This past week I got the crazy opportunity to attend the first annual intergalactic Chemistry Matters convention on Saturn. It took a little while to reach the planet so that is why this blog has been lacking content recently but I am back now and so excited to share about my time at the convention. There were many presentations by leading scientists and public figures but I only have time to tell you about my favorite three. Those presentations were on pottery, alchemy, and broken glass.
An up-and-coming scientist, whose specialty is in redox reaction chemistry, named Sarah-James was the first presenter I listened to. I was intrigued to see exactly how the organizers of the convention planned on dealing with the problem of having the presenters wear large spacesuits while giving the presentations. For Sarah-James this was no problem however, because she is a native to Saturn. She began her presentation talking about why she loved redox reactions so much; it basically boiled down to her obsession with the science behind oxygen, since her home planet does not breathe the substance. Sarah-James went on to talk about the use of oxygen in Raku-pottery. The main difference between regular pottery and Raku-pottery is the speed of heating in the kiln. Normally pottery is heated gradually, but with this type the clay is rapidly exposed to flames and heated to almost 1800 degrees Fahrenheit. This rapid heating causes the copper ions in the glaze to reduce creating the colorful streaks and shiny exterior seen in the image below (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Raku_ware).
The reduction of the copper ions in turn creates oxygen which fuels the fire. I thought it was interesting how well the chemical reaction worked together to make sure both the fire was fed and the glaze turned out pleasing to the eye. Sarah-James ended her presentation making this connection and applying it to the various collaborative works between species being presented at the intergalactic convention.
The next presenter I listened to was John. Well that wasn’t his real name, but being an Earth historian from one of the Genovian moon colonies, he changed it recently to one of Earth’s most common names out of obsession. John taught his audience about the history of chemistry, specifically the roots it has in alchemy. Alchemy is the way earthlings tried to explain what we know today as science. They focused on four main elements, earth, air, water, and fire, which could be combined to create everything in the universe. John argued that those early alchemists were the basis for the creation of chemistry because they both dealt with the combination of elements to create new substances. I found John’s enthusiasm for chemistry of the old Earth enthralling. It is always nice to see people from other planets and moons interested in the greater world around them.
The final presenter that I really enjoyed was Sophia, a native to Earth and a leading detective for the police department on HD 189733b. She presented on the use of glass, a common found substance on HD 189733b, in police work. Her initial claim of being able to tell if you had your headlight turned on when your vehicle is involved in a collision seemed like something out of science fiction. However, when she went into the details of the subject I left a firm believer in the use of glass analysis in vehicle collision investigation. Sophia explained how when a light bulb in a headlight is turned on it heats the Tungsten filaments inside. When that filament is broken in a crash the released Tungsten reacts with the air and creates Tungsten Oxide. When the bulb is off the Tungsten is not hot enough to react with the air it comes into contact with and therefore does not create Tungsten Oxide. If Tungsten Oxide is created it will cling to the bulb, allowing investigators like Sophia to prove that someone had their lights on during the collision. Her work struck me as particularly important because one of my biggest fears when traveling to and from the convention on Saturn was getting into a crash with one of the many cargo ships that bring materials all across the galaxy. If our driver could prove our lights were on when we hit one of the other ships, as long as we were in an oxygen rich planet’s atmosphere, that would be one less concern for me.
Overall, I really enjoyed my time on Saturn. It was both educational and fun. I know this post was mainly about my knowledge gained on the vacation, but look forward to my post next week where I will rate my top five favorite sushi restaurants in our solar system.