Skip Navigation

The Weekly Beaker Header

Volume 16 Number 22

March 28, 2012

Minnesota Academy of Science Annual Meeting/Winchell Undergraduate Research Symposium
Saturday, April 21, 2012
St. Olaf College

Check out undergraduate student research posters and presentations.  Explore the St. Olaf College campus including LEED Platinum certified Regents Hall and the St. Olaf Natural Lands (optional tours).  Attend the keynote address:

Can We Feed the World and Sustain the Planet?
Dr. Jon Foley
Director of the Institute on the Environment at the University of Minnesota
Professor and McKnight Presidential Chair in the Department of Ecology, Evolution and Behavior

Undergraduate researchers in the following areas are encouraged to submit an abstract:  Cellular & Molecular Biology, Chemistry, Math & Computer Science, Earth Science, Ecology & Environmental Science, Economics & Business, Engineering, Physics, Organismal & Physiological Sciences, Social Science, Psychology, Neuroscience.  Priority submission deadline:  March 30, 2012 (abstracts received after the deadline are subject to an additional $10 fee).  For additional details and to register, visit:

Seminar Announcement

No seminar this week

Periodic Table Meets This Week

Periodic Table meets this Thursday in the LDC Class of ’51 Dining Room.  We meet at noon in the chemistry hallway and walk over together, or you can join us there.  If you are off board, the department will cover your lunch.

Chemistry Group Comps Presentation

Heavy Metal Sandwiches:  Rocking Out at Room Temperature to Dinitrogen Functionalization

Ryan Cammarota, Katie Deeg, Peter Dunn, Jon Raberg, Sean Roberts, Karen Robinson, and Erika Warrick

Wednesday, April 4, 2012
7:00 p.m.
Boliou 104

Nitrogen fixation is an essential life process through which atmospheric nitrogen is converted to ammonia.  For the last 100 years we have relied on the energy-intensive Haber-Bosch process to create ammonia for fertilizer in order to sustain the world’s population surge.  One focus of Professor Paul Chirik’s (Princeton) work is using group 4 (Ti, Zr, Hf) metallocene complexes to promote dinitrogen fixation and functionalization at ambient temperatures and pressures.  Using small, abundant molecules such as H2, CO2, and CO as feedstocks, his group has obtained a variety of products with new N-H and N-C bonds, and achieved the N-N bond cleavage of dinitrogen, one of the strongest bonds in chemistry.  The products of these reactions have various applications as precursors to pharmaceuticals and potential slow-release fertilizers, a promising step towards bypassing energy-intensive ammonia production during synthesis of these products.

Department of Energy (DOE)
Carlsbad Field Office Fellowship Programs

DOE is now accepting applications for Spring 2012 BS/MS/PhD graduates and recent alumni with Computer Science/Engineering, Information Technology, Cyber/Computer Security or other related Engineering and Technology degrees.  The DOE CBFO Program provides the opportunity to conduct mission-oriented research in DOE’s CBFO in Carlsbad, New Mexico.  The CBFO Fellow will study needs for automated access control and secured wireless computing for use in the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) repository.  The Fellow will become familiar with Homeland Security Presidential Directive12, Public Key Infrastructure and secured wireless local area networking.  The Fellow will also become familiar with key recommendations regarding the integration and deployment of information technology systems for optimized use and cost saving applications without sacrificing performance or security.

Applicant must have strong analytical, research and communication skills and demonstrated capacity for creative thinking.  Applicant should have a strong technical background and interest in being part of a multi-disciplinary, fast-paced environment, focused on energy technology research and development.  Visit CBFO Fellowship Programs for more information and/or to complete application or e-mail  Application deadline:  April 8, 2012.

Chesley Lecture to be given by GeoCHEMIST Prof. Thure Cerling

This year's Chesley Lecture, and other associated events, will be of interest to chemistry students as well!  Please attend any of the events below which you can fit into your schedules.  The official Chesley Lecture is Tuesday evening and is open to the public.  You are welcome to attend Chem 230 on Monday morning as well.  Note that Prof. Cerling uses stable isotopes to measure an incredible array of things -- all hinging on the chemistry of the elements in question!  As a bonus, chemistry majors will have the opportunity for lunch with Prof. Cerling on Monday, April 2.  If you’re available for lunch, contact Ellen ( by noon on Thursday, March 29.  Anyone interested in environmental, analytical, geological, or biological chemistry can gain from meeting with him!

Monday, April 2.  Chem 230, 1a (8:30 a.m.), Olin 149
Reaction Progress - Isotope speedometers and other things
This will be about experimental design, etc.

Tuesday, April 3.  SOAN 230, Human Evolution and Prehistory, 2-3c (10:10 a.m.), Olin 04
Environments of Human Evolution, The Isotope Evidence

Tuesday, April 3.  Chesley Lecture, 7:30 p.m., Weitz Center for Creativity Cinema
Iso-Forensics.  Or, NCIS (Never Contest Isotope Science)

Wednesday, April 4.  Geology Department Lecture, 4:30 p.m., Mudd 73
Cosmic rays and landscape change in Western USA

Reaction Progress Variable - Isotope speedometers and other things

Stable isotopes at natural abundance levels are ideal tracers to study many processes.  They allow the flow of elements such as hydrogen, carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, and sulfur to be studied in biological and geological systems.  The reaction progress variable keeps track of isotope exchange as reactions proceed.  This variable provides information on rate constants and other processes in isotope exchange reactions.  It is thus a speedometer which can be used in natural systems to directly determine past histories of behavior change such as diet, to deconvolve related processes, and to design experiments.  I will discuss this variable and provide examples of its use in understanding isotope exchange reactions in the context of biological and geological phenomena, and experimental design.

Environments of Human Evolution:  The Isotope Evidence

Early man evolved in Africa and the African rift valley contains a detailed sedimentary record of that evolution in the Plio-Pleistocene.  Stable isotopes provide an independent assessment of paleoenvironments in the Omo-Turkana  Basin in northern Kenya; stable isotopes track the flow of oxygen and carbon through ecosystems and are not directly related to changes in mammalian faunal composition or sedimentology.  Therefore, isotope studies give independent insight into the paleoenvironmental conditions in which human evolutionary trends have been recorded.  The development of stable isotopes as indicators of continental environmental conditions has proceeded in parallel with questions about the conditions of human environment:  what was the vegetation?  How hot was it?  How dry?  What were the diets of animals living amongst early humans?  What were the diets of early hominins?  And most persistently:  how important were “savannas” to early hominids?

Iso-Forensics.  Or, NCIS (Never Contest Isotope Science)

Stable isotopes are tracers of the environment – this includes many natural processes as well as human related processes such as manufacturing or trade.  We use natural abundances of stable isotopes to understand the variations in materials where the isotopes of hydrogen, carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, or sulfur have been separated.  In this talk I will review some processes where isotopes become separated, and provide examples of how this is used in diet, ecology, geology, medicine, and forensics.  Indeed, you are what you eat (plus a few permil).

Cosmic rays and landscape change in Western USA

The Earth is under constant bombardment from cosmic rays.  These cosmic rays produce unique isotopes in rocks at the Earth's surface and these newly‑created isotope can be used to determine how long the rocks have been exposed the cosmic rays.  In this talk I will explore how we have used this to study landscape evolution in the Western USA.  We can determine ages of discrete events such as deglaciation, debris flows, volcanic eruptions, or catastrophic floods.  In other cases we can determine rates of processes, such as long‑term displacement on faults or regional erosion rates.  This method has opened up a new avenue to consider the geomorphic evolution of landscapes.

Thure Cerling is a biogeochemist at the University of Utah.  His work primarily concerns the use of isotopes to study biological and geological processes occurring near the Earth’s surface.  He has done extensive field work in North America, Kenya, Ethiopia, and Pakistan, and other geological and biological studies in Argentina, Australia, Western Europe, and Antarctica.  These studies include cosmic-ray produced isotopes to study geomorphology, chemistry of lakes and lake sediments, radiochemical studies of rivers and sediments, and stable isotope studies of diet and of soils.  He has an interest in science and public affairs and has served on the US Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board (2002-2011) and other related committees.  He is a member of the US National Academy of Sciences.