Officina della Chimica – Chemistry Garage

Preparation of the propellant in the rocket chamber

“Officina della Chimica” or chemistry garage was a workshop I organized during the academic year 2014/2015 for my students.

The idea was to play with chemistry in a more relaxed environment compared to usual lectures. Only 6 students attended the workshop, but they devoted three afternoons per week, their Eastern holidays and also part of their summer holidays to the project.

I wanted the students to play the leading role in the decision of the workshop’s theme and in the realization of the project. So, we started brainstorming and watched some videos on YouTube to get inspiration.

We started trying to replicate some exothermic reactions. These kind of reaction releases energy though light or heat. At some point one of the students suggested to use the released heat to make a can fly. The experiment worked and the theme of the workshop was decided: “Development of a chemical reaction, which can be used as a propellant for homemade rocket”.

To make the challenge even more challenging we decided to participate to the contest “I giovani e le scienze” (young people and science) organized by Fast in April 2015. We managed to develop a new propellant, called Pulvis and to use it to make a homemade rocket fly. We presented the project entitled “Study, analysis and elaboration of a new propellant for homemade rockets: the Pulvis”. The contest was organized as a scientific congress: each group had a poster, where the results were stated. Jurors and other contenders could walk though the posters and ask questions.

The jury was so impressed with our achievements, that gave the group the possibility to attend the 15th MILSET Expo-Sciences International in Brussels. Also the MILSET was organized as a scientific congress, moreover it was open for the general public and so any kind of person was welcomed to attend the conference and ask questions to young scientists.

A further acknowledgment came from Finmeccanica, within the Leonardo award. The group was awarded during the Expo in Milan.

Check out our YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UClES0Frd9eWd57PrsxzxJzw

For further info (in Italian):

1. http://anssa.it/europa/notizie/rubriche/opportunita_giovani/2015/07/24/giovani-inventori-italiani-protagonisti-a-expo-sciences-2015_a8598040-8bbf-48f4-a148-215c658cd80a.html

2. http://www.altoadige.it/cronaca/bolzano/carburante-per-razzi-finmeccanica-premia-i-geni-del-rainerum-1.537378

3. https://www.corriere.it/economia/15_ottobre_31/finmeccanica-premi-l-innovazione-3fdb639a-7fd5-11e5-8b57-f1b8d18d1f0e.shtm

Baby colic and cry

Me, trying to calm down my daughter

Let’s start from the basics: babies cry. It’s their (only) way to communicate.

The evening crying of infants is usually associated with colic. In a paper of 1954 Dr. Wessel defined “colic” the crying of babies with the 3-rule: for more then 3 hours, for more then 3 days a week, for more then 3 weeks in a raw.

Medically speaking colic are caused by the rapid distension of the abdominal wall due to transit of air bubbles. The causes are not completed uncovered, but the possible triggering effects are:

  • lactose intolerance
  • excessive air swallowing
  • unbalanced microbiota
  • hormonal imbalance (e.g. motilin, which regulates the intestinal activity)

This period of evening crying usually happens between the third week and the third month of life. Even if the crying tests the parents’ patience, it is a signal of physiological development useful for children.

Wolke and collaborators published in 2017 a systematic review on fussing and crying duration in babies. On average, the mean cry was 117-133 minutes in the first 6 weeks and dropped to 68 minutes by 10-12 weeks. What is interesting is that not in every country the duration of the crying is the same, or at least similar. Children raised in Denmark and Japan show lower crying duration and a lower incidence of colic.

On hundreds of babies only a few actually suffer from colic, most of them are just crying babies. Why? Maybe they are tired, or hungry, or wet, or cold, or they just want to be cuddled.

What strategies can be helpful with a crying baby?

  • Skin-to-skin contact
  • Talking with a deep, reassuring voice
  • Massage
  • Reduce visual and auditory stimuli
  • Walk
  • Lavender bath oil
  • Behavioral approach

In 2002 Sleep and collaborators published the results of an interesting study about sleeping strategies. UK mothers of 610 children where divided intro three groups: behavioral policy, educational intervention and existing services. Mothers in the behavioral group were asked to feed their children between 10 pm and 12 am, try bot to rock, hold or feed babies to sleep, after three weeks to lengthen the interval between night feeds by resettling baby without feeding. Mothers in the educational group were given an 11 page information booklet. Mothers in the control group received the standard community services. Results show that there is no completely right or wrong way to care for babies in the early weeks. The application of a behavioral routine, though, could lead to an improvement of number of nights per week in which babies sleep for 5 hours.

Field et al. published in 2008 the results of a study in which they asked mothers to give bath to their children with or without lavender-scented bath oil. The mothers in the lavender bath oil group were more relaxed and their babies cried less and spent more time in deep sleep after bath.

References:

  • Field et al., “Lavender bath oil reduces stress and crying and enhances sleep in very young infants”, Early Human Development, 2008, 84:399-401, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.earlhumdev.2007.10.008
  • Sleep et al., “A randomized controlled trial to compare alternative strategies for preventing infant crying and sleep problems in the first 12 weeks: the COSI study”, Primary Health Care Research and Development, 2002, 3:176-183, https://doi.org/10.1191/1463423602pc105oa
  • Wessel et al., “Paroxysmal fussing in infancy, sometimes called “colic””, Pediatrics, 1954, 14:421-435
  • Wolke et al., “Systematic review and meta-analysis: fussing and crying durations and prevalence of colic in infants”, The journal of pediatrics, 2017, 185:55-61, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jpeds.2017.02.020

What do scientists and science communicators do?

Me presenting a poster about my research at the International Mass Spectrometry Conference (IMSC 2018) in Florence

Among other things, I am a scientist.

Usually people say to me:” Ok, but what do you actually do?”

So, the real question is: what does a scientist do? Scientists are basically curious people, interested in the wonders of the world, who want to crack the secrets of nature.

To do so they (we) apply the scientific method.

The scientific method was first described as a method by Galileo Galilei. It involves six steps:

1. Make an observation –> The lamp is not working

2. Ask a question –> Why the lamp is not working?

3. Form a hypothesis –> Maybe the light bulb is out

4. Make a prediction based on the hypothesis –> If I change the light bulb, the lamp will work again

5. Test the prediction –> Change the light bulb

6. Iterate –> Observe the results. Two possible outcomes are possible:

Option A – the lamp is working. The hypothesis was correct and the light bulb was out;

Option B – the lamp is not working. The hypothesis was incorrect. We need to go back to step 3 and form a new hypothesis.

Now that scientists have their results, they need to communicate them. It is possible to do it in several ways. One is to publish a paper on a scientific journal, such as Nature and Science (the two most famous ones), another way is to participate to congresses. Congresses are a way for scientists from all over the world to meet and discuss their most recent discoveries with posters (see the picture above) or oral presentations.

The big problem here, is that scientists speak a very specific jargon, which is difficult to understand for people without a scientific background. Well, to be honest, also for scientists from other fields. For me it will be almost impossible to understand a paper about the physics of black holes. That is why science communication plays a such important role. A science communicator is the middle man between academic scientists and general public.

So, the question is: can a scientist be also a science communicator? My answer is: he (she) should be both a scientist and a science communicator. Communicate science in a proper way means reach out a lot of people and to convey scientifically accurate messages and -perhaps and hopefully- reduce the number of people reading fake news.

There are a lot of interesting books dealing with the necessity of good and effective science communication, for instance:

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