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LuxeSci Show Notes: S2E2: Happy Anniversary to Us! The Science of Paper and Crystals.

Hello again, welcome to LuxeSci, a podcast to reignite your wonder by exploring the science of luxury items.  We’re very excited this week because its the first anniversary of our podcast!

One year ago, on a typically rainy day in Seattle, we launched this podcast as a passion project of mine coming out of the pandemic.  We wanted to have more fun conversations about science and hopefully spark some curiosity by talking about the science of items most people have experience with.  It’s been super fun and we’re so happy that we can still do this podcast and that we’ve launched Season 2.

So for our first anniversary, we’re going to talk about the science behind typical first anniversary gifts (for married couples).  The traditional first anniversary gift is paper and the more modern one is crystal.  So i’m going to take on paper and Dimos will talk about crystals.


  • The older version of what to give for a first anniversary is paper

  • In fact, that’s what I gave Dimos for our first wedding anniversary

  • According to historians – the Chinese were the first to invent true paper

  • The Egyptians developed a paperlike product 4000 years ago by  weaving papyrus mats and then pounding them and obviously humans have been writing on anything and everything for much long

  • The Chinese paper was made from a pulp of mulberry bark, hemp and cloth rags.  The pulp was pressed to remove the water and the sun-dried to make a sheet of paper

  • This process was replicated throughout the Middle East, Africa and Europe about 600 years later

  • For many years after – paper was made from discarded rags and clothing and was scarce due to a shortage of used cloth.

  • Mid-1800s European papermakers rediscovered the use of tree fibers for papermaking

  • Today – almost all paper is made from wood pulp

  • Mechanically or chemically break down wood

  • Two things left: fibers (cellulose) and lignin

  • The fibers are the remnants of the tree’s cells

  • Lignin – glue that held together the fibers in the wood

  • Wood pulp – fibers with the lignin removed

  • Trees go to the papermill

  • Bark is removed

  • Mechanical – grindstones tear wood fibers apart in water, or trees chipped into small pieces and then ground down to fibers

  • Chemical – cook wood chips where chemicals help break down wood chips 

  • Recycling – remove chemicals (adhesive and ink) and wood fibers repulped.  This shortens the individual fibers so they can only be recycled several times and that’s why new pulp is mixed into paper products

  • Wash, bleach and beat the wood pulp –

  • Add any additional chemicals to make different types of paper

  • Add slush to a screen and after the water drains off, moves through heated cylinders to press, dry and smooth it

  • Interesting research on how to de-ink paper for recycling paper without the chemical agents

  • T Indumathi et al Chemosphere 2022

  • 12 cellulose-producing bacteria and picked the one that was the best producer

  • Cellulase enzyme was isolated and purified

  • Used for enzymatic de-inking of photocopy papers

How Crystals Form:

Crystals are examples of self-organizing systems. Self-organization is "anti-chaos" because, while chaos can have any number of ways to begin, self-organizing systems turn chaos into order and end up in virtually the same final state.

Organization and multiplicity are what crystals are all about. They are defined by order, like lattices, polyhedra, so regular building blocks of atoms can give us diamonds or pencil lead. Both crystals, just different conditions leading to that manner of building.

Ancient Greeks thought quartz was ice that had frozen so hard it wouldn't melt, so they called it krystallos ("ice"), thereby giving us the word crystal.

Crystals can be made from just about anything. In physics, the term "crystal" describes a solid substance with internal symmetry and a related, regular surface pattern. This configuration, called the crystal structure, recurs so regularly that you can use it to predict the organization of atoms throughout the crystal.  [sources: Encyclopaedia Britannica; Isaacs et al.].

If this arrangement carries on beyond a few neighboring atoms it is called long-range order, akin to a marching band in formation. Short range order is found in amorphous crystals but can result in a substance not too different from the crystalline form.

The bonds are started by ions (positively or negatively charged atoms) and link up by ionic or covalent bonds. These bonds pack up into various compact, stable shapes called coordination polyhedra

A crystal structure (an arrangement of atoms in a crystal) is characterized by its unit cell, a small imaginary box containing one or more atoms in a specific spatial arrangement. The unit cells are stacked in three-dimensional space to form the crystal.

For example in a silica crystal, a small central ion of silicon might be surrounded by four larger ions of oxygen, forming a triangular pyramid, or tetrahedron. In manganese(II) oxide, a small central manganese ion lies within six larger oxygen ions -- one above, one below and four in a square around the middle, forming a three-dimensional diamond, or octahedron

The symmetry of a crystal is constrained by the requirement that the unit cells stack perfectly with no gaps. There are 219 possible crystal symmetries, called crystallographic space groups. These are grouped into 7 crystal systems, such as cubic crystal system (where the crystals may form cubes or rectangular boxes, such as halite or hexagonal crystal system (where the crystals may form hexagons, such as ordinary water ice).

Crystals boast a range of handy qualities, particularly in consumer electronics, where they can act as insulators or semiconductors. The piezoelectric property, in which a crystal acquires an electric charge when squeezed or smacked, makes crystals useful in everything from living room speakers to ultrasound scanners. Piezoelectric crystals also vibrate under an electric charge. This property of consistent oscillation enables quartz clocks and watches to keep reliable time

No glossary or cocktail party facts this week but just our sincere appreciation for everyone who is listening.  and a very special thank you as always to Dimos, our audio engineer and my co-host.

If you’d like to get us present for our anniversary, please subscribe and rate the show on iTunes, Spotify or where ever you listen to podcasts (we’re also on Goodpods!) or please share this podcast with someone you think would like it.

We’ll be back next time with a deeper exploration of the science of color.


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