THE WEEKLY BLAB
Volume 8, Issue 13 – November 11, 2013
I Thought It Was Impossible
There are some things in the world that are possible, and other things that aren’t. For a long time, no one had been able to run a mile in under 4-minutes. Lots of people tried and failed, and as a result, some folks even wrote that it was physiologically impossible. Finally, Roger Bannister from England ran the mile in 3:59.4 on May 6, 1954. This feat not only broke the world’s record, but also broke a psychological barrier, because two months later, at the 1954 British Empire and Commonwealth Games, both Bannister and John Landy of Australia did it. Today, the 4-minute mile is the mark that all good runners try to beat, and hundreds have.
Something similar happened in Chemistry. For a long time, no one could make a perbromate (compound containing the BrO4– group). This was strange, because perchlorates (compounds containing the ClO4– group) and periodates (IO4–) are both quite common. Many chemists tried, but none succeeded. Explanations were offered as to why it couldn’t be done. I still remember hearing about the so-called “middle element anomaly”. Then, in 1968, a chemist got an idea for what I call the world’s sneakiest synthesis—he was able to make perbromate by starting with selenate (SeO42-) made from radioactive selenium, and merely waiting. Radioactive selenium undergoes beta decay to form bromine, and voila!, instant perbromate:
83SeO42- → 83BrO4– + beta-
This also broke a psychological barrier, and since then, several ways of directly synthesizing perbromate have been found, some of them quite simple.
I’ve always wondered if there are any examples where this sort of psychological barrier didn’t turn out to exist—where something was accomplished that was thought to be impossible, and then no one else could repeat it. Until last week, the only example I could ever come up with was Joe DiMaggio’s magnificent 56 game hitting streak in 1941—no one else has even come close. Willie Keeler (Baltimore Orioles) with the second longest streak had to cross two years to get 45 in a row, from 1896-1897.
Now, it’s happened again, and it happened at SPSU. On Tuesday, November 5, 2013, in room B-120, President Rossbacher and I witnessed it. We heard the members of the visiting ABET team tell us that they had examined not one, not two, but five different engineering degree programs at SPSU, and in doing so, had found no deficiencies. No weaknesses. No concerns. None. In any program. Lisa asked if this was unusual. Several of the visiting team replied that they had been doing evaluations for decades, and had never seen a clean sweep before. I know I haven’t, and what’s more, I’ve never heard of one before—ABET teams always find something. Now it’s true that the final vote for accreditation won’t come until July, 2014, but we’ve already seen history in the making. So Tom Currin, Sam Beadles, Lance Crimm, Renee Butler, program coordinators, and everyone else in engineering—congratulations! You’re all the Joe DiMaggios of SPSU!
At 5:00 PM Monday, November 11, I served as moderator for a Q&A session between state representative Stacey Evans (District 42-Smyrna—SPSU is in this district) and our students about the proposed KSU-SPSU merger. To be honest, I wasn’t looking forward to it—I had been asked by one of our students over the weekend, but was afraid that it might turn into an uncomfortable event. I should have known better.
Ron Dempsey introduced representative Evans to about 100 students in the ballroom, split evenly into a group of 50 on the left, and a group of 50 on the right. I told them that I would go back and forth calling on people in turn, and not calling on anyone for a second time until everyone had a chance to speak at least once. That’s how it went for the next 90 minutes—dozens of students asking questions, giving their opinions, and interacting with representative Evans. A few alumni, parents, and staff were also there. A few students had to leave at various points to go to class, but they were immediately replaced by other students whose classes had just ended.
What was really amazing was how our students conducted themselves. They were all quite passionate about the subject and every student who spoke was against the merger. With great poise and politeness, students raised point after point about why they thought SPSU should remain as an independent university, bringing up facts and statistics supporting their views. Ultimately, they asked for a more open process—one where students are consulted before the decision is made, and where the decision is based on facts and evidence that is presented up front. A process that resembles how they have been taught to analyze problems—by gathering information, analyzing the data, and only then drawing a conclusion.
When all is said and done, we can take great pride in how we’ve taught our students, and in the love that they’re showing for their university.
Last Week’s Trivia Contest
Last time’s trivia challenge focused on TV Cop Shows. Marka Ormsby (SPSU-Teach) was the first with all five right. Here are the correct answers:
- Sergeant Friday starred in a show that showed up four different times—surely a record (1951-1959, 1967-1970, 1989-1991, and 2003-2004). Dragnet.
- Robert Stack played Eliot Ness in this one. The Untouchables.
- Angie Dickinson starred as Sgt. Pepper Anderson. Police Woman.
- He had a pet cockatoo named Fred. Baretta.
- Spun off from Burke’s Law, Anne Francis played one of the first female detectives on TV in this show. Honey West.
This Week’s Trivia Challenge
Today’s trivia challenge focuses on words that have an “x” in them. No looking up the answers now! SEND ALL ENTRIES BY EMAIL TO firstname.lastname@example.org, since if you put them as a response on the BLOG, everyone will be able to see them!
- No one likes to pay them.
- Spicy food from the lone star state.
- Cyclops, Marvel Girl, the Beast, Iceman, and the Angel.
- Kublai Khan built his stately pleasure dome there. So did Olivia Newton-John.
- The fourth king of kings in Persia, also believed to be Ahasuerus in the Book of Esther.