Of moles and God

Trip Start Feb 23, 2010
Trip End Jul 15, 2010

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Where I stayed

Flag of Italy  , Piedmont,
Monday, May 3, 2010

We grabbed an early breakfast at our hotel and made our way to the Duomo for our 8:00am appointment with the Shroud of Turin. As we anticipated, it took much longer for us to get to the gate – the "10 minute" stroll turned out to be more like about 30 minutes! To their credit, the Archdiocese of Torino, the coordinators of the exposition, were very well organized. The Shroud was available for public viewing free of charge for a little over a month (April 10 to May 23), so many people from around the world would have to be accommodated in a short time (about 1.7 million people reserved a viewing). From the time we arrived to the time we viewed the Shroud was an hour – very good, considering the hundreds of people that passed by.

Before being brought into the church where the Shroud was displayed, we viewed a short multi-language visual presentation about the Shroud that outlined the important sections of the cloth. This was helpful, since we only had about 5-10 minutes for viewing. We filed past the Shroud in 3 parallel lines on ramps of different heights in front of the display so that everyone had a good view. We could see the outline of the head, face, hands, torso of a man. There were blood stains from wounds to the hands, feet, head, neck and chest. The Shroud is sealed in a bullet-proof glass airtight case that contains argon (95.5%) and oxygen (0.5%) to preserve the cloth from microbial degradation. Over the years there has been considerable controversy about the authenticity of the Shroud. But, whether or not one believes that this is the actual Shroud that covered Jesus after His death on the cross, it most importantly serves as a reminder to Christians of His passion, suffering, death for our sins, and His resurrection.

After leaving the Duomo Lesly and I set off on another quest before returning to the hotel. It seems that Torino was the home of Amedeo Avogadro (1776-1856), (or Lorenzo Romano Amedeo Carlo Avogadro di Quaregna e di Cerretoa to his homies), a well-known physicist and mathematician.  Torino was so proud of their celebrated son, a street was dedicated to this extraordinary scientist, and aptly named “Via Amedeo Avogadro”.  We set out to find it to pay homage. Yup, you guessed it - time for another science history minute!  (Come on, you should have seen it coming by now)  

Around the time when chemists and physicists were trying to wrap their minds around the nature of substances like solids, liquids and gases, Avogadro formulated one of the most critical and enduring concepts in science – substances like gases were comprised of molecules and atoms, and that they were distinct entities. More (or less) precisely Avogadro's Law states that “equal volumes of gases, at the same temperature and pressure, contain the same number of molecules”.  As is the case with many scientific discoveries, Avogadro’s work was not fully appreciated until after his death, when other chemists began testing his ideas. Because the molecules and atoms in any substance are so tiny, we cannot count these particles directly; pero (thus), indirect methods are necessary to estimate the number of these particles. Allora, a numerical constant was formulated to define the number of molecules in a "mole" (a unit of measure) of a substance. This constant, known as Avogadro’s Number, is almost as widely known as Jenny’s number (eight six seven five three-Oh-ni-ee-ine !) - although she’s probably more fun on a date than Amedeo.  It is worth stating here that Avogadro should not be confused with an avocado, although both gave rise to the “mole” (guacamole). Every chemist, cell biologist, molecular biologist, geneticist, and every “-ist” in between, knows the number and uses it every day in routine laboratory calculations. Lesly and her lab crew couldn’t do what they do without Avogadro and his amazing number. And that number is 6023 with 20 zeroes after it - Yikes!!! To put it in perspective: If you dumped an Avogadro’s number of aluminum soda cans over the Earth, they would cover the planet surface to a depth of 200 miles (don’t laugh, we’re well on our way to accomplishing this). Think of Avogadro’s number as a unit of measure, like a “dozen” eggs in the kitchen – it is a sort of “chemist’s dozen”. If this little lesson has inspired you, feel free to celebrate National Mole Day October 23 (10/23) from 6:02am to 6:02pm.

Anyway, after finding Via Amedeo Avogadro we went for lunch. We decided to try Ristorante Urbani on Via Saluzzo, near our hotel. It is a typical Torinese ristorante. We ordered Antipasti Misti (Mixed Antipasto plate). The waiter first brought dishes of tuna, anchovies, 3 or 4 different cheeses, bread, cantaloupe wrapped in prosciutto, salamis, and olives. Then, he brought warm dishes – lasagna, stuffed zucchini, eggplant and baked tomatoes – he left them at our table to help ourselves.  What a feast!  When we had had enough antipasti, we finished our meal with Vin Santo and cantucciVin santo (holy wine) is type of fortified wine and cantucci are small biscotti or cookies native to the Tuscan region. They go very well together.
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Michelle Carpenter on

Holy mole-y! I love reading your blog....so entertaining and informative. Glad to hear y'all are having such a good time.

Rhonda on

I am just now getting around to reading this entry...yeah, yeah, yeah...the mole. The real story is your lunch. Yummy!!!!!!!!

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