Chewing Gum #SweetFailures

Today marks the beginning of the 2014 National Chemistry Week celebrations here at ACS, and the Undergrad Programs Office has found the PERFECT way to join in the fun. This week, we’re going to talk about everyone’s favorite thing….. science failures.

I’m sure you’re sitting back and asking yourself; “What does he mean by failures?” We’ve all seen the videos on Buzzfeed. Some poor scientist is trying to give a demonstration to a group of elementary school kids and they end up sending up a ball of flame and smoking everyone out of the room. This is where we got our idea.

The word ‘failure’ implies a negative, but sometimes failures turn out to be quite positive experiences. I’m not talking about [air quotes] “learning opportunities”. I’m talking about discovery. Can you think of any discoveries that have come from science failures? Let me help. Think about NCW’s theme. Still can’t think of anything? Here’s a hint: CHEWING GUM!

That’s right, folks, the modern chewing gum industry came from a MAJOR science failure. In the mid 1800’s an inventor named Thomas Adams discovered modern chewing gum while attempting to discover a cheap alternative for rubber tires. Today, the chewing gum industry is booming. People across the globe chew roughly 100,000 tons of gum every year resulting in an industry with a networth of approximately $19B. Now, if that’s not a #SweetFailure I don’t know what is!

Now that we’ve discovered that chewing gum is one lucrative failure, here at the UPO offices we decided to break into our super-secret laboratory to see if we could get a piece of the pie. Okay, so we didn’t have to break into any lab, nor did we sell the gum we made, but because it’s National Chemistry Week we thought it would be a great idea to try a few sweet experiments and share our results with you. These activities are great ways for student chapters to interact with local schools and earn some ‘brownie points’ in their student reports.

For our gum experiment, we turned to our favorite online retailer and bought a gum making kit. The kit we chose uses chicle as the base for making chewing gum. Additionally, we bought powdered flavoring to add to our mixture.


To complete our experiment, we followed the instructions included in the kit. We heated our chicle pellets in the microwave and stirred them together with the corn syrup provided in the kit. Once these were mixed together thoroughly, we turned the paste onto a pan sprinkled generously with powdered sugar. We kneaded our mixture together until the paste formed into a solid ball. At that point we added our flavoring and continued to knead until the flavoring was completely incorporated into the gum. The experiment took 10 minutes to complete.

Remember even though we are working in the kitchen, with relatively safe materials, it is still very important to wear protective gear such as goggles, gloves, and lab coats. We speak from experience when we say playing with chicle is sticky business and can easily ruin your clothes!

Revealing your research: Preparing for the ACS National Meeting Poster Presentation

With the 248th ACS National Meeting just around the corner, it’s time to properly prepare for presenting your research in San Francisco. Here are my six top tips for presenting at the National Meeting Poster Session:

1. Know your research: Although you may have done all of the bench work, do you understand the mechanisms and background of your research? If not, now is the time to dig into the literature and to seek help from your advisor to understand the reasoning behind each of your laboratory steps and the larger picture of your project.

2. Prepare your elevator speech: A 60 second summary of what you did, why you did it, and your results.

3. Practice, practice, practice: You should practice your “elevator speech” to yourself, lab mates, friends, and family. It can be helpful to present to people without a chemistry background. For example, a group of middle school students were touring our new science building, and their teacher asked me about my research. To explain my work with protein affinity tags, I talked about eating a bowl of Lucky Charms. Whenever you eat a bowl of Lucky Charms, all you really want are the marshmallows; this is analogous to my research because we want to pick out specific proteins from a mixture. Bazinga! The kids understood my research! Practice your elevator speech to others, and you will be prepared for whoever walks up to your poster.

4. Designing your poster: The key to a great poster is a single, cohesive story summarizing your research project by showing the key results that support your conclusion and demonstrate the originality of your work. (See the February 2012 issue of InChemistry magazine for more details).

5. Dressing for success: Potential employers and graduate school recruiters come by the poster sessions, so you want to look professional and confident. For both men and women, I suggest going for solid colors for tops and black or blue for pants – a conservative and classic look.

poster sessionFor men: Black pants or slacks, a button-down shirt (long sleeve), and a tie is ideal. Also, nice brown or black shoes are important — ditch the sneakers for today.

For women: The best combinations are black pants or skirt with nice shirt (short sleeve or long sleeve) or a dress that is close to knee length with hose. It’s important to wear nothing that is too clingy. You want your work to be on display, not your figure. Also, low heels (no taller than 2 inches) or flats are best. You will be standing up and walking all day.

6. Print business cards: Now that you have practiced and look you the part, you should be prepared to share your contact information. You can get 250 cards custom-printed at Staples for $6!

To make sure you’re ready to go, here’s an ACS National Meeting Poster Presenter checklist:

  • Notecards to practice your speech
  • Poster (seems obvious, but double check!)
  • Flashdrive (with your poster on it)
  • Printed materials (your poster number, confirmation, etc.)
  • Hotel and flight itineraries
  • Nice outfit
  • Business cards and a portfolio with copies of your resume
  • Pen and a notebook (who knows when inspiration could strike!)
  • Camera

For more details, check out Dr. Brent Znosko’s webinar.

My name is Leigh Anna Logsdon. 
Fun Facts:
1. My father was a rodeo bull rider.
2. I am an avid Harry Potter fan.
3. I laugh at cheesy science jokes, so let me hear your best ones!

Why Should I Hire You?


Have you graduated? Are you interviewing for jobs? Then read this!

Originally posted on ACS Careers Blog:

Common interview questions are googled, anticipated, and feared by many an interviewee. People try to prepare for questions as strange as what type of animal best describes you, or what type of ice cream would you be. Answers are carefully thought through and even practiced in mock interviews or in front of the mirror. In all this preparation, people can overlook the question behind every other question during an interview: Why should I hire you?

The interview usually includes multiple rounds with panels of interviewers. It can be conducted over the phone, face-to-face in a conference room, or as all-day event including a presentation or sample work. You can count on all the usual questions, such as those related to your skills and previous experience. There are also the questions regarding “soft skills”, such as how you get along with others or how you handle conflict at the work place…

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And Today’s Speaker is….

Originally posted on ACS Careers Blog:

Chemical professionals are used to presenting their work at seminars and conferences. They spend hours preparing content and practicing wording, until everything is perfect. But when it comes to introducing other speakers, many people give very little thought to what they will say until they actually step on stage.

As the host, it is your job to get the attention of the audience, build anticipation, and spark interest in what the speaker has to say. You want to prime the audience, to give the speaker the best possible chance of success. Below are some tips to help you do just that.

Do Your Homework

Start well ahead of time, by asking the speaker for their bio and CV or resume. Visit their professional web page, and learn about their work and institution. Ask them to pronounce their name, and repeat it back. Make sure you have the title of their…

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Career Preparation for Conferences


A great entry from the ACS Careers blog on preparing for conferences. If you’re going to ACS Dallas, you should read this post!

Originally posted on ACS Careers Blog:

Attending professional conferences is both a benefit and a duty for most scientists.  You get to catch up on the latest developments in your field, seek input from your colleagues on your own professional projects, and get a break from the daily routine of the lab.  However, with a little preparation, conferences can also be a great place to advance your professional career and increase your standing in the scientific community.   Here are a few things you should do before leave for the airport, to make sure you get the take advantage of every opportunity the event has to offer.

Study the Program – Technical and Social

Read through the conference program before your leave, and determine which technical sessions, and which social events, you want to attend.  Some may require early registration and payment, but others will be more flexible.  Add the drop-in sessions to your calendar, so you…

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Spectroscopy at Home

Hello again from the secret ACS demonstration laboratory! Today, we have a demo video for you to help explain one of the mainstays of analytical chemistry: spectroscopy. Use this demonstration to show how we scientists know if a substance is present in a sample, and how much of that substance is present.



To perform this demonstration, you will need:

  • a highlighter (we used the bright yellow Sharpie brand)
  • A bottle of tonic water
  • a purple laser (do NOT point this at anyone’s face!) (We bought ours here)
  • a small glass vial (plastic will do)
  • 3 clear plastic cups
  • water (tap water will do)
  • goggles

Safety Notes:

Although you’re only using household items, you’ll be performing this as a part of a demo show, so you should be wearing your safety goggles. Even if you’re performing this demo by itself, wear your goggles anyway- its a science thing, and we only do science things if safety is addressed.

Also, don’t shine the laser in anyone’s face.


spectroscopy from ACS Undergraduate Programs on Vimeo.

To perform this demo, start by explaining that scientists often need to know what is present in our samples. One of the ways we do this is through the interaction of light and and radiated energy, through a process called spectroscopy.

Experiment 1: Light can show us if a substance is present in a material.

Demonstrate that a laser, shined through a vial of tap water, leaves no trail.  This is because nothing in the tap water fluoresces when hit by the laser.

Take your highlighter, and dip the tip of the highlighter into the water. Demonstrate that now the laser now fluoresces the liquid due to the addition of material from the highlighter.  Explain how, just as the laser reveals the presence of the highlighter, scientists can use other forms of radiant energy to detect certain chemical compounds.

Experiment 2: Light can show us how much of a substance is present in a material.

Start by filling one of the plastic cups with water, one with tonic water, and one with a 1:4 ratio of tonic water to water. Ask your audience to predict which glass will glow the brightest when the laser is shined through it. Show the laser shining in each glass, and explain that the more tonic water is present, the brighter the laser will fluoresce the liquid.  Explain that, using similar techniques, analytical chemists can determine the amount of substances present, such as the amount of chlorine in tap water or the amount of sugar in cola.

Take a look at our video for our take on this. Feel free to comment about how you think it could be done better!

My Undergraduate Research: Carrots in the Laboratory



During my second year at college, I needed to decide on the type of research I wanted to conduct. I had heard a little bit of chit-chat about the different types of research that were offered, but did not really understand what any of these projects would entail. When I heard that joining a research project was a requirement to graduate, I started to ask professors about what was offered. Some of the topics included characterization of fluorescein, chemical composition of rocks, and working with biofuels. While any one of these topics would have fulfilled the research requirement, none of them particularly sparked my interest. Finally I approached my advisor, Dr. Michele Harris, and explained that I was looking for research experience. She told me a little about her own research involving biotransformations and a reduction reaction, none of which I really understood, but for some reason her work with carrots stayed with me.

At the time, I had only taken freshman chemistry and had been in organic chemistry for only a few weeks, so I wasn’t very fluent in biochemical terminology. Despite not fully understanding the details of her research, I decided to join Dr. Harris’s research team. When I considered my other options, carrots seemed more appealing.

So by this time, I’m sure you’re wondering: What exactly are carrots doing in the laboratory? Our research is based in biotransformations. For those of you who are not very familiar with the topic, biotransformation is the conversion of one chemical to another inside the body. However, these reactions can also occur in nature using whole-cell catalysts like carrots. These types of reactions are extremely valuable to the pharmaceutical industry in production of new drugs. But just as importantly, biotransformation reactions are a part of the chemistry field known as green chemistry.



Green chemistry is the design of chemical products and processes that reduce or eliminate the generation of hazardous substances. On a broader scale, the use of green chemistry has environmental, health, and economic impacts. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, green chemicals usually degrade into non-toxic products or can be recycled and recovered for further use. These types of reactions, such as biotransformations, also lead to higher yields and consume smaller amounts of starting materials. Research in this field eliminates the need to ensure the proper disposal of hazardous wastes by eliminating the production of them. This results in reduced costs in research expenses. Also, eliminating toxins in the environment creates healthier lives for all living things. This is one of the reasons why this research environment was appealing to me.

Now that you understand the basis of our research, let’s get into some specifics. The biotransformation reaction deals with the stereospecific conversion of benzofuran-2-yl methylketone to 1S-1(2-benzofuranyl)-ethanol using carrots as a catalyst. Once the reaction was perfected, we focused on the purity of our product through optical rotation. Literature values revealed that the optical purity of the resulting alcohol should be about –16. After improvement of purification techniques, this value was successfully produced. Upon performing additional studies, we found that only four grams of carrots are necessary to have a complete conversion of ketone to alcohol. Also, we found that with repeated use of a single carrot sample, only two complete conversions are possible.

carrot transformationWe also performed some antibacterial studies that have opened up the idea of antifungal research with our resulting alcohol. We also plan to incorporate the use of cellulase to enhance the possibility of fully characterizing the protein on the surface of the carrot that facilitates this reaction. Because this conversion results in a stereospecific product, this biotransformation reaction has a great impact on the pharmaceutical industry. Stereospecific alcohols can be used as drug derivatives and lead to the production of new drugs or better engineered drugs. The fact that the reaction eliminates the use of harsh chemicals is also a plus. Pharmaceutical companies generally seek to produce single-enantiomer drugs in order for those drugs to react as desired in the body with fewer side effects. With the use of carrots as a catalyst, the process is more natural and cost-efficient, using a biotransformation reaction.

After being involved in this research for a little over a year, I can say that it has greatly impacted my life. Just making connections with other students and my professors has been of great benefit. Also, my lab technique has greatly improved since beginning research. I’ve become more independent in the lab and arrive more prepared for each lab period. My current research has really gotten me interested in pharmaceutical research and starting a career in pharmaceutical formulation and production. Regardless of your major, I encourage all of you to participate in some type of research. Some of you may see it as merely a graduation requirement, but participating in research is actually an opportunity to apply your knowledge and further define your career goals through experience.

My name is Jasmine Moreland and I am a junior majoring in biochemistry at Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, Texas. After obtaining my biochemistry degree, I plan to enter pharmacy school. My hobbies include watching movies, arts and crafts, and listening to music.

My name is Jasmine Moreland and I am a junior majoring in biochemistry at Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, Texas. After obtaining my biochemistry degree, I plan to enter pharmacy school. My hobbies include watching movies, arts and crafts, and listening to music.