give it some thought, Lamar. Shouldn’t take more’n a few Saturday afternoons ta make a big dent innit. Don’tcha think? Keep yer head on a swivel.

Th’ Gausslin’

 

(Texican language services provided by Elroy)

 

 

 

 

Of the 1332 posts I have polluted cyberspace with, the most frequently visited is a post on the topic of neutron lethargy written in May of 2008. The post is titled Neutron Lethargy- This Weeks Obscure Dimensionless Quantity. My intent was to write about some of the obscure yet interesting factoids and concepts that I run into in my daily travails.

I’ve been drawn to nuclear topics since junior high school. Sometime in 8th grade I began to to build several scientific projects as described in the Scientific American column The Amateur Scientist written by C.L. Stong. Stong published a collection of articles in a book titled The Scientific American Book of Projects for the Amateur Scientist, 1960, Simon and Shuster. This book was (is) a treasure trove of information on how to assemble equipment for scientific investigation.

In jr high I spent some time trying to assemble an “Atom Smasher” (p 344). It was an evacuated glass tube with filament electron source a meter away from the positively charged target. The target was a 3 x 1/4 inch disk of aluminum with many perforations over which aluminum foil would serve to seal in the vacuum. The aluminum foil was to serve as a window through which electrons could collide with a sample on the exterior. Sadly the project eventually ended due to the lack of access to a McLeod gauge, bulk mercury, and a diffusion pump. The required Van de Graff generator was available for a few hundred dollars. The failure was perhaps fortuitous because even if I had managed to assemble the thing, I might have been exposed to x-rays during the accelerator’s operation.

Turning my attention to more feasible projects I did manage to do some biology experiments. The most interesting was growing protozoans from an infusion of grass and soil in standing water. After several days the water would turn cloudy and fetid. Using a decent Christmas microscope we were able to view a magical world of microorganisms scooting around in their herky-jerky manner. It was mesmerizing.

A glove box project afforded a place for growing microorganisms with petri dishes purchased at a hobby shop. I was able to grow mold and some blend of bacteria on Jello in the petri dishes, but the microscope didn’t have the resolution for bacteria. Since I had no interest in pathogens, the glove box was not really needed. But it looked cool.

By 10th grade I did manage to successfully build the cloud chamber project (p 307). Unfortunately I only witnessed stray cosmic rays and background radiation. As it turned out, the polonium 210 alpha source loaned to me by a physics teacher had long since decayed to inactivity. Building the chamber was a tremendous learning experience made possible through the use of the metal shop at school. It was of sheet metal construction with a dry ice and methanol coolant chamber built in. The actual chamber was made from  the bottom quarter of a Folgers coffee can cut and fitted with a glass viewing port and Plexiglass illumination ports. As I recall, the most problematic aspect of the construction was finding an adhesive that would not detach at dry ice temperature.

An electromagnet was built in an attempt to bend the path of the particles by a magnetic field, but was wholly inadequate for the job. Learned another lesson there too.

The book by Stong was something that lit up my curiosity and put a fire in the belly to explore. This was the beginning of what turned out to be life-long career in science. Strangely, the total lack of interest by the adults around me only strengthened my resolve to build and learn.

Guapo, AZ. The American Greenhouse Association (AGA) released a statement Friday in response to the Trump Administration’s denial that greenhouse warming is not based on established science. The spokesperson for the AGA, Mr. Harlan Stamen, announced that the greenhouse industry has begun a fundamental reexamination of the science behind the greenhouse effect. The AGA was one of many organizations meeting last week at their industry’s annual conference at Pultroon University.

Mr. Stamen, standing before a packed room of reporters, bluntly stated “we thought we understood how the greenhouse effect worked. Honestly, we thought that problem was solved. Then we hear from the new administration in Washington that as many as a few percent of scientists were unsure.” Stamen went on to say that greenhouse researchers were working feverishly to understand how certain substances, CO2 among them, in fact just do not absorb solar energy as believed. “Clearly”, Stamen allowed, “we have to figure this thing out. We have no clue how our greenhouses get warm in sunlight.”

The spokesperson for the White House Office of Inquisitions,  Olivia Gastly, Esq., released a statement saying that the Office is “aware of many individuals in Democrat science who think they understand these issues of climate- I mean, who knew it was so complicated-  but our belief .. our belief … is backed by many years of assurances by the very best people that using fossil fuels cannot possibly produce global warming.”

President 45 has chosen a cabinet, with senate confirmation, that outwardly seems chosen specifically to deconstruct the large scale structure of the federal government. This has come out in the open by admission from the likes of Steve Bannon, but serious dialog about the consequences of this has only just started.

If you step back a bit and think about what role the federal government has had in modern US culture, you might realize that the federal governmental superstructure has provided a framework and a shelter for many things citizens and businesses have come to rely on.

Some science oriented services the federal government has provided-

  • Funds for industrial expansion in 2 world wars
  • DARPA, which funds for the development of advanced military hardware, including aviation, communications, orbital platforms, electronics, robotics, computer technology, and more. All of this has spillover benefits to the nation at large.
  • A military establishment that countless young men and women joined that helped them build a career for life after enlistment
  • The GI bill post WWII credited with aiding the formation of the American middle class
  • The FAA regulates the operation of a large scale civilian aviation system, including organizing the airways, aviation safety, air traffic control
  • NIST, which provides for common weights and measures as well as the definition and standardization of many other units of measure for science and industry
  • CDC, which monitors and aids in the identification and containment of diseases
  • NOAA, which provides a large array of satellites and computer capacity for weather forecasting
  • EPA, that agency much maligned by pollution-generating industry, is charged with oversight of surface waters of all kinds as well as the purity of the air we breath.
  • The NIH which serves as an effective national resource for the advancement of medicine in research and in practice
  • The NSF has for many years funded basic scientific research, and in doing so provided many generations of scientists and engineers for industry and academics
  • NTSB is charged with investigating transportation accidents and promoting transportation safety
  • you get the picture …

I am not entirely sure what the slogan “Make America Great Again” really means. It is a brilliant piece of propaganda in the sense that it stirs the emotions of voters, but cannot be pinned down to any one meaning. The image of greatness is in the eye of the beholder.

When I think of this greatness business, my mind naturally goes to the source of our vast science and engineering prowess. The US evolved a unique and effective system of research and development.  The American university/government R&D machine has over many years provided breakthroughs in technology, but also it provides a constant supply of valuable scientific and engineering talent for any and all who need it.

Another benefit of our scientific establishment is the treasure trove of knowledge it leaves behind for posterity. Working in an R&D heavy manufacturing environment, I have at my finger tips the largest collection of international scientific references in the world. This is the CAS registry at the Chemical Abstracts Service and it is in fact national treasure.

I use this resource almost daily to uncover known technology and substances dating back to the late 19th century. A great resource to have because in business, you can’t afford to reinvent the wheel. And a lot of wheels have already been invented. Highly detailed information can be retrieved to provide the knowhow to solve problems encountered in industrial R&D today. Information that is in the public domain. Even better, because of the practice of peer-review, the information usually can be considered highly reliable.

Our government/university R&D complex is the goose that laid the golden egg. It is part of the engine of ingenuity that drives our economy.

Industry benefits from tremendously from a constant supply of talented engineering and scientific talent graduation from the best university research establishment in the world. It is this way in large part because of financial input from federal government funding agencies. Yes, there are monies available from private organizations. But I don’t think it compares in magnitude and breadth to funding from DoE, NSF, NIH, etc.

When I see that the present crew of republican elected officials and their appointees gunning for the large scale teardown of government agencies and reductions in force, I am naturally worried about the future of our education and R&D apparatus. I have trouble believing that the present congressional majority and the White House have the knowledge and intellectual bandwidth to comprehend the consequences of their actions.

This whole deconstruction of the federal government in favor of state control has the smell of a return to confederacy. Ask yourself how a confederate states of America would function when challenged by China or Russia militarily. How would the disunity by strong state control of resources respond in the case of an incremental land grab like the Russian takeover of Crimea. What if China takes over Taiwan and threatens hegemony of the Pacific?

The present political regime in DC threatens to do great harm to a civilization that used to be the envy of the world. Opportunity, wide open spaces, modernity were an attribute of a productive, unified nation. Do a majority of the citizens want what amounts to the libertarian dream of personal responsibility in the form of isolated bubbles of humanity? Does every aspect of our lives have to be a potential profit center for someone? Competition thrives with individual choice. But civilization requires cooperation. I vote for civilization.

 

 

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