Category Archives: science

Steel and Magnets

I had been debating about whether to load up my new refrigerator with art held on by magnets. I didn’t want to risk scratching the stainless steel surface, so I had halfway decided not to decorate it. Then when sorting through all the stuff I’ve stashed here and there over the last few months, I found the darling butterfly magnets that Herm gave me for my birthday, in anticipation of my new kitchen. They have a soft backing, so I ran downstairs to put them on. But they wouldn’t stick at all!

Mr. Glad had just come home from work, and we puzzled together as he saw me try to attach them to the microwave instead. Nope. They don’t hold on there, either. Isn’t steel magnetic? Made of iron? Is this really stainless steel, or some knock-off? The magnets do stick to my powerful range fan hood, so there they sit, brightening up the back of the stove.

When I googled this subject the first article I found was written on a blog of stories by journalism grad students at Columbia University, and stated that some stainless steel appliances are not magnetic because they “are made of high-grade stainless steel and don’t contain iron.” What?? I don’t know very much, but I always thought steel was made of iron. So I went on searching.

From what I read here, it appears that various metals can be added to the steel (that is, yes, mostly iron) in small amounts, to make it rust-free. One of the metals that often goes into the alloy is nickel, which also alters the steel in a way that negates the magnetic quality. I’m guessing that my range hood doesn’t have nickel. But it does have butterflies.


A Hard-Working and Loving Man

Thanks to Sandy at Junkfood Science for introducing me to Dr. Norman Ernest Borlaug at his passing from this world. He lived an inspiring and humanitarian life in the field of agriculture, with which I feel a fundamental connection because my father was a farmer, another one who worked hard out of love. These pictures are of the fruits of his labors, and of the road we lived on in California’s Central Valley for most of my childhood.

All of us should feel that link, because we depend so critically on those who grow our food, but in these days when the percentage of the population devoted to agriculture is shrinking, I’m afraid the portion who never think of the farmers is on the rise.

While you are on that website, check out her many other articles on a broad range of topics about which she does the research and lets her readers in on the stories behind the often-misleading headlines.

Savor your bread and pizza.

Life is so complex. Even simple wheat is not to be taken for granted, as you can read in this news article that explains the time bomb [link expired. The 2009 article was about wheat rust.] threatening the world’s supply, and the multi-faceted challenge of making sure that we can continue to bake our bread.

Sure, there are other grains, but none that contains near the amount of gluten as wheat. Gluten is that unique substance that makes pizza dough (at left) such that it can be thrown in the air and stretched to bake into not only a crusty, but a chewy crust.

And if you’ve ever tried to avoid gluten in your diet, you might agree with me that the best breads require it. If we have to switch from wheat to rice or rye or triticale, I think there would be a lot fewer homey scenes like this one.