What Would Border Collies Do?

November 24, 2009 at 4:24 am 6 comments

Dogs doing chemistry!   I love the idea – and while I probably shouldn’t be (because after all, they are just dogs) I have to admit that I am just a wee bit disappointed that they appear to be doing it wrong….

I suspect that this intrepid, alchemical pack of golden retrievers was trying to create oxygen.  An oxygen atom has eight protons, eight neutrons and eight electrons.  What they appear to have created instead is an incredibly rare beryllium anion with four protons, four neutrons and six electrons.

If you’re wondering how I can tell what atom they’re creating, the answer is in the protons.  The number of protons in the nucleus of an atom determines what element it is.  If alchemists had figured out how add or subtract protons from atomic nuclei, they’d have solved the problem of transmutation. 

Unfortunately for alchemists (but fortunately for those of us who depend on the laws of atomic physics to exist), it’s incredibly difficult to add or subtract protons from atomic nuclei.  But electrons aren’t as loyal as protons.  They move around between orbitals, ions, atoms and molecules with varying levels of ease, and only stick around when atomic forces, well - force them to.

An oxygen atom has eight protons in its nucleus so in its neutral, or zero valence state, it also has eight electrons.  A beryllium atom has four protons in its nucleus and in its neutral or zero valence state, four electrons.  Either atom can have a varying number of neutrons with the number present determining which isotope one is dealing with.

If you watch carefully you’ll see that the atom that these bright (rather than erudite) dogs have created appears to have four protons, four neutrons and six electrons.  If it has four protons, the atom must be beryllium — it can’t be anything else.  Giving it six electrons instead of the four needed to balance the charge of the four protons in the nucleus adds two negative charges to create Be-2  –  an ion that exists only in the laboratory and the imagination of sixteen, beautiful, obedient dogs with a stunning (though somewhat flawed) grasp of chemistry.

(does anyone else find it ironic that the theme music for the video is “Can’t be Wrong”)

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6 Comments Add your own

  • 1. H. Houlahan  |  November 24, 2009 at 2:48 pm

    I dunno about border collies.

    But my ES search dogs would be getting to it and finding the Higgs boson.

    Then making it behave.

  • 2. retrieverman  |  November 24, 2009 at 4:36 pm

    Those are show-bred goldens.

    Figures.

  • 3. Rob McMillin  |  November 24, 2009 at 11:54 pm

    Also, it’s worth noting that the show-bred Goldens are displaying Be-8, an isotope of beryllium that does not exist in nature because it has a half-life measured in femtoseconds. Be-9 is the most common fraction, so they would need another neutron.

  • 4. Rob McMillin  |  November 24, 2009 at 11:56 pm

    (In case you were wondering: Be-8 becomes He-4, common helium, by alpha decay.)

  • 5. Rob McMillin  |  November 25, 2009 at 12:00 am

    Oops, I’m wrong — Be-8 decays in attoseconds.

  • 6. SmartDogs  |  November 25, 2009 at 12:30 am

    Close enough for me ;-)

    I think that ONB ES’s would probably kick golden retriever hiney when it comes to this particular kind of work.

    Think of the possibilities – Charlie or Maddie could latch onto someone to demonstrate covalent bonds. Dogs with marginal stays could show fission reactions. We could use skilled herding dogs to demonstrate ionic bonding – or less well trained ones to illustrate hydrogen bonds.

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