Lightning In A Bottle #SweetFailures

Written by: Ben Hall

I think it’s pretty safe to say that most of us have seen Star Wars and have wondered what it would be like to shoot lightning from our hands like a Sith lord, but alas, that’s probably never going to happen. However, what we can do is make lightning in a bottle. Not as cool, I know, but it’s still a lot of fun to do!

To achieve lightning in a bottle, the Undergrad Programs Team gathered in our top secret laboratory and began plotting. Mwhahaha! (Evil, maniacal laugher) We found some pretty simple instructions on the internet and got started. Turns out all we needed to buy was a bag of wintergreen mints and pour those into a blender.


Does not reflect actual results.

Before I tell you how our experiment went, I should probably talk about the science behind it. The phenomenon we’re talking about today is called triboluminescence. This occurs when two materials rub together and cause a spark. Essentially, this is light from friction. The table sugar (sucrose) is in the same spectrum as lightning. That’s where we get lightning in a bottle.


Okay, so back to our lightning. It worked! But, it was very faint and very brief. So there was no #SweetFailure in this experiment, but we did learn a lot. First, you need fresh mints for best results. Second, to make the most ‘lightning’ happen, you need to make sure that the mints are whole. If you have those two squared away, you’re ready to get started.

View our lightning here:

When you do this at home, make sure you are prepared for lots of noise! It’s loud. Also, be prepared for your house to smell like wintergreen mints. So fresh and so clean, clean.

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Sugar Glass #SweetFailures

Written by: Jessica Roberts

HAPPY MOLE DAY, Everyone! Today we honor of the basic unit of chemistry, the beloved mole. From 6:02 a.m. until 6:02 p.m. chemists and chemistry lovers from around the world share their enthusiasm for our field through demonstrations, parties and other events in their communities. To mark this occasion, we at the Undergraduate Programs Office, returned to the secret laboratory to create some sugar glass!

Sugar glass is essentially sugar that has been melted down and re-formed into a transparent sheet. Because it is transparent and shatters like glass, Hollywood has used sugar glass in movie stunts for years. It looks and feels like real glass, but is a lot safer to break (and a lot more delicious!). Now filmmakers use a mixture of plastics instead to create a longer-lasting prop.

Dissolving the sugar solution on a hot plate.

To create the sugar glass we used table sugar, or sucrose, which is a disaccharide composed of glucose and fructose. We dissolved our ingredients in a 15:5:4 ratio of sugar to corn syrup to water and heated to 149°C. Corn syrup is comprised of different types of longer oligosaccharides, which helps to prevent large crystals from forming when the glass cools. If we didn’t add it, the glass would be opaque, not clear and not nearly as fun to break

Glass 3 To step it up a notch, we decided to make our glass fluorescent neon green which would glow under a black light. To give our glass the psychedelic treatment, we used tonic water instead of regular water and added neon green food coloring to the dissolved solution. Tonic water contains small amounts of quinine which fluoresces in the UV spectrum.

Glass 1After the sugar solution reached the magic temperature, it was poured out onto a greased cookie sheet to solidify. When the sucrose was dissolved in water and with heat, the bonds between the sugar molecules were separated, which can be reformed into a new shape while cooling. An important note: while it is important to oil your pan a little, doing too much will cause a slimy layer of oil on your candy glass to form, which hinders evaporation of the water as the glass cools. This causes the sheet to become bendy instead of brittle. We may or may not know from personal experience…. Also sugar is hydroscopic so it will absorb water molecules from the air the longer you leave it out. So it might be best to break it right after it cools.

Glass 2Despite our #sweetfailure in making high-quality sugar glass, we were able to produce some delicious glowing candy. We’d love to hear how you or your chapter celebrated Mole Day, so post in the comments below!

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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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