WHAT IS A MOLE?

I was the reader for an examination on chemistry this morning. In the section on Quantitative Chemistry the candidate had to define the term ‘mole’. Not being well-versed in chemistry – and given that the page was illustrated with a cartoon celebrating National Mole Day on 23rd October 2015 – an unbidden image of a garden mole sprang to mind.

Some of you may recall my post on COLD MOLE (January 2015) in which I described the rescue of a mole that had fallen into our swimming pool. That was actually a Cape mole-rat (Georychus capensis) which is endemic to South Africa. They are herbivorous, feeding on bulbs, corms and tubers – hence being regarded as pests by so many gardeners.

Cape mole-rat

The moles that feature in stories – such as the Duncton Wood series by William Horwood and The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame – feed primarily on earthworms and grubs, which rise and fall in the depths of soil to find more comfortable temperatures depending on the season.

Both creatures show their presence by throwing up characteristic heaps of soil that come from their tunnelling activities. I simply rake these flat when I see them and do not worry about the presence of mole-rats in our garden, even though their underground mining activities have lifted the stones on the garden path and cause the lawn to be uneven in places, especially after heavy rain.

garden path

I had to turn to the Internet to define the term ‘mole’, as applied to chemistry. According to chemistry.bd.psu.edu/jircitano/mole.html a mole of a substance is defined as the mass of substance containing the same number of fundamental units as there are atoms in exactly 12.000 g of 12C. Fundamental units may be atoms, molecules, or formula units, depending on the substance concerned.

For the record, National Mole Day is celebrated annually on 23rd October from 6:02 a.m. to 6:02 p.m. I wondered about this precise time of the day until another search revealed that it commemorates Avogadro’s Number (6.02 x 1023), which is a basic measuring unit in chemistry. Mole Day was created as a way of fostering an interest in chemistry. http://www.moleday.org/

Perhaps the non-chemists among us could find ways of celebrating the garden moles on that day!

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