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January 26, 2004 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 82, Issue 4


More on knitting and chemistry

Uwe Dieter Neue of Ashland, Mass., was intrigued by a recent report combining chemistry and knitting (C&EN, Oct. 20, 2003, page 48) and so tells of his own experience in that area. It involved the use of knitted Teflon tubes in postcolumn derivatization in high-performance liquid chromatography and related fields. It all happened back in 1974 and involved a chemist (Neue), a physicist, and a nursery school teacher.

When the precipitating issue arose, the physicist, a Dr. Hofmann, had been investigating the specific deformation of metal tubing to reduce [chromatographic] bandspreading in such tubes. One of the configurations Hofmann studied was wave-shaped tubes. Neue was supposed to use such tubes for derivatization reactions, specifically for postcolumn derivatization in high-performance liquid chromatography. The ideal tubing for the purpose, Neue says, was Teflon. To get the effect that Hofmann had investigated, Neue coiled the Teflon tubing in the shape of an 8 around two parallel rods. It worked okay, he says, but could have been better. He and Hofmann talked about how to improve the hydrodynamics of the tubes, and Neue said that he would like to create a three-dimensional 8 but had no clue as to how to do it.

Hofmann also thought that approach was reasonable. The following evening he discussed the subject with his wife, the nursery school teacher, and she proposed a tool similar to a children's toy, a "Strickliesel." This tool, she said, "would knit the Teflon tubing to the shape that we desired." Hofmann built the tool for Neue and showed him how to use it, whereupon, Neue says, he created a knitted piece of Teflon tubing. It was "much, much better than anything that we had ever used before in the reduction of bandspreading."

Neue says the knitted Teflon tubes were a key part of his doctoral thesis and helped many subsequent students of his adviser. Commercial applications in postcolumn derivatization still exist today, and "nobody has been able to beat the performance of the three-dimensional 8-shapes that we created back in 1974."

Neue says: "I thought that this would be another interesting example of the strange things that chemists can get into. I imagine that in 5,000 years some archaeologist would find one of my knitted Teflon tubes and start scratching his head to figure out what this was good for. He will probably conclude that these were artifacts used in religious ceremonies."

Titanic survivors live average span

The christmas issue of the British Medical Journal [327, 1457 (2003)] carries a study showing that the survivors of the British passenger vessel Titanic, which sank in 1912, lived no longer than the general population. The BMJ investigators worked with passenger biographies from the Encyclopedia Titanica website. They compared the proportion of survivors alive at each anniversary of the sinking with two matched groups from the U.S. and Sweden.

Of the 500 passengers listed as survivors, the investigators could trace 435. The longevities of the survivors were not remarkably different from those of the two comparison groups. On average, say the BMJ investigators, they lived 1.7 years longer than the general population of the U.S. and 0.5 years longer than the general population of Sweden.

Five women lived past 100, and the three survivors still alive are in their 90s. Despite their higher socioeconomic status, male passengers in first class did not outlive males of similar age in the general population.

The Titanic survivors did not have shorter life spans than the general population, say the BMJ investigators. Nor did they substantially outlive them.

Cold music

Ron Merritello, who says he is "a person long involved with industrial gases and music," read with interest the story that said freezing trumpets did not make them sound better when played (C&EN, Dec. 8, 2003, page 64). He wondered, however, if the process might interest band and orchestra directors. Perhaps, he says, it might make them "super conducting."


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