The Periodic Table Upended

The periodic table of elements has served the field of chemistry well for 150 years, but there are other options out there. Some scientists are now pushing its limits.

Devised in 1869 by the Russian chemist Dmitri Mendeleev, the periodic chart is a 2-dimensional array of chemical elements ordered by atomic number and arranged 18 across by orbitals. It is considered one of the most important achievements in modern science. The schema of patterns and trends enables scientists to predict elemental properties, reactivities, and even new elements. The position of an element in the table can reveal a lot of things about it, such as whether it’s metal or not or if it’s abundant on earth or not. This original form has remained largely unchanged for the past 150 years, except for the addition of new elements that have been discovered, although generations of chemists have made attempts to improve it or just make it more fun.

Recently, in the May issue of Nature Chemistry, a group of  chemists and psychologists at British universities proposed turning the periodic table on its head. They asserted that rotating it 180 degrees about a horizontal axis would make it more like a traditional graph so that values increase from bottom to top. Most of the properties would then increase from bottom to top, including atomic number, atomic mass, atomic radius, maximum oxidation state and reactivity. Despite the inversion, each element still has all of the same neighbors that it had before, only now the chart shows the elements proceeding upwards as they gathered atomic weight and complexity. This new form might be easier for chemistry students to interpret and understand.

On another note, have you ever read The Periodic Table by Primo Levi? Published in Italy in 1975, it’s a collection of 21 autobiographical stories that each use a chemical element as a starting point, covering everything from Levi’s childhood and education and his work as a professional chemist to his life in and after Auschwitz. It was in fact chemistry that helped him survive the Holocaust. Because he was a trained chemist, he was deemed valuable enough to be slave labor for a German rubber factory.  It became a critical and commercial success when the first American version was published in 1984, and in 2006, The Periodic Table was listed by London’s Royal Institution as among the best science books ever written.

Where Exactly is the Cloud?

By Ms. Frances Roberts

“People think that data is in the cloud, but it’s not,” said Jayne Stowell, who oversees construction of Google’s undersea cable projects.  “It’s in the ocean.”

It kind of boggles the mind when you really think about the Internet. Do you even know what it is? While most of us experience the Internet through Wi-Fi and phone data plans, those systems eventually link up with physical cables that swiftly carry information across continents and even oceans.

The Internet is made up of tiny bits of code – called data – that move around the world, traveling along wires that are as thick as a strand of hair and long enough to stretch across the ocean floor. And, these bits of code move amazingly fast. The data is somehow able to zip from New York to Sydney or from Hong Kong to London in less time than it took you to read this paragraph!

A great deal of cable has already been laid to connect the continents and support our insatiable demand for information, communication and entertainment. In fact, 750,000 miles of it. In the modern era, it was the telecommunications companies that first took on the task of laying out most of the cable, but in the last ten years, American technology giants have started taking over.  In the beginning, they created a consortium to pool their resources and build – and then own – the subsea cables. Think of it as building a freeway for them all to use. Google has backed at least 14 cables globally, and Amazon, Facebook and Microsoft have invested in others. These content providers now own or lease more than half of the subsea bandwidth.

A more recent option is for a company to take on an subsea cable project alone, and Google recently announced its newest one that will connect the United States to Chile, which is where the company’s largest data center is located. Google has invested $290 million in its Chilean data center to help develop its capacity in artificial intelligence and machine learning, as well as to deliver cloud applications like Gmail, Google Maps, YouTube, and Waze.

This undersea cable project will be no easy task. Although a 456-foot ship named Durable is set to deliver the cable to sea, the cable will first need to be assembled inside a large factory in Newington, New Hampshire.  The factory is owned by SubCom and is filled with specialized machinery that is used to maintain tension in the wire and encase it in protective skin. The cable will have plastic, steel and tar added to help it withstand unpredictable ocean environments, and when finished, it’ll end up the size of a thick garden hose. It takes a year of planning to chart the cable route so as to avoid underwater hazards, but the cables themselves will still have to withstand heavy currents, rock slides, earthquakes and interference from fishing trawlers. Google estimates the cable will last up to 25 years.

When the cable is ready to be installed, it will take about a month to carefully load it onto the Durable before the ship hits the open sea. Building and laying the infrastructure of our digital world is a labor-intensive job. The Durable will have to carry enough supplies to last at least 60 days at sea at a time with the 80 crew members switching off 12-hour shifts. The work is slow and plodding with the ship moving about six miles per hour, as the cables are pulled from the giant basins out through openings at the back of the ship. In areas closer to shore where there would be a higher risk of damage, an underwater plow is used to bury the cable in the sea floor.

After the Latin American project is completed, Google then plans to start on another undersea cable project called Durant, named after the first Nobel Peace Prize winner and Red Cross founder Henry Durant. The cable will stretch from Virginia Beach in the U.S. to the French Atlantic coast and will enable major expansions in their global cloud infrastructure. This cable is needed to help assure connectivity between its many other data centers around the world, including the Netherlands, Montreal, Finland and Los Angeles. Google currently has 13 data centers around the world and 8 more under construction. By building the massive subsea cable themselves, Google will then own the connectivity between its data centers and won’t have to share the bandwidth for the life of the nearly 4000-mile cable.

Durant will be expensive, to say the least. These subsea cable projects can cost hundreds of millions of dollars to pay for not only the cost of the cable itself, but also for the specialized surface facilities needed at both ends of the cable. Google has hired TE SubCom, an industry pioneer in undersea communications technology, to design, manufacture and lay the cable for Durant. This project will add network capacity across the Atlantic, supporting one of the busiest routes on the Internet, as well as the growth of Google Cloud. The Durant cable is expected to be completed in late 2020.

The demand for subsea cables will only increase as more businesses rely on cloud computing services. Also, new technologies, such as powerful artificial intelligence and driverless cars, will also require such fast data speeds. New areas around the globe are gaining access to the Internet, and the United Nations has now reported for the first time that more than half the global population is online. All that growth and its accompanying data will require more and more subsea cables to be built. It’s truly a modern day phenomenon to imagine these many freeways under the sea.



Graham, K. (2018, July 18). Google building its own subsea cable from Virginia to France. Retrieved from

Satariano, A. (2019, March 11). How the Internet travels across oceans. Retrieved from

Stowell, J. (n.d.). Delivering increased connectivity with our first private trans-Atlantic subsea cable. Retrieved from

Age of the Chicken

The age of man.  How will we be remembered?  Sometime in the future, long after we are gone, researchers at the University of Leicester predict our rotisserie chicken bones will be all that is left behind to mark our existence on the geological timescale.  How exactly did they calculate this to be our defining moment?  The current epoch, the Anthropocene, began in the 1950s, which the researchers argue is when man started to have a lasting impact on the planet. They then investigated what they felt would be the biggest indicator of our time on the planet through the lens of largest change (evolution) and most remains (fossils).

Previous fossil records began in the Cambrian period (roughly 550 million years ago) when organisms developed hard shells, and ever since then each new epoch and era was marked by a key species indicating a change had occurred (try to visualize the model with the trilobites, dinosaurs, and ice age mammals from your early earth science classes). Currently there are 21 billion chickens in existence worldwide, with roughly 3 times that being consumed annually. With this scale it’s easy to see why these researchers are ready to call this the Age of the Chicken – nothing else exists to this quantity. Add in the traditional landfill model, and the normally brittle bones of the chicken are not subject to decay, preserving them nicely for future generations.

Another reason the scientists argue that chickens may be a good marker for our generation is due to the changes we have done to the species through domestication.  There was a large push starting in the 1940’s for meatier birds which lead to massive breeding efforts. In addition, there is a current push for designer birds (chickens are becoming increasingly popular pets) which have led to many different cross-breeds. This has created a huge change in the bone structure, genetics, and skeleton of the modern-day chicken.

Knapton, S. (2018, December 12). Age of the chicken: why the Anthropocene will be geologically egg-                  ceptional. The Telegraph. Retrieved from:

Copyrighted Works Will Enter the Public Domain for the First Time in More Than 20 Years

When the clock struck midnight on New Year’s Eve, a lot more happened than simply fireworks and staying up late. Along with the dropping of balloons came the release of all copyrighted works first published in the United States in 1923. The public domain has been frozen in time these last 20 years, and suddenly we’ve had an epic thaw.  This release on what is informally known as “Public Domain Day” is set to have a huge impact on our culture and creativity.

So, why has there been a bizarre 20 years since the copyright expired on works published in 1922 and the expiration of works published in 1923?

You can blame Mickey Mouse. At the urging of Disney and others, Congress passed in 1998 the Sony Bono Copyright Term Extension Act, which added 20 years to the standard copyright term of 75 years. Thus, this recent release of copyrighted work from 1923 is the first release in 20 years, and the first of its kind in the digital age since the last release in 1998, a time which predates Google.

What this means is that the Internet Archive, Google Books and HathiTrust will now make tens of thousands of books digitally available from 1923, with more to follow. They and others will also add new content to newspapers, magazines, movies and other materials. Going forward now, every January 1st will reveal long-overlooked works from the Harlem Renaissance, the Great Depression, World War II and beyond. The newly released works will potentially change our understanding of these years.

Sample works from 1923 that have now been released?

  • “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” by Robert Frost
  • “The Vanishing American” in Ladies Home Journal by Zane Grey (one of the first literary critiques of the treatment of Native Americans)
  • The World Crisis by Winston Churchill
  • A Handbook of Cookery for a Small House by Jessie Conrad (a peek into the life of author Joseph Conrad via his wife’s recipe collection)
  • The Chip Woman’s Fortune by Willis Richardson (the first drama by an African-American author produced on Broadway



Fleishman, G. (2019, January). For the first time in more than 20 years, copyrighted works will enter the public domain. Retrieved from

Holmes, H. (2018, December 31). 2019 will gift us with a huge release of copyrighted works entering the public domain. Retrieved from

2018 MacArthur Genius Grants

What do a painter, an economist, a pastor, a planetary scientist and a dancer have in common? They are all among the recipients of this year’s 25 “genius grants” awarded by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. Each winner will receive $625,000 over a five year period. The Chicago-based foundation has awarded these grants each year since 1981 to help further the pursuits of people who have shown creativity and outstanding talent, such as:

Dominique Morisseau,40, playwright

Morisseau is a NYC-based playwright who has taken the theater world by storm with her Detroit-set plays which examine “the intersection of choice and circumstance in works that portray individuals and communities grappling with economic and social change.”

Okwui Okpokwasili, 46, choreographer and performer

Okpokwasili is a NYC-based choreographer whose multidisciplinary pieces “draw viewers into the interior lives of women of color.

Lisa Parks, 51, media scholar

Parks is a media scholar at MIT studying the impact of information technologies as they spread across the globe.

Livia S. Eberlin, 32, analytical chemist

Eberlin is an analytical chemist at the University of Texas who uses mass spectrometry to “differentiate more quickly and accurately diseased from healthy tissues during surgery.”

Deborah Estrin, 58, computer scientist

Estrin is a computer science professor at Cornell Tech who is working to put the “small data” gathered in our digital lives to use in improving, for example, personal health management.

Amy Finklestein, 44, health economist

Finklestein is a MIT health economist doing novel research to show “hidden complexities” in health care and to suggest future fixes.

Gregg Gonsalves, 54, epidemiologist and global health advocate

“Working at the intersection of human rights and public health research and practice to address inequities in global health.”

Clifford Brangwynne, 40, biophysical engineer

Brangwynne is a Princeton biophysical engineer who studies cellular compartmentalization. His work has the potential “to shed light on biochemical malfunctions that can lead to disease.”

Allan Sly, 36, mathematician

Sly is a Princeton mathematician “applying probability theory to resolve long-standing problems in statistical physics and computer science.”

Sarah T. Stewart, 45, planetary scientist

Stewart is a planetary scientist at the University of California at Davis “advancing new theories of how celestial collusions give birth to planets and their natural satellites, such as the Earth and Moon.”

William J. Barber II, 55, pastor

A pastor at Greenleaf Christian Church in Goldsboro, NC, Barber has led “Moral Monday” marches outside the state capitol to advocate for causes including LGBTQ rights and voter enfranchisement.

Titus Kaphar, 42, painter

Kaphar is an “artist whose paintings, sculptures and installations explore the intersection of art, history, and civic agency.”

Johnson, S. (2018, October 4). Here are 2018’s MacArthur ‘genius grant’ winners, including an Illinois legal schoar. Retrieved from
The Washington Post (2018, October 4). 2018 MacArthur Foundation ‘genius grant’ winners. Retrieved from

Be Prepared – More Work is Coming!

You picture yourself holding that shiny acceptance letter to the college of your choice.  You think to yourself – the hard part is now over!  But the harsh reality is, your hard work is only just beginning.  Donalyn Miller, keynote speaker at the 2017 Virginia Association of School Librarians Conference, dropped a heavy statistic on her audience.  One of the top reasons students do not graduate on time (or at all) is due to the increased workload colleges expect students to keep pace with.  On average, students are required to read 300 – 800 pages A WEEK, for their coursework.  When is the last time you have read that much per month?  Unfortunately for many of us, it has been a while. Our reading stamina is severely lacking.  So what can be done?

  • Uh, Read. Read everything you come across – road signs, the back of the cereal box, the newspaper (do people still get those?)
  • Reconnect with a good book. If you are not enjoying what you’re reading, odds are your book is going to collect dust on your nightstand.  Find something better.
  • Find a better reading spot. If you’re comfy, you will be more likely to read for longer.  May we suggest the amazing pods in the back of the library?
  • Limit distractions. This seems like a no-brainer, but if reading isn’t your preferred go-to activity it won’t take much to lose your focus.  Put the phone away (or turn off notifications), turn off the television, and read!
  • Build good habits. Just like anything you’ve ever had to learn it takes practice and setting yourself up for success.

Share with us below all the amazing things you are reading (Mrs. Hiltner is keeping tabs on her Twitter @MrsHiltnerReads).  Our anticipated Book Birthday in your Research Library is November 12th!  We can’t wait!


Makerspaces have been taking on a new and important role in schools and community libraries throughout the country and now there is neuroscience that supports these efforts. So, what is the brain science of making and makerspaces?


The cortical homunculus is how your brain perceives your body, and it turns out it has a distorted view of itself. If you mapped body parts to the areas of your brain that control them, you’d find that the sensations and movements of your hand are controlled by a larger part of your brain than most other parts, such as your arms or legs. The brain has an outsized view of your hands with its fine motor capabilities. It’s not surprising then that anytime students can use their hands the experience becomes more engaging.


There are vast networks of neurons in our brains that number in the billions. They communicate through a mixture of chemical and electrical signals, and we add new connections to these networks when we learn something new. When a new connection is activated, it means that the neurons can trigger signals that become stronger and faster. It basically means that a new skill becomes easier to master the more you practice it. On the flip side, though, if you stop using these connections, the weaker they get and ultimately they can become eliminated entirely.


The prefrontal cortex is a part of the brain that is responsible for executive function. It’s the last part of the brain to finish developing and extends into the early 20s for most people. For young people, having time for unstructured play is important because it allows them the chance to practice making decisions, trying things out, making plans, and other forms of executive function. Therefore, time spent in a makerspace is an opportunity for self-directed exploration and tinkering.


The hippocampus is the part of the brain that directs the formation of long-term memories. It’s part of a larger set of structures known as the limbic system, which is the emotional system. This connection is important because it ties together learning and memory formation as emotional events. So, making is important because it’s fun, and because of this, learning is inevitable.


These images are of your amygdala, which is the part of the brain that deals with fear and intense negative emotions. Although low to moderate levels of activity can enhance your focus and attention and help you perform better, high levels will do the opposite. High levels of activity in the amygdala will reroute the connections in your brain, making you lose executive function and go straight into reactive mode, literally acting without thinking. These high levels will also impede your making any new memory connections in your brain associated with learning.

One of the key moments in the makerspace experience is coming up against failure and not falling back on a strong threat response. It’s realizing that experimentation and mistakes are just part of the process. Students can learn to anticipate and tolerate failures and then learn from them as they move forward in their quest to reach their goals.  A makerspace – with its natural environment of design, test, feedback, and revision – encourages students to develop a growth mindset, whereby failures are just learning experiences on the road to success.

McQuinn, C. (2018, September 25). The brain science of making. Retrieved from
Images are available and free to use from Creative Commons.


Japan has become the world’s senior citizen due to decades of improving life expectancies matched with falling birth rates. An aging population can have dire implications, such as a shrinking labor pool. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is introducing new remedies to address these challenges, including a “robot revolution,” a plan to quadruple the size of the robotics industry by encouraging automation in everything from manufacturing plants to education to care for the elderly. Below you can read about three recently introduced Japanese robots.

A Robear might sound like a new toy from Hasbro, but, it’s the creation of Japanese researchers from the Robot Sensor Systems Research Team at the Riken-SRK Collaboration Center for Human-Interactive Robot Research, led by Toshiharu Mukai. Using advanced technology to power its intelligent vision, flexible movement, and giant arms, these robots are designed with the vision of helping make elderly care much easier in the future. With Japan facing a swiftly shrinking population at a time when the demand for elderly will only grow in the decades to come, these researchers believe that the answer to elderly care might lie with robotic assistive technology.

Continue reading



Number of books that have been challenged since 1982, according to the American Library Association


Number of Judy Blume books that appear of ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom’s (OIF) list of 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books: 1990 – 1999. They are, ranked: Forever … (7); Blubber (30); Deenie (42); Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret (60); and Tiger Eyes (89).


Number of Academy Award nominations that The Color Purple (1985), the film adaptation of Alice Walker’s often-challenged book of the same name, received. The film took home zero Oscars and is tied with another for most nominations without a win.

20 million

Number of copies Adventures of Huckleberry Finn has sold worldwide. The book was first published in the US in February 1885, and by the following month, the town library in Concord, Massachusetts, became the first to ban the novel for being “trash of the veriest sort.”

5 – 4

Ruling by the Supreme Court decided in Island Trees School District Board of Education v. Pico (1982) that a school board’s discretionary power is secondary to the First Amendment and the board could not ban books from its libraries simply because its members disagree with the content.

Source: Dantowski, T (2015, October 1). By the Numbers: Banned Books Week. Retrieved from


What do you think would happen if bees were to suddenly disappear from our planet? You might then have to give up some of your favorite foods for bees are responsible for pollinating about three-quarters of global crop species, including strawberries, apples, almonds and grapes. Unfortunately, land clearing, climate change and the use of pesticides are already impacting the bee population and causing problems for farmers.

Docker, L. (Photographer). (2011). Pollination of a bee [digital image]. Retrieved from

Researchers have come along at the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University to create robotic bees. A RoboBee is only half the size of a paperclip and weighs less than one-tenth of a gram. These bee-size robots have the ability to lift off the ground and hover midair when attached to a power supply. These RoboBees have been designed to perform myriad roles in agriculture or disaster relief.

Courtesy: National Science Foundation

Walmart has already taken steps to manufacture and use their own robotic bees, known as “pollination drones,” to pollinate crops autonomously. These robotic bees use sensors and cameras to help them navigate among the crops and potentially will be able to pollinate as effectively as real bees.

NASA is also getting in on the act. As part of a project known as Marsbees, NASA is planning to use tiny robotic bees to explore the surface of Mars because they will be able to obtain and relay information faster and more easily than the Mars rover can. The robotic bees will be able to cover more land space at a fraction of the cost, and will now use the Mars rovers as charging stations.

The potential decrease or even elimination of the bee population in our ecosystem almost certainly would have had devastating consequences. We have the researchers and roboticists in the field and their incredible ingenuity to thank for the robotic version coming to our rescue!

(2018, Summer/Fall). The next essential robot: RoboBees. STEAM, pp. 14-15