Thursday, January 16, 2014

Hands Off! This May Be Love

I am excited to announce the publication of Hands Off! This May Be Love, my first book written for a general audience.

Comprising exciting new material along with parts of my previous books, Hands Off! This May Be Love presents a Jewish, down-to-earth perspective on the hows and whys of refraining from physical contact before marriage, a practice that resonates with many religious Christians and others troubled by today’s societal norms. We are hoping that it will find its way into the hands not only of young adults, but also parents, youth pastors and other leaders. This book can make a real difference in people's lives and will also, God willing, achieve tremendous kiddush Hashem.

If you know anyone who may be open to the message of Hands Off! This May Be Love, please pass this email along to them. And if you have any ideas or connections for getting this book out there, please let me know!

And here's a link for the ebook:

Thanks so much!

With blessings,

Gila Manolson

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Salty surprise - ordinary table salt turns into "forbidden" forms

[Suggested reading for a student who recently told me about what has been proved by peer-reviewed science.] 

High-pressure X-ray experiments violate textbook rules of chemistry

High-pressure experiments with ordinary table salt have produced new chemical compounds that should not exist according to the textbook rules of chemistry. The study at DESY's X-ray source PETRA III and at other research centres could pave the way to a more universal understanding of chemistry and to novel applications, as the international research team, led by Prof. Artem Oganov of Stony Brook University (State University of New York) and Prof. Alexander Goncharov of Carnegie Institution, reports in the scientific journal Science.
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The electron localization function in the cubic NaCl3 structure. Credit: Artem Oganov/Stony Brook University 
Table salt, also known as sodium chloride or NaCl, is one of the best-known and most studied chemical compounds. It crystalises in a cubic unit cell and is very stable. Its chemical composition is simple - one sodium atom (Na) and one chlorine atom (Cl). Or at least that's true under ambient conditions. Other compounds of the two elements are forbidden by the classical rules of chemistry. For instance, according to the octet rule all chemical elements strive to fill their outermost shell with eight electrons, which is the most stable configuration, found in noble gases. Sodium has one extra electron and chlorine is missing one, so sodium donates one electron to chlorine, leaving both atoms with an outer shell containing eight electrons and forming a strong ionic bond.
But when the scientists put table salt under high pressure of 200,000 atmospheres and more at PETRA III and added an extra dash of either sodium or chlorine, "forbidden" compounds like Na3Cl und NaCl3 turned up. "Following the theoretical prediction, we heated the samples under pressure with lasers for a while," explains co-author Dr. Zuzana Konôpková of DESY, who supported the experiments at DESY's Extreme Conditions Beamline P02 (ECB). "We found other stable compounds of Na and Cl which came as a surprise." This is not supposed to happen, as these compounds require a completely different form of chemical bonding with higher energy, and nature always favours the lowest state of energy.
But Oganov's team had calculated before that exotic compounds might form under extreme conditions and remain stable under these conditions. “We have predicted and made crazy compounds that violate textbook rules: NaCl3, NaCl7, Na3Cl2, Na2Cl, and Na3Cl,” says Dr. Weiwei Zhang, the lead author of the paper and a visiting scholar at Oganov's lab at Stony Brook. At PETRA III and at Carnegie Institution the scientists tested the predictions in what they call "cook and look" experiments, targeting Na3Cl and NaCl3, the two compounds that were predicted to be more easily made than others, and indeed found them. “These compounds are thermodynamically stable and once made, remain so indefinitely," says Zhang. "Classical chemistry forbids their very existence. Classical chemistry also says atoms try to fulfil the octet rule - elements gain or lose electrons to attain an electron configuration of the nearest noble gas, with complete outer electron shells that make them very stable. Well, here that rule is not satisfied.”
The experiments help to explore a broader view of chemistry. “I think this work is the beginning of a revolution in chemistry,” Oganov says. “We found, at low pressures achievable in the lab, perfectly stable compounds that contradict the classical rules of chemistry. If you apply rather modest pressure, 200,000 atmospheres – for comparison purposes, the pressure at the centre of the Earth is 3.6 million atmospheres – much of what we know from chemistry textbooks falls apart.”
One reason for the surprising discovery is that textbook chemistry usually applies to what we call ambient conditions. "Here on the surface of the earth, these conditions might be default, but they are rather special if you look at the universe as a whole," Konôpková explains. What may be "forbidden" under ambient conditions on earth, can become possible under more extreme conditions. "'Impossible' really means that the energy is going to be high," Oganov says. "The rules of chemistry are not like mathematical theorems, which cannot be broken. The rules of chemistry can be broken, because impossible means softly impossible. You just need to find the conditions where the energy balance shifts and the rules hold no more."
Apart from its fundamental meaning, the discovery can also produce new practical applications. “When you change the theoretical underpinnings of chemistry, that’s a big deal,” Goncharov says. “But what it also means is that we can make new materials with exotic properties.” Among the compounds Oganov and his team created are two-dimensional metals, where electricity is conducted along the layers of the structure. “One of these materials – Na3Cl – has a fascinating structure,” Oganov says. “It is comprised of layers of NaCl and layers of pure sodium. The NaCl layers act as insulators; the pure sodium layers conduct electricity. Systems with two-dimensional electrical conductivity have attracted a lot interest.”
The experiments with table salt might only be the beginning of the discovery of completely new compounds. “If this simple system is capable of turning into such a diverse array of compounds under high-pressure conditions, then others likely are, too,” Goncharov explains. “This could help answer outstanding questions about early planetary cores, as well as to create new materials with practical uses.”

“Unexpected stable stoichometries of sodium chloride”; Weiwei Zhang, Artem R. Oganov, Alexander F. Goncharov, Qiang Zhu, Salah Eddine Boulfelfel, Andriy O. Lyakhov, Elissaios Stavrou, Maddury Somayazulu, Vitali B. Prakapenka, Zuzana Konôpková; Science, 2013; DOI:10.1126/science.1244989

Monday, January 6, 2014

Scientists discover double meaning in genetic code

A team of researchers have made the discovery that the genetic code used by DNA to store information actually contains a double meaning, with the second set of coded information having major implications for how scientists read and interpret the instructions within it.  According to the authors of this study, this fascinating find could help them to better understand both disease and health.
DNA, or deoxyribonucleic acid, is present in the cells of all humans, as well as almost every other living organism.  It contains the information for building and maintaining an organism in the form of a chemical code.  Four basic chemical bases – adenine, guanine, cytosine and thymine – are strung together in various sequences; and, the sequencing of these bases is what determines what information is coded within them, much like letters of the alphabet can be put together to create many different words and sentences.
The overall structure of DNA is what is known as a double helix.  The bases of DNA pair up with each other, with adenine pairing with thymine and cytosine pairing with guanine.  Each base pair then attaches to a sugar molecule as well as a phosphate molecule and this complete package is called a nucleotide.  Sequences of nucleotides arrange themselves in two long strands, somewhat like a ladder joined by base pair rungs, and the DNA molecule takes on a spiraling, helical shape.
DNA is able to make copies of itself by “unzipping” its two strands, allowing each strand to serve as a template for new DNA to be formed.  This process is how new DNA is created whenever cells divide and multiply.
Since 1962, when James Watson and Francis Crick received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for discovering DNA, it has been thought that this was all there was to know about how DNA worked.  However, a research team lead by Dr. John Stamatoyannopoulos of the University of Washington, has made a startling new discovery.  DNA is actually used to write in two different languages, giving a double meaning to the genetic code.
One of these languages, the one that was discovered by Watson and Crick, is used to code information about proteins.   The second one, which was just discovered, codes information which tells the cell how to control genes.  Genes are sections of DNA molecules which, when taken by themselves, code for specific proteins.  Humans have thousands of genes, all of them controlling different traits, such as eye color or height.
It took scientists a long time to locate this second language because one language is superimposed over the other one.
Speaking about this new find,  Stamatoyannopoulos note that “[t]hese new findings highlight that DNA is an incredibly powerful information storage device, which nature has fully exploited in unexpected ways.”
According to the UW team, the genetic code uses a 64-letter “alphabet” called codons.  What they discovered in their work was that some of these codons actually had two different meanings, one which affected protein sequencing and one which affected gene control.  These codons, which they call duons, seem to have evolved these double meanings in order to help stabilize certain beneficial features of proteins and their manufacture.
Their findings have important implications for how scientists interpret a person’s genome, they say, opening up new ways to diagnose and treat disease.  Because the genetic code is communicating two different types of information at the same time, diseases which appear to be the result of alterations in protein sequencing might actually be caused by changes in gene control programs, or even both factors.
The findings from the study were published in the December 13, 2013 issue of Science.
By Nancy Schimelpfening

If Chemistry Can Be Wrong, How Much More Evolutionary Theory?

salt-320-use-this-one.jpgAlong with astronomy, chemistry is one of the ancient sciences. Progressing from alchemy to rational chemistry, physical chemistry and quantum mechanics of our day, its status as "hard science" seems secure. Its theories have been refined for centuries. Moreover, its experiments (unlike macroevolution) are observable and repeatable. How, then, could researchers at Stony Brook University (academic home, by the way, of ENV contributor Dr. Michael Egnor, Vice-Chairman, Department of Neurological Surgery) say that a discovery has challenged the foundation of chemistry?
Experiments at the lab are causing a stir -- if not a revolution -- in this hallowed science:
All good research breaks new ground, but rarely does the research unearth truths that challenge the foundation of a science. That's what Artem R. Oganov has done, and the professor of theoretical crystallography in the Department of Geosciences will have his work published in the Dec. 20 issue of the journal Science....
"I think this work is the beginning of a revolution in chemistry," Oganov says. "We found, at low pressures achievable in the lab, perfectly stable compounds that contradict the classical rules of chemistry. If you apply the rather modest pressure of 200,000 atmospheres -- for comparison purposes, the pressure at the center of the earth is 3.6 million atmospheres -- everything we know from chemistry textbooks falls apart." [Emphasis added.]
We all know NaCl, table salt. Ever heard of NaCl3? How about Na3Cl? Those are some of the novel compounds Oganov's lab has produced. They were stunned to find them to be stable, real compounds.
"We found crazy compounds that violate textbook rules -- NaCl3, NaCl7, Na3Cl2, Na2Cl, and Na3Cl," says Weiwei Zhang, the lead author and visiting scholar at the Oganov lab and Stony Brook's Center for Materials by Design, directed by Oganov. "These compounds are thermodynamically stable and, once made, remain indefinitely; nothing will make them fall apart. Classical chemistry forbids their very existence. Classical chemistry also says atoms try to fulfill the octet rule -- elements gain or lose electrons to attain an electron configuration of the nearest noble gas, with complete outer electron shells that make them very stable. Well, here that rule is not satisfied."
The discoveries open up new possibilities for the supposedly mature science. "When you change the theoretical underpinnings of chemistry, that's a big deal," one team member says. "But what it also means is that we can make new materials with exotic properties."
How could this happen in a "hard" science? For one, Oganov, described as curious and obstinate, was driven by the word "impossible" to explore its limits.
To Oganov, impossible didn't mean something absolute. "The rules of chemistry are not like mathematical theorems, which cannot be broken," he says. "The rules of chemistry can be broken, because impossible only means 'softly' impossible! You just need to find conditions where these rules no longer hold."
Oganov compares the team's findings to discovering a new continent. Understanding and predicting high-pressure compounds can lead to new theories. And he envisions applications for astrophysics and planetary sciences, where high pressures abound.
If an unexpected foundation-shaking paradigm shift can occur in a "hard" science like chemistry, where findings can be checked by observation and experiment, how confident can evolutionists be that their theories about the unobservable past?
In recent years, major problems have surfaced in evolutionary theory: the overthrow of "junk DNA," the discovery of codes within codes, the intransigence of the Cambrian enigma to name a few. Yet its advocates continue to bully anyone who doesn't toe the line. Darwinism acts like a religion, not science. If Darwinists were proper scientists, they would embrace the new discoveries that break their rules. They would gladly follow the mounting evidence that points in a new direction for the biology of the 21st century -- intelligent design.
Image credit: Electron localization function in the cubic NaCl3 structure/Stony Brook University.
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