Category → Chemistry Is Everywhere
Strolling around the French Quarter on my last day attending the spring ACS national meeting in New Orleans, I stumbled across the New Orleans Pharmacy Museum, a 19th-century apothecary shop filled from floor to ceiling with bottles and jars containing crude drugs, herbal medicines, and even voodoo potions. For those of you who didn’t get a chance to visit this gem of a place, check out this virtual tour I put together–and be sure to visit the next time ACS visits New Orleans in spring 2018!
This week, friend of the blog See Arr Oh is hosting a blog carnival devoted to chemistry in film. I’m a big fan of the silver screen, so in honor of the #chemmoviecarnival, I’m going to break a couple of rules and talk about one of my favorite films: “Fight Club.”
Living in a world where casual violence has become far too commonplace, I confess that it feels peculiar to be so fond of this film. After all, there are some alarming acts of violence in David Fincher’s adaptation of Chuck Palahniuk’s novel about, well, many things, but in particular life in our consumer-driven world.
I first saw this movie when it came out in theaters, back in 1999, and one of my companions commented as we left, “I hate everyone who liked that movie.” For me, however, the film’s violence is just an unusual way to get at a theme that might otherwise come off as cheesy: Appreciate every moment of your precious life.
To that end, there is this chemistry-related cinematic moment, in which one of the film’s central characters (Tyler Durden, played by Brad Pitt) gives the other (played by Edward Norton) a chemical burn with lye. Be forewarned it’s pretty graphic.
Please, please, please do not do this. It is not cool to give yourself or your friends chemical burns. That said, note the accuracy of the chemistry here: “you can run water over your hand and make it worse, or you can use vinegar to neutralize the burn.” Also, I am always amused at how Durden is so careful to put on gloves and safety glasses, but then rips them off for dramatic effect. It’s certainly not the most positive depiction of chemistry in film, but does drive home the movie’s point.
Growing up, most boys dream of one day becoming a chemical engineer and enjoying the endless parade of fans, money, and women that comes with it. Terrence Howard wasn’t so lucky. He had to settle for Oscar-nominated Hollywood actor instead. But don’t feel too sorry for Howard because as he mentioned during a Feb. 26 appearance on “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” he actually holds a Ph.D. in applied materials and chemical engineering from South Carolina State University!
Howard turned the lemons of being left out of “Iron Man 2″ into the lemonade of earning a doctorate? It all sounds very impressive. The problem? It’s a lie. Continue reading →
The Newscripts gang is always on the lookout for ways to make happy hour even happier. Monica Villa, beer lover and aspiring science writer, shares the following tips on how to get the best bubbles in your brew.
Beer drinkers know that quality beer foam means a better beer. So what exactly is this luscious lather? Beer foam is composed mainly of the same glycoproteins and organic acids found in beer, but at higher concentrations. Brewing and aging denature the glycoproteins (which come from yeast cell walls and barley), exposing their hydrophobic regions to carbon dioxide. Meanwhile, their hydrophilic side groups hydrogen-bond with water. This segregation of gas and liquid forms the basic structure of foam.
To create the best beer foam in your glass, follow these steps:
- Wash your beer glasses by hand; dishwashers leave detergent residues that interfere with bubble formation. The lacing of foam on the sides of a glass is actually an indication of cleanliness. Scratches at the bottom of a drinking glass can serve as nucleation sites for bubbles, so don’t sweat the imperfections in your barware.
- Serve your beer at the right temperature. Ideal beer temperatures vary by type, and the truth is that not all beers create a lot of foam. Darker beers and those with higher alcohol content tend to form less foam, while lighter-colored, hoppy beers form high-quality foam. These light-colored beer types should be served at 39–45 °F. Higher temperatures force CO2 gas out of solution, so aim for the higher end of the temperature range to increase foam volume.
Choose the right glass for the beer you’re drinking. BeerAdvocate magazine has compiled a helpful list of the appropriate glasses for each class of beer, highlighting traits that contribute to quality beer foam. Among these qualities are ample space for high foam volume (tulip glasses), slenderness for the fluffy foam of wheat beers (weizen glasses), and room to showcase rising gas beads (pilsner glasses).
- Pour vigorously. A strong pour decreases beer surface tension, aiding in bubble formation. Start at a 45° angle, then straighten the glass to 90° midway through (as demonstrated in this video).
Bonus tip: Change your look for improved foam quality: Mustaches and lipstick carry lipids that disrupt bubbles.
Charlie Bamforth shared these tips in a recent ACS Webinar titled “Getting a Head through Chemistry: Great Beer and a Frothy Foam.” He is a professor of malting and brewing sciences at the University of California, Davis, and author of “Foam,” which he plans to be the first of a six-volume series on beer.
The Newscripts blog would like to be closer Internet buddies with our glossy print Newscripts column, so here we highlight what’s going on in the current issue of C&EN.
Sticking with the music theme from yesterday’s Newscripts blog post, C&EN Senior Editor Linda Wang explores how chemistry instruments are turning into chemistry instrumentals in this week’s print edition of Newscripts. While Linda wasn’t able to cover the entire breadth of chemistry-inspired music currently popping up online (such as the above piece from musical act Boy in a Band), she was able to profile John LaCava.
LaCava, a musician and biology research associate at Rockefeller University who describes himself as “just a young punk from the wrong side of the tracks” who “got sucked into science while studying biotechnology at MassBay Community College” (you know, like all hoodlums), posts music he and his bandmates create using lab equipment such as centrifuges and magnetic stir bars to the website Sounds of Science. Click here to check out some of their mad beats, including Linda’s favorite, “96 Tubes.”
Taking a step back into the past, Linda’s column also discusses recent research into a proposed method for preserving China’s Terra-Cotta Army Warriors. The clay sculptures that were buried with the first Chinese emperor long ago as a means of protecting him in the afterlife are at risk of deterioration caused by air pollutants and heat. To combat this problem, researchers suggest using instruments similar to air conditioners to form a protective “air curtain” around the sculptures.
“I think it’s a fantastic idea!” says Linda. “I don’t mind having the invisible curtain if it means others will be able to enjoy the relics for years to come.”
So, as Linda puts it, “if you’re interested in making music with science or using science to aid in cultural preservation, this Newscripts column may be just for you!”
Do you remember what you did on Pi Day last Thursday (3/14)? American Chemical Society (ACS) student affiliates from Duquesne University, in Pittsburgh, took the opportunity to “pi” their professors (literally) and made a short video about it:
And on a related note, if you think reading the digits in pi will take forever, check out this video of a man pronouncing the longest word in the world, which happens to be the chemical name of titin, the largest known protein. (Warning: you’ll need three and a half hours to get through this video, but as a reward, you get to watch this man’s beard grow.)
Lurking among us are foolish folks who fork out cash for deodorants even though their armpits don’t smell.
This is the take-home message of an article in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology that’s been making the rounds of science news sites and blogs. It’s a fun study, but the results aren’t really that surprising.
Researchers have known for years that some people in Europe (2% of the population) and most people in China, Japan, and Korea are fortunate enough to have two copies of a recessive gene that makes their armpits relative* stink-free zones.
That’s because the gene codes for a protein involved in transporting molecules out of special sweat glands that appear in your armpits at puberty. These stink-producing glands are called apocrine glands, and they differ from eccrine glands, which are found all over your body and produce the salty fluid we commonly associate with sweat and body temperature regulation.
Apocrine glands typically excrete all manner of waxy molecules that armpit bacteria love to feast on. It’s the leftover, metabolized molecules, such as trans-3-methyl-2-hexanoic acid, which give many human bodies that oh-so-ripe odor.
Because the difference between stinky and stink-free folks is a gene involved in transporting armpit molecules, it’s pretty likely that people without body odor have a dysfunctional transporter. Although that’s not yet been proven, it’s a reasonable theory.
For example, people with odorless armpits also produce a dry white earwax, instead of a yellowish wet version. Presumably, the transport machinery that isn’t exporting bacteria food in the armpit isn’t exporting a yellowish fluid in the ears either.
What’s really new in the article is simply the observation that among the 2% of folks in the UK who probably don’t need to apply deodorant, 78% still do.
OK, so why is this not really surprising? Continue reading →
Can’t get the “Gangnam Style” song out of your head? Well, for some chemistry students at Shaker Heights High School, near Cleveland, Ohio, the song just might come in handy for their next chemistry exam.
Check out “Molecules Gone Wild (Bio Style),” chemistry teacher Mr. Hsu’s version of Korean pop sensation PSY’s viral hit. The link was sent to us by Alex Madonik of the American Chemical Society’s California Section, who is an alumni of Shaker Heights.
Silly samplings from this week’s science news, compiled by Bethany Halford and Lauren Wolf.
Where some see a stinky armpit, this Ph.D. student saw a novel method for making cheese. [Improbable Research]
Latex condoms? So five minutes ago. The new hotness is electrospun nanofiber condoms. [PopSci]
Bad news for those of us who have lost our sense of smell from breathing the air in the organic lab: Scientists say a strong sense of smell is key to a happy relationship. [Daily Mail]
New study, completed in Turkey, shows that treating gum disease also improves erectile dysfunction. Newscripts wonders whether the researchers did a control for bad breath simply keepin’ the ladies away. [Vitals/NBCNews]
A nice explainer on the perils of moonshine and drinking oneself blind. [Slate]
Experiment from 1995 finds that cowboy boots impart less balance to subjects than tennis shoes. Give those researchers some more funds! [Discoblog]
Sienna Morris absorbs science and math the way some people suck down Red Bull energy drinks. Her craving is intense, and once she’s taken in some new tidbit of knowledge, it fuels her while she works.
Morris, a Portland, Ore.-based artist, has created a series of pieces that she describes as being “made with science.” This pronouncement, in fact, is what caught my attention while I was strolling through the Portland Saturday Market on a summer vacation to Oregon. Being the geek that I am, I couldn’t pass by a booth adorned with such an advertisement and not investigate.
What I found was some wonderfully inventive art done with a technique Morris calls numberism. When viewed from a distance, one of Morris’ pieces might look like a detailed drawing of a cat, but when you move closer, you discover, this is no ordinary cat. It’s Schrödinger’s Cat. And the lines of its fur are made of letters and numbers—the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle drawn over and over to meld together and form the larger piece.
Morris says she started out using numberism in 2008 as a way to draw a four-dimensional moment. Her first piece that was constructed this way, called “Falling To Pieces,” depicts the faces of two lovers about to kiss. The faces are made by mashing together the numbers of the clock; the digits stream away from the edges of the faces and trail off in smoky wisps.
This was “a well-lived moment,” in her life, Morris says. She wanted to capture it in space as well as in time. “The numbers are coming in and going out to remind us that time’s constantly changing,” she says.
The science and math pieces started about two years after this initial foray into numberism. Morris had been inspired to learn more about the subjects by her husband, Tabulanis, who is a designer and physics enthusiast.
Now, a handful of her science art even contains chemistry. In one piece, a woman blows out the flame on a candle, which is constructed from an average molecular formula for paraffin wax (C25H52).
In another piece, a little girl examines a jar full of fireflies. The bellies of the insects are drawn with the formula for a luciferin, a compound involved in the bugs’ luminescence. The glow emitting from the fireflies in the artwork is composed of the digits in the speed of light. Continue reading →