Mole Day — An Explanation

Happy Mole Day!

For many of you, it’s likely you have no idea what a mole is. Sure you know of a mole as a raised piece of skin that’s darker than the surrounding area. You also know a mole as a small underground-dwelling insectivore. It’s possible you even know a mole is a type of spy. There’s even the kind of mole that you put on your food, but that’s pronounced differently. “Mole-ay” sauce, as it’s pronounced, is a dark-red/brown chili-based sauce used in Mexican dishes.

But there’s also the mole used in science. A mole, whose unit is simply mol (mole : mol :: kilogram : kg :: meter : m), is a unit of measure used almost exclusively in chemistry.

A mole (mol) is an amount of substance that contains as many particles* as there are atoms in exactly 12 grams of carbon-12.

*By particles, I mean atoms in a sample (such as C) or molecules in a sample (such as H2O).

So 1 mole of carbon has the same number of “particles” as 1 mole of anything else, be it water, sodium, or gold.

Now what is that number? The short answer is, it isn’t important. lol

The slightly longer answer is 6.02 x 10^23, which is called Avogadro’s number. Yes, it’s a HUGE number.

So if you have 1 mole of Carbon (pure carbon 12), it will weigh exactly 12 grams and will have 6.02 x 10^23 number of carbon atoms in it.

If you had a mole of water, it would have the same number of H2O molecules, but would weigh 18 grams (16 grams for the oxygens and 2 x 1 grams for the hydrogens).

So just as a dozen diamonds (made of carbon) would weigh a different amount as a dozen gallons of water, so does a mol of carbon weigh a different amount than a mol of water!

If at this point, you’ve missed what mole day could be celebrating, I will tell you that today is October 23rd. Otherwise known as 10/23, a magical part of Avogadro’s number. :-) So scientists and numerologists unite! And at 6:02 am and pm, particularly, celebrate.

Science Cards – Two Great Women

After a slew of business trips and a broken piece of software, I’ve finally got the latest–and last*???–science cards for you!

First up is Marie Curie, the first person honored with two Nobel Prizes!  Best known for her work as a pioneer in radioactivity, Curie had a distinguished career that included isolating radioactive isotopes, discovering two chemical elements (she even had one named after her!) and working to cure cancer with radiation. Continue reading

Another Nobel in The Roundup

The 2009 Chemistry Nobel Prize was awarded yesterday for work on identifying ribosome structure.  Whether you’re familiar with them or not, ribosomes are huge (in biology and in life–but not in size).  Basically the ribosome “reads” the DNA and makes proteins.  If DNA is the recipe of life, a ribosome is the chef.

And if that’s of no interest to you, how about bugs? Incredible Insect Macro Photography came across my Twitter feed and I thought you’d love to see these amazing images.

If you’re not following me, obviously you should be.  But why should you read AmoebaMike when you could be keeping up with the Kardashians or following Taylor Swift? (Yes, I <3 Taylor too.)  I read lots of science tweets and distill the very best stuff that I think the average person would find interesting.

I’m trying out this PicApp thing. Thoughts?

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