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Amusing News Aliquots

Silly samplings from this week’s science news, compiled by Sophia Cai and Jeff Huber.


Know your bird: Meet Caramel, one of this year’s pardoned turkeys. Credit: White House

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]



Amusing News Aliquots

Silly samplings from this week’s science news, compiled by Sophia Cai and Jeff Huber.


Buried at sea: Everyone’s all smiles following the death of 18-foot oarfish. Credit: Catalina Island Marine Institute

Discovery of elusive oarfish terrifies Internet, but NOAA says this 18-footer is 30 feet shy of some of its cousins. [NBCNews]

How backlogged is EPA? It was only during the government shutdown that they found enough time to remove a 13-year-old soup can from an office refrigerator. [Washington Post]

Study suggests Oreos are as addictive as crack, gives new meaning to teens asking for the hard stuff. [Time]

Forensic scientists discover that 5,300-year-old mummy Ötzi the Iceman has 19 living male relatives. You just got schooled, Ancestry.com. [Yahoo!]

Planet-sized asteroid hurtling toward Earth is named 2013 TV135. No word yet on whether or not the asteroid will make a grand appearance during television’s sweeps week. [io9]

Scientists divided over whether DNA sample proves yetis are a relative of ancient polar bears. Yetis divided over whether they should just come out and let us know they’re real. [The Guardian]

Study finds that social media encourages gang violence. Whoa, whoa. So you’re telling me that websites like Facebook and Twitter, which I spend 14 hours a day on, are somehow detrimental to society? I don’t believe it. [Government Technology]

Florida man is arrested after keeping an alligator in his hot tub. Helpful article describing the arrest states, “Alligators typically are found in lakes and swamps as opposed to hot tubs.” [TCPalm]


In Print: Chemist Gets High On A Unicycle

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.

For most chemistry students, balance means juggling work inside the lab with life outside it. For Max Schulze, it means something else entirely. That’s because the rising senior at Colorado School of Mines is not only a chemistry major, but he’s also a world champion unicyclist.

Max Schulze

Serious air: Chemistry major Max Schulze defies gravity on his unicycle. Credit: Minesh Bacrania

In this week’s Newscripts column, Senior Correspondent Marc Reisch interviews Schulze, whose impressive balance atop a unicycle has led to top honors at multiple gatherings of the Unicycle World Championships & Convention (aka Unicon). Schulze is currently gearing up for the next Unicon, which will take place in Montreal in 2014.

Schulze “seems to have developed an outstanding sense of balance both on the unicycle and off it. That’s something we can all admire,” says Marc, who admits to having had very little knowledge of unicycling prior to his conversation with Schulze. “Like most folks, I have a fondness for motorized four-wheeled vehicles because they are very convenient to get me from point A to point B,” Marc deadpans. “I’m also capable of navigating motorless two-wheeled vehicles. But I have resisted riding one-wheeled vehicles for fear of falling flat on my face.”

Despite a lack of familiarity with unicycling, Marc nevertheless found himself very impressed by Schulze. One of the things Marc found most admirable was the time Schulze has spent visiting grade schools near his hometown of Los Alamos, N.M., “to show youngsters what they might achieve with practice and commitment.” Marc says that during these visits, Schulze will often have elementary school teachers lie down on the ground in a row and then proceed to jump over them them while riding his unicycle. “Now isn’t that every youngster’s desire in life: to pass over his or her teachers?” Marc laughs.

Check out some of Schulze’s hair-raising tricks in the following video. Newscripts readers, don’t try this at home!

Continue reading →

Chemistry of the Bar: Amaretto 101

Amaretto: Disregard those almonds, they've got nothing to do with it. Credit: Shutterstock

Amaretto: Disregard those almonds, they’ve got nothing to do with it. Credit: Shutterstock

At last week’s American Chemical Society meeting in New Orleans, a group of chemists came together to discuss the latest and greatest in alcohol. No, this wasn’t on Bourbon Street. And karaoke, to-go cups, and beaded necklaces weren’t involved (as far as I know).

Instead, these folks shared stories about cocktails and hangovers at the New Orleans Morial Convention Center during a symposium called “Chemistry of the Bar.”

This week’s issue of Chemical & Engineering News features a column I wrote about one of the session’s presentations. Neil C. Da Costa, a researcher at International Flavors & Fragrances, in New Jersey, entertained the audience with tales of the hurricane, that rum-based drink the Big Easy is famous for. I featured Da Costa’s studies of the hurricane because of the soft spot I have for the cocktail: The first time I drank one was during my undergraduate years at, you guessed it, my first national ACS meeting.

But I gave short shrift to other “Chemistry of the Bar” presentations. One particularly interesting talk was given by Jerry Zweigenbaum, a researcher at Agilent Technologies, in Delaware. Along with Alyson E. Mitchell and coworkers at the University of California, Davis, Zweigenbaum investigated the ingredients of the after-dinner liquor amaretto.

If you’re like me, you might have thought that because amaretto smells like almonds, it’s made from them. Zweigenbaum says that’s not necessarily the case.

According to legend, amaretto was first made in 1525 by soaking apricot kernels in alcohol. You can see the tale, conveniently located on the website of amaretto maker Disaronno, here. Apparently, one of Leonardo Da Vinci’s star pupils was asked to paint a fresco of the Madonna in the Italian city Saronno. His model was a local innkeeper who showed her gratitude by gifting the fellow a drink made from the infamous kernels.

Today, Disaronno says its amaretto contains “herbs and fruits soaked in apricot kernel oil.”

But the problem with alcohols like amaretto, Zweigenbaum says, is they are regulated by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives here in the U.S., rather than by FDA. That means companies don’t have to list the beverages’ ingredients or nutritional content.

So what exactly Disaronno and other amaretto companies are putting in their wares remains a mystery. Zweigenbaum decided to find out. Continue reading →

In Print: Science Models

If you ever visit the Museum of Science in Boston, in a certain corner of the museum you’ll find a giant insect hovering over a toy train set. This particular display, in a section about scale and models, delights and terrifies my three-year-old. He loves the train but is scared silly by the big bug. I had this section of the museum, and the ideas of scaling up and scaling down, on my mind when putting together this week’s Newscripts column. That’s because one story focuses on a new protein model building kit and the second story is about making bite-size gummy people.

Models are a big deal in science. They help us visualize and give us tactile experiences with all sorts of different things. From grade school, I recall a giant model of the ear and ear canal. My favorite thing to do was to pull out the tiny ossicles–those smallest of human bones–from the middle ear canal and try to figure out which was which amongst the hammer, the anvil, and the stirrup.

Credit: ThinkGeek

Credit: ThinkGeek

In chemistry, where we can’t really see the molecules we study, models are even more important for getting across ideas such as chirality and structure. Did anyone else learn stereochemistry with toothpicks and gumdrops?

It will be interesting to see what happens with the new Tangle Proteins Building Set, from chemistry professor Marcel Jaspars, of Scotland’s University of Aberdeen, and sculptor Richard X. Zawitz.

The new set looks like it will give budding biochemists the ability to build proteins in the same way that organic students build natural products.

As for the second item in the column, I confess that I wrote about the FabCafe in Japan because I saw the pictures of their gummy people online and was absolutely taken with how cool they looked, especially the image below. It’s so Matrix-meets-Haribo.

Credit: www.fabcafe.com

Credit: www.fabcafe.com

One of the C&EN editors even told me that he thought $65 was a bargain for seeing yourself reproduced in gummy candy. I heartily agree. Too bad this was just a special event at the FabCafe. And that the FabCafe is so far away (from me anyway). I love the idea of sitting down with a cafe au lait and then trying my hand at a laser cutter. Are there any Newscripts readers who have had the good fortune to visit this spot?

Four Tips for Getting the Best Beer Foam

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.

Credit: Shutterstock

Credit: Shutterstock

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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).
  4. 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.

Amusing News Aliquots

Silly samplings from this week’s science news, compiled by Bethany Halford and Lauren Wolf.

Look delicious? You never know where it might have come from. Credit: Flickr user cathou_cathare

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]

Amusing News Aliquots

Silly samplings from this week’s science news, compiled by Bethany Halford and Lauren Wolf.

Credit: André Karwath/Wikimedia Commons

Some sneaky chemists are swapping the fat in chocolate with fruit juice. [Futurity]

Belgian doctor finds most fertile uteruses have “mathematically perfect” dimensions. Who funds this stuff? [Guardian]

Cool kid news: 13-year-old homeschooler finds meteorite with homemade metal detector. [LA Times]

The Gates Foundation prepares its grantees with fake poop. [NPR]

This woman says the wizarding gene that explains Harry Potter’s world might be ”caused by an expansion of trinucleotide repeats with non-Mendelian ratios of inheritance.” [iO9]

Here’s looking at you, Cornell: School’s researchers scientifically analyze what makes memorable movie quotes memorable. [Technology Review/MIT]

Awww, man. Online marketplace Etsy says its vendors can’t sell human bones (skulls, skeletons, etc.) Newscripts is gonna have to find some new items for our Holiday Gift Guide. [iO9]