Tuesday, 28 February 2017


Five of the most explosive non-nuclear chemicals ever made
By Laura Finney,
The Conversation, 17 February 2017.

A chemistry department at a British university was recently evacuated after a student made the known explosive, TATP.

The chemical, tri-cyclic acetone peroxide, or TATP, was made by accident as the product of a chemistry experiment. But although the TATP in question came as an unwelcome surprise - the Ministry of Defence was forced to carry out a controlled disposal - there are many labs around the world which do design and make explosives for interest and application. Here are five of these non-nuclear chemicals which all explode via the rapid release of gas.

1. TNT

Credit: US Navy Employee/Wikimedia Commons

One of the most commonly known explosive chemicals is trinitrotoluene, or TNT, which has featured extensively in video games and films. It is often mistaken as dynamite, perhaps fuelled by examples of confusion in popular culture, such as AC/DC’s song TNT with lyrics such as “I’m TNT. I’m dynamite.”

TNT is a yellow solid and was first produced as a dye in 1863. It doesn’t explode spontaneously and is very easy and convenient to handle, so its explosive properties were only discovered some 30 years later by German chemist Carl Häussermann in 1891.

TNT can even be melted and poured into vessels without so much as a flicker of excitement but it will explode with the help of a detonator - and with a great deal of force, since the nitro groups in the molecule rapidly turn into nitrogen gas. This makes it ideal for use in controlled demolitions, where the explosive can be planted and detonated when planned (for example by miners), making it a relatively “safe” explosive. It’s also used as a “standard measure” for bombs, so the “explosiveness” of other chemicals is often measured relative to TNT.


Credit: Spatula Tzar/Wikimedia Commons

The chemical TATP belongs to a group of molecules named peroxides, which contain weak and unstable oxygen-oxygen bonds, and that are not found in TNT. This means that TATP is a lot less stable and more prone to spontaneously exploding.

TATP is also known as the “mother of satan” and with good reason - its explosions are known to be about 80% as strong as TNT, but the substance is much harder to handle. A firm shock or knock is enough to trigger an explosion, which means it’s quite easy to accidentally blow yourself up in the process of making it - and good reason to evacuate your chemistry department if it is accidentally made.

TATP has also received a lot of media attention because it is easy to make and has been regularly used in improvised explosive devices (IEDs) associated with terror attacks such as the London 7/7 bombings in 2005.

3. RDX

Credit: Zhonghua Yan et al./Wikimedia Commons

RDX is a “nitrogen explosive,” meaning that its explosive properties are due to the presence of many nitrogen-nitrogen bonds, rather than oxygen. These bonds are extremely unstable, since nitrogen atoms always want to come together to produce nitrogen gas because the triple bond in nitrogen gas. And the more nitrogen-nitrogen bonds a molecules has, like RDX, typically the more explosive it is.

Since TNT doesn’t contain any unstable nitrogen-nitrogen bonds, RDX packs more power - but it is often mixed with other chemicals to produce different effects, such as making it less sensitive and less likely to explode unexpectedly. It is also commonly used in controlled demolition of buildings.


Credit: Aleksander Sobolewski/Wikimedia Commons

One of the most powerful explosive chemicals known to us is PETN, which contains nitro groups which are similar to that in TNT and the nitroglycerin in dynamite. But the presence of more of these nitro groups means it explodes with more power. However, despite its powerful explosions, it’s quite difficult to get this chemical to detonate alone, and so it is usually used in combination with TNT or RDX.

PETN was used regularly in World War II, to create exploding-bridgewire detonators that use electric currents for detonation. It is now also used in the exploding-bridgewire detonators in nuclear weapons.

Its relatively low toxicity and medicinal properties as a vasodilator (it can widen blood vessels) also mean that it is used to treat angina - but don’t worry, you won’t explode.

5. Azidoazide azide

Credit: Countdown Central/YouTube

Among the least stable nitrogen-explosives is azidoazide azide which has 14 nitrogen atoms, with most of them bonded to each other in successive, unstable nitrogen-nitrogen bonds - making them prone to explosion. You would never see these kinds of molecules in nature due to their incredible instability, but they were made in a German research lab by Thomas Klapötke’s group as recently as 2011.

Attempts to touch or handle this chemical (and some may say so much as even look at) can cause it to detonate, breaking those bonds and turning them into multiple molecules of rapidly expanding nitrogen gas. The reaction creates a huge amount of heat and so only tiny amounts of this chemical have ever been synthesised for testing - which have blown up inside expensive pieces of analysis equipment on many occasions. You’d have to be pretty crazy to create large amounts and explains why it hasn’t yet found any use.

This list is by no means comprehensive - there are plenty of other explosive chemicals at the disposal of chemists and industrialists. But these are among the most famous and dangerous non-nuclear chemicals to date. You’ll be glad to know that many of them would be more difficult to make by accident than TATP - and we can usually predict and avoid the reactions that can produce them.

Top image: Azidoazide azide. Credit: Curiosity/Facebook.

[Source: The Conversation. Edited. Some images added.]

Monday, 27 February 2017


One of the most common maps of the world is in fact, one of the most misleading. The size of countries and continents have been either exaggerated or downplayed. But why is this and what is the real size of the world? Find out the answers from the following infographic by Expedia.

Video: The Real Size of the World

[Source: Expedia.]


The biggest meteorites in history that have plummeted to Earth and survived
By Lindsay Dodgson,
Business Insider, 18 February 2017.

Often, when rocks from space hurtle towards Earth, they burn up in the atmosphere before actually reaching us. The ones that vaporise become a meteor - or a shooting star.

The lucky few that make the whole journey land on Earth as meteorites. Once on the surface, these meteorites can exist as a single rock for thousands of years, except for a little weathering.

Asteroids are much bigger, such as the one 63 million years ago that wiped out the dinosaurs, and 2012 DA14 which narrowly missed the Earth in 2013.

Here are some of the biggest space rocks ever to crash into us and survive.

6. Willamette


Willamette is the largest meteorite ever found in the US, at 7.8 square metres long and with a weight of 15.5 tonnes.

The Willamette Meteorite is made up of iron and nickel and was acquired by the American Museum of Natural History in New York City in 1906. It has an interesting little story attached, because it was discovered by Ellis Hughes in 1902 who recognised that it was more than a piece of rock, and spent three months shifting it three quarters of a mile from land owned by the Oregon Iron and Steel Company, but he was caught. The photo above was taken at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City in 1911.

5. Mbozi

Credit: Christiaan Zeelenberg/Wikimedia Commons

Mbozi was discovered in Tanzania in the 1930s. It’s 3 metres long and weighs an estimated 25 tonnes, or almost twice that of Willamette.

Mbozi was once a sacred stone to the people of Tanzania, who call it kimondo. No crater was found, which means it probably rolled like a boulder when it hit the Earth’s surface. Mbozi was partially buried when it was first discovered, so people dug the hillside around it, leaving a pillar of soil underneath, which was then turned into a plinth.

4. Cape York Meteorite

Credit: Mike Cassano/Wikimedia Commons

The third largest meteorite in history, the Cape York meteorite, or Agpalilik meteorite, collided with Earth nearly 10,000 years ago.

The Cape York meteorite was discovered in 1993 in Greenland and weighs about 20 tonnes. It’s been around a long time, and Inuit living near it used other pieces as a source of mental for tools and harpoons. It is currently on display in the Geological Museum of the University of Copenhagen, Denmark.

3. Bacubirito Meteorite

Credit: saxxon57/Flickr

The Bacubirito meteorite is the largest meteorite ever found in Mexico and weighs about as much as the Cape York.

The Bacubirito meteorite was found in 1863 by the geologist Gilbert Ellis Bailey in the village of Ranchito near the town of Sinaloa de Leyva. He had been sent there by the Chicago journal the Interocean, and excavated the meteorite with the help of local people. It’s an iron meteorite that weighs about 20 tonnes, and measures 4.25 meters long, 2 meters wide, and 1.75 meters high. It is currently on display in the Centro de Ciencias de Sinaloa.

2. El Chaco

Credit: Carlos Zito/Wikimedia Commons

El Chaco is the second largest meteorite on Earth, weighing in at almost twice as much as Bacubirito. Plus, it’s just a fragment.

A group of meteorites called Campo del Cielo are responsible for the 60 sq km crater field of the same name in Argentina. One of the fragments, El Chaco, is the second heaviest meteorite recovered on Earth, weighing 37 tonnes. It was located in 1969, 5 metres under the ground using a metal detector, even though the surrounding craters were already well known to locals. In 1990 there was a plot by meteorite hunter Robert Haag to steal El Chaco, but he was caught by a local Argentinean police officer.

Another fragment was removed from the ground in 2016, believed to be part of the same shower as El Chaco.

1. Hoba

Credit: Compl33t/Wikimedia Commons

The largest meteorite on earth is this monster, named Hoba. It is located in Namibia, and has never been moved.

Hoba is nearly twice the weight of its nearest rival El Chaco at 60 tonnes. This makes it the biggest naturally occurring piece of iron known on Earth’s surface at 6.5 square metres. It’s thought to have landed around 80,000 years ago, and since then it has never been moved because of its mega size. It never had to be dug up either - one theory is that the meteorite’s shape caused it to skip along the surface of Earth rather than crashing and burying itself.

Top image: Meteorites that burn up in our atmosphere are called shooting stars. Credit: Vincentiu Solomon/Unsplash.

[Source: Business Insider. Edited.]

Sunday, 26 February 2017


Many cultures around the world hold tea and coffee at the heart of their communities, so it's not surprising to hear they are amongst the most consumed drinks in the world. This infographic by Fairmont shows how beneficial these beloved beverages are to our health.

Infographic References:
10 Alternative Uses of Coffee that You Didn’t Know About
2. 10 surprising alternative uses for tea bags
3. 11 unusual uses for coffee
4. 17 Awesome Facts That You Never Knew About Coffee
5. 18 Genius Things To Do With Your Used Tea Bags
6. 20 Unusual Uses for Coffee for Home, Beauty and Cleaning
7. Tea - A Brief History of the Nation's Favourite Beverage
8. Caffeine (Coffee) Consumption By Country
9. Caffeine as a protective factor in dementia and Alzheimer's disease
10. Coffee or Tea? An RD Weighs in on Which Is Healthier
11. Health Benefits Of Coffee vs. Tea: Which One Is Better For You?
12. The health benefits of tea
13. List of countries by coffee production
14. List of countries by tea consumption per capita
15. 22 Ways to Use Tea to Benefit Your Beauty, Home and Garden
16. Tea or coffee: Which drink is better for you?
17. The History & Legend of Ethiopian Coffee & the Story Behind Misty Valley
18. Types of Tea
19. Uses for Tea Beyond the Tea Cup
20. What's Cooking America

[Source: Fairmont.]


Counting the days: Our five most anticipated upcoming buildings
By Adam Williams,
New Atlas, 24 February 2017.

Though we've reported on many amazing buildings over the past 12 months, some of the most exciting designs are still to come. With this in mind, we highlight our five most anticipated architecture projects - either under construction, or expected to begin soon. From the world's tallest skyscraper to a cutting-edge office for a tech giant, each one promises to be outstanding.

1. Jeddah Tower


You could be forgiven for thinking that skyscrapers couldn't really get much taller than the 828 m (2,716 ft)-tall Burj Khalifa, but the Burj's architect Adrian Smith has designed a successor called the Jeddah Tower that will surpass it by far, rising to a kilometer high - or 1,007 m (3,303 ft).

To put that big into perspective, try and imagine two Empire State Buildings, or three Eiffel Towers, stacked atop each other if you can and you'll be in the general ballpark. Rising over the Red Sea port city of Jeddah, the Tower will comprise 5.7 million sq ft (530,000 sq m) of floor space, with an innovative triangular design that's inspired by the folded leaves of a desert plant helping it to withstand the punishing wind stresses at that height.

The Jeddah Tower is slated for completion in 2020.

2. Apple Park


Designed by Sir Norman Foster of Foster + Partners, Apple's futuristic new campus, recently named Apple Park, boasts some truly impressive green design and technology.

Looking something like a skinny doughnut, Apple Park's main building is clad in the world's largest panels of curved glass and hailed as the world's largest naturally-ventilated building. It will get all required electricity from a huge 17-megawatt solar panel array and will house some 12,000 employees in its 2.8 million sq ft (260,128 sq m) of floor space.

The landscaped grounds are of note too and feature 9,000 native drought-resistant trees and grass, and walking and running paths for staff.

Apple Park is due to open in April this year.

3. Lucas Museum


Rarely have we seen a high-profile project endure so many ups and downs before ground is even broken, but the Lucas Museum is finally back on track. All the delays have resulted in an updated (and in our opinion vastly-improved) design by MAD Architects that somewhat resembles the Harbin Opera House.

The Lucas Museum of Narrative Art will be located in Exposition Park, Los Angeles, and funded by George Lucas himself to the tune of at least US$1 billion. It'll comprise around 275,000 sq ft (25,548 sq m) of floor space and include the director's own collection of paintings, artworks and memorabilia, with daily screenings, exhibitions, public lectures, and workshops planned for visitors.

A restaurant, multiple high-end theaters, a café, lecture halls, library and a museum store will also be installed.

We've no word yet on the expected date of completion for the Lucas Museum.

4. Agora Garden Tower


We've long enjoyed Belgian architect Vincent Callebaut's thought-provoking sustainable renders, but with the Agora Garden Tower in Taipei, Taiwan, we'll finally see him put his ideas into use.

The greenery-clad skyscraper takes design cues from the double helix shape of DNA and twists 4.5 degrees at each floor, to a total of 90 degrees over its 20 stories. It will feature 23,000 trees, located both in the grounds and the balconies, and will include a rainwater capture and recycling system and a large 1,000 sq m (10,763 sq ft) roof-based solar panel array.

The Agora Garden Tower is due for completion in September 2017.

5. Leeza Soho


China's megacities are chocked full of interesting buildings of all shapes and sizes, but Zaha Hadid's Leeza Soho tower in Beijing, must rate among one of the more interesting skyscrapers we've seen in a while. Designed by the late starchitect before her death, the project shows subtlety and restraint and is all the better for it.

Rising to a height of 207 m (679 ft), the Leeza Soho tower's interior will be split into two equal halves and joined by the world's tallest atrium, which twists dramatically. The project will also include an energy-efficient curtain wall with natural ventilation, in addition to rainwater collection and a grey water system.

The Leeza Soho is expected to be completed in late 2018.

See more images on each building at the gallery.

Top image: Jeddah Tower (formerly Kingdom Tower and Mile-High Tower). Credit: Jeddah Economic Company.

[Source: New Atlas. Edited. Top image and some links added.]

Saturday, 25 February 2017


10 Disgusting Beauty Treatments
By Ben Gazur,
Listverse, 25 February 2017.

How far are you willing to go to get the hot new look? Much of human history has been driven by the desire to present ourselves in our best light. As it turns out, there’s not much that people won’t do in their struggle to be attractive. Here are ten of the grossest things people have tried in the name of beauty.

10. Eel Exfoliation Bath

Photo credit: Christopher Jones/REX via The Guardian

Some very expensive bubble baths leave you feeling slimy after you get out of the tub. Their manufacturers prefer to say “moisturized” - but for one treatment, “slimy” is definitely the word. To get that perfect glow in their skin, some people in China are taking baths filled with tiny eels.

Each eel is about the size of a pencil. They wriggle over the body and nibble at the dead skin covering it. This leaves the youthful-looking living skin underneath shining through. Unfortunately, the eels haven’t learned to differentiate between the skin on the outside and the internal membranes.

A gentleman wearing loose underwear in the eel bath felt a sharp pain and found that an eel had found its way into his penis. It took a three-hour surgery to remove the errant fish and prompted other countries to watch out for those looking to import the eels.

9. Radiation Therapy

Photo via Cosmetics and Skin

Whenever a scientific discovery is made, there’s always a scramble to find a marketable use for it. Sometimes, this benefits mankind; sometimes, it leads people to smear their faces with radioactive elements.

The eerie glow of radiation made newly documented elements like radium and polonium seemed like ideal boosters for that healthy glow everyone wants. The mysterious radiation rays were quickly touted as cure for medical ailments and were also used in cosmetics. Radiation was added to face creams, soap, rouge, and powders. For those wanting extra sparkly teeth, there was radioactive toothpaste.

Of course, the downside to these radioactive products was that instead of health, they caused untold numbers of cancers. Sores and hair loss are common side effects of radiation poisoning, as well. Those who worked with radium developed bone necrosis and incurable cancers. This soon put an end to the fad for radioactive products.

8. Lead, Arsenic, And Mercury


While today’s must-have is a tan, which suggests we have the leisure to be continually on the beach, in the past, the reverse was the case. To have a tan showed that you spent your days toiling outside. To cultivate a pale face, you needed the money to stay indoors. Or you could take the shortcut of covering your face in white lead, as people have throughout history. The problems with this were not unknown even then. The lead would rot the skin, requiring ever more to be used to cover up the effects of the treatment. The skin would break open as it thinned. Lead also causes aggressiveness, headaches, vomiting, seizures, and eventually death - then you have the perfect pale flesh.

Those wanting to remove spots, freckles, and other skin problems could turn to another dangerous element. “Dr. James P. Campbell’s Safe Arsenic Complexion Wafers” promised to clear the complexion. Ironically, one of the organs hit hardest by arsenic poisoning is the skin. An overdose of arsenic can lead to hair loss, bloody vomit, diarrhea, and convulsions. But at least you won’t have freckles.

While those products are thankfully things of the past, there is a current vogue for everyone to appear with as light skin as possible. Skin lightening products very often contain mercury, an element which can lead to many horrible side effects, especially kidney problems. You may end up with a fashionably Western face but a deeply unfashionable dialysis machine.

7. Bee Stings


You should always be wary of following celebrity advice. Being pretty and a good actor does not make you a doctor. Gwyneth Paltrow has gone on record about her beauty treatments, and one of them has a sting in the tail.

The actress told an interviewer:
I’ve been stung by bees. It’s a thousands of years old treatment called apitherapy. People use it to get rid of inflammation and scarring. It’s actually pretty incredible if you research it. But, man, it’s painful.
The treatment is painful for Paltrow, but it can be deadly, and not just to the bees. One case of liver failure has been linked to apitherapy.

Those unwilling to be actually stung by bees can simply buy cosmetic products containing the venom. Not that it will do anything except speed the decline in bee populations and your bank balance.

6. Fish Pedicure

Photo credit:

Fish aren’t picky eaters. If you dip your toes into a tank of Garra fish, they will quickly dart in and nibble off the dead skin from even the smelliest feet. They are toothless and usually stop at eating the tough outer skin, but there are reports of them taking their feeding frenzy too far and causing bleeding. While the risks of getting an infection from the fish is thought to be very low, there are dangers to dangling your feet in water used by both fish and other clients. Fungal infections could easily spread, and bacteria in the fish tank could cause boils.

Leaving aside the “ick” factor of being eaten by fish that live solely on other peoples’ stinky feet, some legal areas deem the fish to be unsanitary. One Arizona fish spa was shut down, as cosmetic products had to be disinfected and dried before reuse - obviously not an option with fish.

5. Tapeworm Diets


Losing weight should be easy. If you burn more calories than you consume, your weight goes down. But food is so delicious that many find reducing their caloric intake is too hard to do. So they look for ways to increase their calories burned (other than exercising, obviously).

One way of losing weight is to get yourself a friendly tapeworm to take up residence in your intestines. This worm will eat a portion of your food, and it will grow rather than your waistline. While there is evidence that people in the past sold pills which supposedly contained tapeworms, there are recent cases of people actually going through with it. Tapeworm infections cause weight loss and loss of appetite - but also pain, malnutrition, diarrhea, blindness, convulsions, and death.

4. Placenta


The placenta is an organ that develops in pregnant mammals to filter oxygen and nutrients to embryos and remove waste products. Most animals will eat the placenta after birth to regain its nutrients. Some humans do, too. Some aren’t content with leaving it at that, though.

Because of their association with youth and birth, some face creams include placenta in the hopes of it passing some of that goodness on to the user. Unfortunately, there is no evidence that they work. The most common form of placenta used comes from sheep, but those with deep pockets and no gag reflex can also buy creams with human placenta.

While placenta may not do much for the face, the side effects can be alarming. Its use in hair products has caused girls as young as 14 months old to begin to develop sexually due to the level of hormones it contains. Stopping use of the products reversed the effects.

3. Snails

Photo credit: Dennis Gray/AP via The Guardian

Snail facials are a beauty treatment in which live snails glide across your face. The trail of gel they leave behind is said to fight the signs of aging. Snails have been used for thousands of years to treat inflammation, so there may be something to it. Snail facial specialists say they reduce scars, acne, and stretch marks. There is no scientific confirmation of this, however - so perhaps wait before you plop some snails on your face.

For those who cannot stand the idea of snails rasping at their skin with their radula (a toothed, tongue-like structure) you can buy creams that contain snail gel. The snails exude the gel, which is said to be more effective when they are stressed. There is no information on how the makers of snail gel cream go about stressing out their snails, but it’s unlikely these creams are animal-friendly.

2. Bull Semen


In the crowded marketplace of cosmetics, you need something that separates you from the competition. One way of doing that is to reveal that the magic ingredient in your face mask and hair conditioner is bull semen.

The inventor of the semen hair treatment had been looking for a high-protein recipe and apparently thought the best option would be bull sperm. She comforts her customers by saying, “It really works. The semen is refrigerated before use and doesn’t smell. It leaves your hair looking wonderfully soft and thick.”

If you want the glamorous look without the mental images, Imprivo makes a range of products containing the coyly named BSP (Bull Seminal Plasma).

1. Foreskin Facials


“As smooth as a baby’s buttocks” is a common expression. Some cosmetics companies have taken that cliché and run with it. Taking the foreskins left over after baby boys are circumcised, they have turned human flesh into cash in the bank.

There are face creams which use the cells from foreskins to enrich their products with growth factors, collagen, and other proteins that are claimed to reverse the signs of aging. Because the foreskin contains stem cells, a single one can be grown in the lab to produce enough cells for thousands of treatments. This has not reduced the controversy around using them as an ingredient, especially among those who see circumcision as a form of genital mutilation.

For those who want the direct benefits of stem cells, it is now possible to have cells derived from foreskins injected into your face. The fibroblast cells reinforce the structure of the skin, it is claimed, and users say they detect improvements in their appearance. With each vial of cells costing around US$1,000, though, you might hope for more dramatic results.

Top image: Snail facials. Credit: BuzzFeed Video/YouTube.

[Source: Listverse. Edited. Top image added.]


Today, consumers have access to more media and entertainment choices than ever. But in reality, a huge portion of these choices belong to one of six media conglomerates. This infographic by Webpage FX takes a look at each of The Big 6, who control them, and what they own.

[Source: Webpage FX.]