Getting Science into Politics with 314 Action

by Mark Wolfman on 2018-05-03

One thing has become clear to me over the past year: our political system in the US needs more scientifically literate people. Luckily, the 314 Action group is working diligently on this. Last week, they hosted a training event in Chicago to give scientists the tools to successfully run for political office. As it turns out, many great scientists find the process of running a political campaign uncomfortable and foregin. I'll admit, the idea of asking people for money to fund a campagin sounds...unpleasant.

There were two national candidates there, but more exciting were the enthustic candidates for local and state offices: less glamorous but equally important. There was also a strong presence from graduate students and other early-career scientists. Completing a PhD and running for office is too much, but after grad-school...who knows!

Group shot at the 314 action training

I also had a chance to meet two exciting candidates in the greater Chicago area. Laura Ellman is running for state senate in the Naperville area, and Marianne Lalonde for the next Alderman (Alderwoman?) in the 46th ward uptown. Please consider donating $50 (or whatever you can) to their campaigns, so we can bring some much needed science to our local and state government.


Thoughts About Glass Electrolytes

by Mark Wolfman on 2017-03-19

In a recent episode of one of my favorite podcasts, the Skeptic's Guide to the Universe, they discussed a recent paper from the John Goodenough lab. I figured I'd take a look at this paper and see what's inside. They propose a type of battery where there's a lithium-metal reduction on both sides of the cell. Overall, the electrochemical results they show are impressive: very high capacities with good cyclability at a decent cell potential (between 2.5 and 2.7V); though not quite as impressive as the press-release makes them sound. However, I'm not clear on how they think this reaction actually happens. Many of the clarifying details are missing, which makes it hard to properly evaluate. Regardless of the electrochemical mechanism, though, if the results can be reproduced reliably, then great!


GSAS-II Introduction - Basic Profile Refinement

by Mark Wolfman on 2015-09-01

This document will guide the user through a basic whole-pattern decomposition of a single phase using the Pawley method. This method is simpler than the Rietveld method and will provide a closer fit, however the the refined parameters are not physically meaningful so the amount of information obtained is limited. In this tutorial, I will refine a corundum scan taken on our Bruker D8 Discover ("Alice").


Research Update: Mapping Artifacts

by Mark Wolfman on 2015-07-06

I'm almost one year into my time here at UIC. I've been making steady progress on my research and have run into a strange issue. My research focus is developing a new technique to make surface maps, like the one on the right, of battery cathode materials using X-ray diffraction. The material studied in this post is \(MgMn_2O_4\). By creating these maps, I am able to look for areas where the electrochemistry is different from the rest of the material. The map at the right looked promising at first; however as described below this excitement may have been premature.

MgMn2O4 map

Map of discharged \(MgMn_2O_4\) battery cathode based on area of 18° peak.


Beamtime Galore

by Mark Wolfman on 2015-04-26

My PhD research project involves using X-rays to probe the chemistry of lithium-ion battery electrodes. In order to see something with a high level of detail, you need to look at it in bright light. Analogously, I need access to very high quality X-rays. The last two weekends I traveled to two different synchrotron; particle accelerators whose sole purpose is to generate high intensity X-rays. Each one has 10-30 X-ray beams coming off of it, set up to run a variety of experiments. At Argonne National Lab's Advanced Photon Source (APS), we used diffraction to measure the strain withing a micrometer sized particle. At the Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lightsource (SSRL) we collected the data to make three-dimensional reconstructions of the micro-structure of some samples using X-ray Transmission Tomography.

Brian in the hutch at Argonne

Fellow grad-student Brian May at beamline 34-ID-E at Argonne National Lab.


Image Formats

by Mark Wolfman on 2015-01-24

This post is meant as a resource for helping to decide how best to send images for posting on websites. There are usually three possible options: lossly bitmaps, lossless bitmaps and vector graphics. The right decision is usually a compromise between a high-quality image that gives a clean, sharp presentation to the user, and a small file-size so a user doesn't get bored while waiting for your website to load all of the 2MB images. Using the right image formats will result in a website that loads quickly and has a consistent, sharp layout.

Image Type Format Example Extension Min Resolution (pixels)
Photograph Lossy bitmap .jpg .jpeg Landscape: 750×464
Portrait: 350×475
Logos and other flat graphics Vector graphics (preferred) .svg .ai .eps N/A
.png .tif .gif .bmp Context dependent


A Computer for Chemistry Data Analysis

by Mark Wolfman on 2015-01-16

I've been tasked with finding a new computer for my PhD research here at UIC. I'll be collecting multiple data frames and then processing and combining them into one image; I think it's worth the time to get this right. If you have anything to share on the issue, feel free to leave a comment. I wasn't given many restrictions other than that it must have a monitor, keyboard and mouse (for ergonomic reasons) and that “$1000 is on the high end but reasonable”. I've spent the past few days researching current technologies and have come up with some suggestions. All of the products listed will probably by obsolete by the time I'm done writing this, but hopefully the background will still be valid for a while. If you want to see specifically which parts I'm considering, jump straight to the parts list.


Entropy of the Universe

by Mark Wolfman on 2014-12-17

I had the following e-mail exchange with one of my Chem 114 students, Kinza. Usually, the questions I get are specific to what we're studying in class and they tend to be easier to answer during office hours. These questions, on the other hand, were Kinza trying to understand the concept of entropy. We had covered it briefly earlier in the semester in the chaprter on thermodynamics. It's definitely a difficult concept, one I don't understand fully myself. It's more in the physics realm than chemistry but I still felt it was worth sharing. Published with student's permission.

Hi Mark,

If every reaction that occurs increases the entropy of the universe, doesn't that mean that all the reactions going on in the universe are causing the entropy of the universe to keep going up? What's going to happen to the universe as predicted by thermochemistry?



More Sunshine (Vitamin): Doctor's Orders

by Mark Wolfman on 2014-07-02

As per my doctor's suggestion, I'm spending the next week on a sailboat. No, it's not a blood pressure or a stress thing. I had a physical exam a while ago and for the most part everything was normal. The one exception was vitamin D deficiency. The solution? Spend more time in the sun.

Vitamin D is actually a group of five vitamins: D1 through D5. The most relevant to human health are vitamins D2 and D3 and are usually what people mean when they refer to “vitamin D”. My results listed “Vitamin D, 25-hydroxy” as 18 \(\frac{ng}{mL}\) and the target range was 30-96 \(\frac{ng}{mL}\). An article in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition suggests that levels below 20 \(\frac{ng}{mL}\) indicates a deficiency. Clearly I need to get those levels up. But why?

Image of the sun taken at x-ray wavelengths

The sun at 17.1 nm light. Courtesy of SOHO/EIT consortium. SOHO is a project of international cooperation between ESA and NASA.


This is a follow-up post to “Why Do I Need a Carbon Monoxide Detector?”, which talks about the chemistry of carbon monoxide with oxygen-transporting proteins in your blood. I received a few questions about the relationship between carbon monoxide levels in the air and the levels in your hemoglobin. I also wanted to learn how carbon monoxide alarms respond to carbon monoxide (CO) but not other gases in the air, like carbon dioxide (CO2).