Diamond Planet

Matthew Bailes and his team in Australia announced the discovery of a planet made of diamonds in the latest issue of Science . Its name is technically PSR J1719 -1438, but some media reports have dubbed it Lucy. It's the most dense extrasolar plant to date, with a mass approximately equal to that of Jupiter, but 20 times more dense than the gas giant. It's  more than quadruple Earth's density, and almost twice as dense as lead. The diamond planet is very close to its star - an entire day takes only 2 hours, and the orbit would fit conveniently inside our sun. The planet is apparently what is left over when one part of a binary star pushes all the fusionable fuel away from it's partner. It's more than 4,000 light years away from Earth, so no one is likely to pick up continent-sized jewelry there anytime soon.

Periodic Comics

This website from two professor at the University of Kentucky collects references of elements in graphic novels. Some, like Metal Men, are chemistry specific comics but there are also appearances in mainstream comics from Batman and Scrooge McDuck. The nefarious elemental plots seem to outnumber those where chemistry saves the day. Most of the comics date from 1940 to 1970, with a few of more recent vintage. They don't seem to be updating anymore, but this is a fun collection to browse through.


Wolfram|Alpha's goal is to make the world's knowledge computable. It's from the creator of the incredibly powerful Mathematica, and it provides straightforward answers to the questions it understands. Need to see a picture of myolglobin, determine which US president served the shortest time in office, or graph a 3-D wavy surface? Wolfram|Alpha can do it with ease.

It's a terrific curated resource, meaning experts deal with the content, so it doesn't suffer from the reliability problems that can afflict certain wikipedia articles and blogs. And it provides excellent citations, so you can find primary material or further information. It gives you one answer to each question, so there's no wading through 50 bazillion hits like Google sometimes provides.

The downside is that you are asking questions to an algorithm. As impressive as this algorithm is, it's not as good as a person at figuring out what you want. Ask what the chemical abbreviation DBA stands for, and you'll be told the definition of the word "abbreviation". Request information on dog allergies and you'll receive the lyrics to "How much is that doggie in the window". Everyday Wolfram|Alpha gets more knowledge and improves at answering questions. I'm not sure it will ever be able to compute everything, but it's definitely a handy tool to have in your research arsenal.

The World's Most Popular Class

What do you get when you combine a top-tier institution, a fun technology topic, Google's research director and completely open enrollment? An end to anyone else being able to complain about their class size.

With 98,435 students signed up and counting, the Artificial Intelligence class appears very excited about providing global access to one of Stanford's most popular courses (normal enrollment ~200). They didn't  expect this hoopla, and I'll be amazed if even 0.1% of those enrolled get anything positive out of the course. The recommended textbook (coauthored by one of the instructors) has not increased in sales as the class size ballooned. I would guess 98,400 of the enrolled students do not know what the prerequisite "solid understanding of linear algebra" means. Still, it's a brave venture and an interesting experiment. The class is free, no credit, and utilizes FAQ "discussion" periods and online homework/quiz/tests. And for the few people enrolled with legitimate interest and ability, it should be a pretty amazing class.