Amusing News Aliquots
Nov28

Amusing News Aliquots

Silly samplings from this week’s science news, compiled by Sophia Cai and Jeff Huber. Some key facts about this year's pardoned turkeys. Decide for yourself as to whether or not they really deserved to be pardoned. [White House] The White House’s “We the Geeks” series takes on Thanksgiving cooking (video). [The White House] More breakdown of the science of cooked turkeys: "As the turkey is cooked ... the bonds within the molecules begin to break down, which causes proteins to unravel and the dense muscle meat to become more tender." Mmmm... you had us at unraveling proteins. [RedOrbit] Turns out that eating a bunch of food on Thanksgiving, and not just eating turkey, makes you sleepy. Weird, huh? [NBC News] New Orleans institute has some ideas on how to incorporate insects into traditional Thanksgiving recipes. If only they had told you before you started cooking this year's meal!  [TreeHugger] And now for non-Thanksgiving-themed news: Know what will make you think twice about drinking tons of Coke? The fact that Coke can also be used to remove rust from bolts, blood stains from clothes, dye from hair, and paint from metal furniture.  [ThoughtPursuits] One reason why your kindergartner is winning the argument to stay home from school: Turns out toddlers are smarter than 5-year-olds. [NPR] … And likely smarter than nine-year-olds, given that one just got suspended for snorting Smarties. [Time]  ...

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#FoodChem Carnival: A bit o’ science on your Thanksgiving tippling
Nov16

#FoodChem Carnival: A bit o’ science on your Thanksgiving tippling

In my family, the first thing that happens when you walk in the door to my Aunt Kim’s house on Thanksgiving is you find yourself on the receiving end of the world’s best hug. The second thing that happens is a glass of champagne is thrust into your hand. So when I sat down to consider how to contribute to this week’s Thanksgiving-inspired #foodchem carnival, the science of champagne seemed a natural fit. And since some might consider champagne medicinal, it can squeeze by at the Haystack, right? Anything you want to know about the science of champagne can pretty much be learned from Gérard Liger-Belair, a professor of chemical physics at the University of Reims Champagne-Ardenne. Liger-Belair has possibly the best job in existence: he spends his days trying to decipher the chemistry and physics of champagne. We covered some of his tips for champagne serving here (most practical for every day imbibing: don’t use soap to wash your flutes. Instead, rinse with hot water and wipe with a towel. The cellulose fibers left behind from your swipe promote effervescence.). More recently, Liger-Belair has come out with evidence that size does matter—bottle size, that is. The smaller the bottle, the lower the concentration of dissolved CO2 in each successive glass poured. The message here: forget those wimpy splits, and go magnum. But if you do have a smaller bottle (okay, or a normal 750mL bottle), you can maintain some of the effervescence by keeping nice and frosty. Meanwhile, if you want to enjoy that nose-tickling fizz at the top of your glass for longer, this study suggests you should pick a flute over a coupe. This family prefers a flute, anyway. Less spillage. So there you have it. Happy Turkey Day, all! For more on the science of champagne, check out: What’s that Stuff: Champagne: http://pubs.acs.org/cen/whatstuff/stuff/8201champagne.html Unraveling different chemical fingerprints between a champagne wine and its aerosols: http://www.pnas.org/content/106/39/16545 Uncorked: The Science of Champagne:...

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The Chemistry of Thanksgiving Dinner
Nov23

The Chemistry of Thanksgiving Dinner

In this week’s Newscripts, I wrote about Diane M. Bunce, a professor at Catholic University of America (CUA), in Washington, D.C., and her quest to make chemistry accessible to the public, as well as her students. She gave a public lecture (with accompanying demonstrations) about the chemistry of Thanksgiving dinner on Thursday evening at CUA. Approximately 100 attendees—mostly students—came out to watch Bunce and her teaching assistants, Maribeth “Princess Avogadro” Armenio and Evan “Chief Redox” Bordt, demonstrate some key concepts of kitchen chemistry. A contingent from ACS, including this reporter, also attended, learning about how pop-up turkey timers work, why muffins rise without yeast, and which antacids work best to tame that post-Thanksgiving-dinner indigestion. Thanks to the technology wizards in the ACS Office of Public Affairs, I’ve included a video of the lecture highlights here. You can also check it out at the ACS podcast “ByteSizeScience." Because the lecture went on for 60 minutes, not all of the topics that Bunce covered would fit into this shorter video. But you can see that she set a table with an entire Thanksgiving dinner and then discussed the precooked foods one by one. One interesting topic missing from the video is how cranberry sauce gels. According to Bunce, heating fresh cranberries in water over time releases the heteropolysaccharide pectin, which is responsible for gel formation. But to get the negatively charged pectin molecules to come into contact and gel, sugar and acid are required. Without sugar, in particular, gel formation is slow and inefficient. The sugar molecules, Bunce said, tie up the water molecules around pectin, allowing the heteropolysaccharides to come together and complex. Of course, for those out there who prefer the sliceable cranberry sauce in a can, this information can be disregarded—I can’t help you make that muck palatable. In the end, the audience got a tasty pre-holiday treat, and the students who attended were able to share in Bunce's demo meal afterward. Hopefully, some of the students will take their new-found chemical knowledge home and share it with their families over...

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