Monthly Archives: February 2015

On this day

Charles Herbert Best was born on 27th February 1899.  He was a scientist and co-discoverer of Insulin.

(February 27, 1899 – March 31, 1978)

Best was born in West Pembroke, Washington County, Maine and was the son of Luella Fisher and Herbert Huestis Best, Canadians from Nova Scotia.
Best married Margaret Hooper Mahon in Toronto in 1924 and they had two sons. One son, Dr. Henry Best was a well-regarded historian who later became president of Laurentian University in Sudbury, Ontario. Best’s other son was Charles Alexander Best, a Canadian politician and geneticist.

As a 22-year-old medical student at the University of Toronto he worked as an assistant to Dr. Frederick Banting and played a major role in the discovery of the pancreatic hormone insulin—one of the more significant medical advances, enabling an effective treatment for diabetes.

Insulin is a peptide hormone produced by beta cells in the pancreas. It regulates the metabolism of carbohydrates and fats by promoting the absorption of glucose from the blood to skeletal muscles and fat tissue and by causing fat to be stored rather than used for energy.

When control of insulin levels fails, diabetes can result.  Insulin is used medically to treat some forms of diabetes. Patients with type 1 diabetes depend on external insulin (most commonly injected) for their survival because the hormone is no longer produced internally. Patients with type 2 diabetes are often insulin resistant and may suffer from a “relative” insulin deficiency. Some patients with type 2 diabetes may eventually require insulin if dietary modifications or other medications fail to control blood glucose levels adequately. Over 40% of those with Type 2 diabetes require insulin as part of their diabetes management plan.
Best received 18 Honorary Degrees from universities around the world.
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Ever wondered about the vitamins we need or that we eat as part of our breakfast cereal.  What they do?  How they help us?

A vitamin is an organic compound and a vital nutrient that an organism requires in limited amounts.  An organic chemical compound (or related set of compounds) is called a vitamin when the organism cannot synthesize the compound in sufficient quantities, and must be obtained through the diet; thus, the term “vitamin” is conditional upon the circumstances and the particular organism. For example, ascorbic acid (vitamin C) is a vitamin for humans, but not for most other animal organisms. Supplementation is important for the treatment of certain health problems, but there is little evidence of nutritional benefit when used by otherwise healthy people.

There are 13 recognised vitamins from A to E and K.  The reason that the set of vitamins skips directly from E to K is that the vitamins corresponding to letters F-J were either reclassified over time, discarded as false leads, or renamed because of their relationship to vitamin B, which became a complex of vitamins.

The German-speaking scientists who isolated and described vitamin K (in addition to naming it as such) did so because the vitamin is intimately involved in the coagulation of blood following wounding (from the German word Koagulation).

Again, the excellent Compound Interest has produced a detailed image of the chemical structures of vitamins as below.  Click on the image to enlarge.
Click to enlarge


Well-known human vitamin deficiencies involve thiamine (beriberi), niacin (pellagra), vitamin C (scurvy), and vitamin D (rickets). In much of the developed world, such deficiencies are rare; this is due to an adequate supply of food and the addition of vitamins and minerals to common foods, often called fortification.
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Friday 13th February

Today is Friday the 13th of February!  The 13th and in particular a Friday is commonly known as being an unlucky day according to Western Superstition.  It is also known as Black Friday in some countries.

There is no written evidence for a “Friday the 13th” superstition before the 19th century, and the superstition only gained widespread distribution in the 20th century. The fear of the number 13 has been given a scientific name: triskadekaphobia; and on analogy to this the fear of Friday the 13th is called paraskevidekatriaphobia.

It is thought that Friday and the number 13 were traditionally considered unlucky because of their connection with the crucifixion of Christ (Friday being the day the crucifixion took place and was commemorated weekly in Catholic practice, and 13 being the number of people present at the last supper.

In Spanish-speaking countries, instead of Friday, Tuesday the 13th (martes trece) is considered a day of bad luck as it is in Greece.

Research in America has shown that Friday the 13th adversely affects the economy with people changing their daily routines on this day and avoiding certain things like transport and flights.  They estimate that this day can affect the economy in America meaning it loses $800 or $900 million in business on this day.

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Boron is a chemical element with symbol B and atomic number 5. It is a low-abundance element in both the Solar system and the Earth’s crust and is concentrated on Earth by the water-solubility of its more common naturally occurring compounds, the borate minerals. These are mined industrially as evaporites, such as borax and kernite. The largest proven boron deposits are in Turkey, which is also the largest producer of boron minerals.

This rare element is a metalloid; which means that it can can act both as an acid and a base, and it also behaves as a semiconductor.  Boron never occurs in a pure state in the wild, and can only be purified with difficulty by chemists. Boron is a poor conductor of electricity, and is fairly non-reactive, although it is water soluble. The most common uses for boron-containing compounds includes a bleach for clothing, a swimming pool disinfectant and to produce green flames.

About half of global consumption of boron compounds is as additives for glass fibres in boron-containing fibreglass used for insulation or as structural materials. The next leading use is to make boron polymers and ceramics, that play specialised roles as high-strength lightweight structural and refractory materials. Borosilicate glass glassware is used for its greater strength and breakage resistance (thermal shock resistance) than ordinary soda lime glass.

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