Happy Cinco de Mayo!

Let’s take a moment to talk about one of America’s favorite adopted holidays, Cinco de Mayo. If you think this is going to be a piece written about American appropriation of Mexican culture it might be time to grab your margaritas and run.


Margarita Man, the real HERO in Jurassic World!

This will not be a post about anything political. This is a really serious, tongue-in-cheek blog post about one component of Cinco de Mayo, TEQUILA!

Whether you love it or hate it, tequila has made an important impact our culture. We memorialize it effects in songs and we’ve even created a chain restaurant that celebrates its very existence- Thanks, Mr. Buffet!

It’s no secret that tequila is one of the most potent drinks on the market. The way it affects us differs from person to person, but there is a secret hidden within the chemical composition of this notorious little beverage that makes it so…. powerful! The graphic below, brought to you by our friends from ACS Reactions, helps explain why tequila has a such a strong effect and is able to do the things that tequila does.

The Chemistry of Tequila First, tequila has a surprisingly complex flavor profile. Prior to sipping tequila you smell a combination of chocolate, cake, whiskey, and wood. I guess taste varies….? Surprisingly, methanol is critical to distilling a great tasting and powerful batch of tequila.

I don’t think that the realization that there is methanol in tequila makes us shy away from drinking it, but it definitely makes a great case for spending a few extra dollars to upgrade to top-shelf and, hopefully, avoid a killer hangover on Seis de Mayo.

Best. Practical. Joke. Ever.

We’re all used to seeing the fun, corny chemistry jokes like, “Potassium and Oxygen went on a date. They had an OK time.” While these little jokes are great little puns, they usually don’t leave us in stitches.

While perusing the interwebs today, I came across one of the funniest practical jokes I’ve ever seen. Funnily enough, that joke was made possibly by chemistry.

The gist of the story is two brothers convinced their sister, who was recovering from having her wisdom teeth removed, that there was a ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE happening in their hometown. Take a look at the video below. I think you’ll love it!

On a more serious note, anesthesia is an incredible thing! We can chemically confuse our neural receptors so that they can’t transmit feelings of pain to one another. It’s fascinating! Listen to the RadioLab podcast to learn about the history of anesthesia and how one man’s radical idea changed medical practices forever.

Chemistry of Whiskey Flavor

Photo (L-R): Lorain County Community College students Clayton Mastorovich and Valerie Gardner. Senior Analytical Chemist, Envantage, Inc., Coleen McFarland. Lorain County Community College Professor of Chemistry Regan Silvestri. Lorain County Community College students Christopher Wright and Katie Nowlin.  (Photo by Ronald Jantz.)

Photo (L-R): Lorain County Community College students Clayton Mastorovich and Valerie Gardner. Senior Analytical Chemist, Envantage, Inc., Coleen McFarland. Lorain County Community College Professor of Chemistry Regan Silvestri. Lorain County Community College students Christopher Wright and Katie Nowlin.
(Photo by Ronald Jantz.)

At Lorain County Community College in Elyria, Ohio, chemistry students are using gas chromatography-mass spectroscopy to identify and profile the flavor compounds in whiskey.

Bourbon whiskey is made by a process where a grain mash is fermented and distilled into a clear spirit. (Remember from Organic Chemistry lab: distillation purifies a mixture into its components on the basis of differences in boiling point.) Traditionally, the clear spirit is then aged in new charred oak barrels for up to 10 years or more and is flavored with compounds that leach into the spirit from the charred oak barrel.

Here in our hometown, a company named Cleveland Whiskey discovered a way to dramatically speed up the aging process of whiskey.

While serving in the Navy, the founder and CEO of Cleveland Whiskey, Tom Lix, first learned how to distill alcohol from a chief petty officer who was making hooch from Kool-Aid on board a Navy ship. (The chief petty officer purportedly tapped into the ship’s heating system line to run the reflux and tapped into the ship’s cooling system line to run the condenser—but that’s just hearsay.) Now, 40 years and a doctorate in business later, Lix has developed an innovative technology that accelerates the aging process of whiskey from a few years to a few days. This process allows Cleveland Whiskey to abandon the soon-to-be antiquated practice of holding inventory for up to a decade while the whiskey matures. Lix calls his patent-pending technology “pressure aging,” and although the specific details of the process are proprietary, the procedure basically involves placing the new spirit in a stainless steel vessel with pieces of charred wood of a very controlled surface area. The stainless steel vessel is then sealed, and the head space above the liquid is subjected to a precisely defined cycling in pressure that forces the alcohol into the wood, extracting compounds from the wood that naturally flavor the whiskey.

Because Cleveland Whiskey was founded on the basis of a new technology for manufacturing whiskey, it’s essentially a technology company. Thus, as CEO of a tech company, Lix eagerly embraced the idea of establishing a cooperative research project using gas chromatography-mass spectroscopy (GC-MS) to identify and quantify the flavor compounds present in varieties of Cleveland Whiskey alongside traditionally aged whiskey. So where are we on the project now?

IMG_5846 2Traditionally, oak barrels have been used for aging whiskey because oak is a hard, durable wood that enables the barrel to maintain its integrity over the long aging period, thus preventing the volatile product from evaporating. Thanks to the technology that Tom Lix has developed, Cleveland Whiskey is not confined to aging with oak wood. Therefore, Cleveland Whiskey has used other varieties of wood to generate new experimental flavors of whiskey that are completely original, unprecedented, and only made possible via the innovative technology of accelerated pressure aging. Some of these unprecedented bourbon whiskey flavors include cherry, apple, hickory, maple, and honey locust, to name a few. In our chemistry lab at Lorain County Community College, we have samples of experimental whiskey flavors that are not yet commercially available!

We are using GC-MS to identify and profile the distinct flavor compounds that are leached from the various woods in these uniquely flavored bourbon whiskies. For example, we have seen that cherry bourbon, as compared with traditional oak flavored bourbon, has more ethyl octanoate, a compound known to impart a sweet fruity flavor. Further, we have seen that cherry bourbon has less phenethyl alcohol than traditional oak bourbon, which is a compound known to impart a floral and bready flavor. Currently, we are working to decipher the unique flavors in apple, hickory, maple, and honey locust aged bourbons.

Students currently working on the project include Katie Nowlin, Valerie Gardner, Clayton Mastorovich, and Christopher Wright. The inaugural students on the project were Aubrie Thompson and Chris Kazee. To all of these students, I (and whiskey drinkers everywhere) am greatly indebted for their dedication to enhancing the flavor of whiskey. We are grateful for the support of our research, which is provided by a Collaborative Opportunities Grant award from the American Chemical Society. And thanks to the ACS Two-Year College Faculty/Student Travel Grant program, our student Christopher Wright will present his work on the project at the Fall 2016 ACS National Meeting in Philadelphia.

Cheers! Salute! Za vashe zdarovye! (Or however you wish to say it.)

-Regan Silvestri, PhD
Professor of Chemistry, Lorain County Community College, Elyria, Ohio

Stay Classy, San Diego!

2016_Meeting_Graphic_SanDiego_BannerHi Undergrads,

My name is Alex Goranov, one of the two Student Liaisons working with ACS staff at the 251st ACS National Meeting in San Diego, CA. I would like to thank all of you who attended the meeting for helping make the Undergrad Program one of the best in ACS history!  I would also like to personally thank Monica Sanchez for all of her hard work.

The Undergraduate Hospitality center was the where we started each day. I met so many students from all over the world. It was great to chat with them and learn about their studies. Many of these students were also volunteers (yes, you can volunteer at national meetings!). Volunteers would meet each morning to share breakfast and talk about volunteer responsibilities. Starting your day by meeting new friends helps you start the day off on the right foot.

Two of my favorite events were the Graduate School Reality Check sessions. As as student who is planning on pursuing a graduate degree, I needed to learn from the experts what to expect when making my plans for grad school. The first session taught me what I should anticipate during the application process and how to make sure my application is competitive. The second session, Grad School Reality Check: You’re in. Now What?, gave me a glimpse into what life will be like once in a grad program- I did not know much about the timeline or the expectation that I have to meet to obtain a PhD.

I focused my Sunday afternoon primarily on networking. I attended Networking 101 which was informative and fun! In the next room there were about 40 graduate school recruiters for the Networking with Grad School Recruiters session. The room was absolutely packed! I enjoyed walking around and talking with recruiters from so many reputable universities. It was rewarding to see so many people smiling and exchanging contact information.

Students and grad school recruiters meet at the Networking with Grad School Recruiters event at the 251st ACS National Meeting in San Diego.

Students and grad school recruiters meet at the Networking with Grad School Recruiters event at the 251st ACS National Meeting in San Diego.

Dr. Richard Zare was the speaker during the Eminent Scientist Lecture session. Dr. Zare, a professor at Stanford University, gave a presentation called ‘My Life with Lasers’ on Monday afternoon. If you are interested in spectroscopy and analysis, this was the talk for you! He is one of the greatest developers of laser chemistry and his work is quite extensive.

The Undergrad Program closed on Tuesday afternoon with the Chemistry and the Environment film series. We watched ‘Waste Land’ (2010), a film about the world’s largest landfill and the people who sift through the garbage for a living. Immediately following the film, attendees had a Q&A session with the film’s producer and several panelists.

If you missed any of these events, don’t worry! Many of these events will occur again during the 252nd ACS National Meeting set to take place in Philadelphia, PA from 21-25 August, 2016. The meeting’s theme is Chemistry of the People, by the People and for the People. I am already looking forward to it!

With wishes for a successful end of the semester and a great summer,
Alex Goranov

Speed Networking Tips & Tricks for San Diego!

While at the 251st ACS National Meeting in San Diego, you have a chance to participate in the “Student Speed Networking with Chemistry Professionals” event, which will give you the rare opportunity to meet tons of chemists and peers in a short amount of time. So join us on Monday, March 14 from 3:45-5:15 PM in Ballroom B of the Marriott Marquis San Diego Marina to take advantage of this great opportunity!

To help prepare you, we’ve put together some tips that will help you navigate the event and maximize the time spent in each short networking round.


  • Choose a seat at any table where a chemistry professional is sitting.
  • Look for color coded tent cards at each table to help you to identify chemists.

Industrial: Green  ٠ Government: Blue  ٠ Academia: Yellow  ∙ Nonprofit: White

  • Each networking round will last approximately 6 minutes.
  • When prompted, students will switch tables and talk to a different chemistry professional.
  • Feel free to take a break between sessions. Free snacks, drinks, and career resources are provided.
  • A 30 minute free networking session will take place at the conclusion of the speed networking rounds so you can continue discussions or talk to people you hadn’t had the chance to meet yet.


  • Prepare your “elevator speech” – You’ll need to give a 30-second introduction of yourself.
    -Your name
    -Your school and level of education
    -What you are studying
    Your educational and career goals (long and short term)
  • Know what you want to get from the conversations and be ready to tell the professionals what that is.
  • Be an active listener. Be curious and ask open-ended questions. For example:
  1. How they obtained their first job in chemistry
  2. How they became interested in their fields
  3. If they went to graduate school
  4. What they like best about their job
  5. If they have any advice to share
  • Talk to as many professionals as time allows – each will have different personal experiences and perspectives.
  • Exchange business cards (if you have them). Ask for a business card when closing the conversation.
  • Follow up! When you get home, send a “thank you” e-mail or a question if you have one. If you have a LinkedIn account, connect with the professionals on LinkedIn. Stay in touch. This will help you to build your professional network.
  • Take note of helpful advice and tips you receive. Share this information with others you know when you return to school and home. Network and seek more information from others you meet.

We look forward to seeing you there!

251st ACS National Meeting: Getting Ready!

2016_Meeting_Graphic_SanDiego_BannerIt’s almost March, which means the 251st ACS National Meeting is just a few short weeks away. Whether this is your first time attending an ACS national meeting or you’re an experienced veteran, there are a few things that you can do now to ensure your trip to San Diego is the best it can be.

Step One: Book Your Travel

ACS has arranged for travel discounts with Delta, United Airlines, Southwest, and Amtrak for those who have registered for the meeting. Car rental discounts are also available, but keep in mind that parking can be quite pricy in the city. There are shuttles available to help attendees travel between the convention center and their hotels, and Supershuttle, cabs, and public transport are all available from the San Diego International Airport.

There are several hotels within walking distance of both the Marriott Marquis (home to the Undergrad Program) and the convention center. Most hotels are full, but if you act fast, there might be time to reserve a hotel room using the ACS group discount.


Step Two: Register for the Meeting

Getting registered is easy! You can register online with your ACS ID or you can register by mail.

Registration is $210 for students who are nonmembers, but only $105 for members (you can become an undergraduate member of ACS for $27). See our Member-Get-A-Member campaign to learn more about student memberships.

Step Three: Plan your Trip

ACS national meetings are HUGE! The meeting this spring is expected to bring in close to 15,000 professionals and approximately 1,500 undergraduate students, making it one of the largest professional gatherings in the country. This means you’ll have access to almost 17,000 potential professional connections.

With so many opportunities for networking, you’ll want to dress to impress. However, unless you’re presenting research that day, don’t worry about wearing a suit the whole time you’re in San Diego. Business casual is absolutely acceptable.

Pull out a decent suit, or at least a nice jacket/button-down shirt/slacks (or skirt) combo for presentation day. Think khakis, slacks, and business skirts for the rest of your meeting time. People are less likely to think you are serious about your future if you show up to a session wearing a t-shirt and jeggings.

It’s always a good idea to take a look at the conference schedule prior to your trip. Use a highlighter to mark the sessions that you really want to attend, and plan your day accordingly. A copy of the Undergraduate Program can be found here. Keep in mind that daylight savings time takes place at 2 am on Sunday, March 13th.

We are incredibly proud of the undergraduate program that we have created for the 251st ACS National Meeting in San Diego and think you’ll enjoy your experience too. See you on the 13th!


We recognize that you’re adults and can do as you please; however, we would be remiss if we did not provide the following warning. ACS is NOT responsible for students who travel to Mexico while attending the ACS National Meeting in San Diego. We would strongly encourage students who wish to travel to Mexico to do so after the meeting has ended and to be sure to bring ALL documentation, including passports and visas. The process for getting back into the United States from Mexico can be quite time consuming. Should you choose to travel during the meeting, you do so at your own risk.

Preparing for the ACS National Meeting Poster Presentation

2016_Meeting_Graphic_SanDiego_BannerThe 251st ACS National Meeting just around the corner and it’s time to finalize your plan for presenting research in San Diego. 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.

  1. 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.