In The High Desert, Molecular Sculpture
Jan27

In The High Desert, Molecular Sculpture

The hum of pickup trucks pervades Kit Carson Road in downtown Taos, New Mexico. But it's easy to escape. The street is chockablock with small art galleries, eager for out-of-towners to duck inside. And one in particular feels like home to the X-ray crystallographers who've descended on Taos for a Keystone Conference on G-protein coupled receptors and ion channels. It's the Wilder-Nightingale Gallery, and it's displaying work by one of their own. Like those crystallographers, Edgar Meyer used to spend his days figuring out the structures of proteins. Among his more colorful conquests are a component of the venom from Eastern diamondback rattlesnakes, and proteins from fire ants and termites. He even had a hand in founding the Protein Data Bank, the online hub where researchers deposit all the structural information for the proteins they analyze. These days, he's stopped analyzing Nature's structures and started sculpting ones of his own- not in protein but in wood and bronze. His work is scattered about Wilder-Nightingale's other collections- paintings of native peoples and mountain...

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Coke Zero’s Secret Formula
Apr14

Coke Zero’s Secret Formula

I was recently in Atlanta covering a conference for C&EN, and because it was my first visit there, I surveyed friends about what to check out if there was time. After grabbing some recommended chicken and waffles and taking in some sweet, sweet soul music at Gladys Knight and Ron Winan’s diner, I made my way over to the World of Coca-Cola, a downtown museum celebrating the famed beverage. Initially, I went to the museum to get some free soda (friends raved about the tasting area, which boasts 60 different beverages from around the world) but came away thinking about the chemistry of Coke. One particular exhibit in the museum, “Milestones of Refreshment,” covers the history of Coca-Cola, from its invention to its bottle design. The invention portion of the exhibit focuses on pharmacist John S. Pemberton, who created the original Coca-Cola formula in 1886, and displays the requisite chemical bottles often found in these types of arrangements. You know how it goes: A pharmacist or chemist did something important, so the exhibit MUST feature a bunch of dusty bottles that aren’t really relevant. What I did find interesting, however, was Pemberton’s lab notebook, sitting in a case under a spotlight. Although the handwriting was faded, visitors can still make out some ingredients Pemberton tried out in various proportions during his formulation work: vanillin, phosphoric acid, and so on. Mysteriously missing from the display was any mention that until the early 1900s, Coke contained extracts of cocaine (from coca leaf), but I guess that tidbit isn't something the firm is trying to impart to visitors. All of this got me thinking about the ingredients in one of Coca-Cola’s most recent additions to its U.S. beverage lineup—Coke Zero. This calorie-free drink, with its sleek black label design, was developed with the male of the species in mind. Apparently, market research shows that men don’t buy products with “diet” in the name, but they still want to diet. Purchasing Coke Zero instead of Diet Coke fulfills their requirements. As a female of the species, however, I don’t necessarily prefer products advertising that they are “diet”—I’ll take Coke Zero over Diet Coke any day of the week. I’ve always thought the reason that I disliked the taste of Diet Coke was that it contains aspartame. However, after reading the label more closely and chatting with some people at the museum, I noted that Coke Zero, which I think tastes great (and more like Coke Classic), contains aspartame as well. So what gives? Well, I checked in with some experts to try to find out. “There are people for whom most high-potency sweeteners, such as aspartame and...

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Move Your Vitamins
Mar29

Move Your Vitamins

Like many people, unless I take my multivitamin first thing in the morning, I won’t take it at all. For me, the most obvious place to sit the bottle of Centrum is in my bathroom right next to my toothbrush. According to new research, however, I couldn’t pick a worse place in my home to store it. In a recent study published in the Journal of Agricultural & Food Chemistry, researchers Ashley N. Hiatt, Lynne S. Taylor, and Lisa J. Mauer monitored stability of two forms of vitamin C—sodium ascorbate and ascorbic acid—under high heat and humidity. The researchers discovered that when exposed to such conditions vitamin C becomes prone to a process called deliquescence and starts to dissolve and clump. This can render the product useless, depending on the conditions and formulations, and isn’t reversible. “If you get some moisture present or ingredients dissolve, they’ll decrease the quality and shelf life of the product and decrease the nutrient delivery,” Mauer stated in a release. In as little as a week “you can get complete loss of vitamin C in some products that have deliquesced,” she continued. Bathrooms and kitchens are the most common areas for this to occur, thanks to varying temperatures and humidity in those rooms. “The humidity in your kitchen or bathroom can cycle up quite high, depending on how long of a shower you take, for example, and can get higher than 98%,” Mauer said. Some signs of product breakdown to look out for include liquid in vitamin containers and brown spots, especially on children’s vitamins. Although the vitamins aren’t necessarily unsafe at this point, Mauer still suggests discarding them. “Why give a vitamin to a kid if it doesn’t have the vitamin content you’re hoping to give them?” she said. “You’re just giving them candy at that point with a high sugar content.” Looks like I’ll be relocating my supplements to my bedroom. Here's a video of Mauer explaining the process of...

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Periodic Table Parodies
Mar25

Periodic Table Parodies

OMG, I TIAIL w this T! JP! (Translation: Oh my gosh, I think I am in love with this T-shirt! Just playing!) Don't fret if you had to resort to the translation to make sense of the previous sentence; it's not exactly English. It's text speak, and if you have a teenager, know a teenager, or have any desire to text like a teenager, than Newscripts has a shirt for you. I happened upon this scientifically blasphemous cotton nightmare while sifting through the junior section of TJ Maxx, but you can order it online here. T-shirt designers just love making parodies of the Periodic Table and, thankfully, most of them are at least mildly amusing. My personal favorite is the Chuck Norris shirt, included below. It reads, "Chuck Norris destroyed the Periodic Table because he only recognizes the element of surprise." Hilarious. Have a favorite  Periodic Table shirt we missed? Include it in the comments...

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Elements Abound In D.C.
Jan28

Elements Abound In D.C.

After reading Beth's elemental town-name Newscripts last week, I spent a bit of time looking through Nicholas C. Thomas' article trying to find the closest elmental town to Washington, D.C. Of the ones listed, Barium Springs, N.C., is the closest, at just under 400 miles away. (Although Alloy, W.Va., is a bit closer, it's not an elemental name, so I'm not counting it.) I thought this area should have tons of elementally named towns, what with all the science that goes on here. Maybe we can convince some towns to change their names for the International Year of Chemistry 2011? I'm thinking "Radon, District of Columbia" has a nice ring to it (especially as we're ringing out Radon Action Month). Or maybe "Lead," to go with all the contamination we have in our soil and water. Anyhow, not finding any towns in the area currently named after elements, I was surprised to stumble upon some graffiti on the trash can across the street from my apartment building. I'm not sure if this is someone's nickname or a territorial marker, but it made my day and got me thinking, which reminded me of this elementally named night club/lounge/restaurant only blocks from the American Chemical Society headquarters. So, I did a Google maps search for a bunch of elements in D.C. Not surprisingly, fluorine, sodium, neon, and other commonly known and used elements popped up a lot. But I also found a nice elemental shoe and clothing store just down the road from my apartment. When I asked Carbon's owner, Kevin Powers, whether there was any chemistry behind naming his store, he responded with "I sell shoes, furniture and accessories. At the molecular level, they each include carbon as an element... A nice common 'bond.' " Most of D.C.'s elemental and chemical names appear in buildings such as this, which houses (although you'd never know it) Alkylphenols & Ethoxylates, the Environmental Arsenic Council, the Chlorinated Paraffins Industry Association, the Acrylonitrile Group, the Emulsion Polymers Council, the Vinyl Acetate Council, et cetera. Not as exciting as the graffiti, night clubs, and shopping options in the area, although the workers in this particular building got to witness a little bit of action a few months ago when a protester stopped traffic in a busy intersection to demand a few million...

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