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!


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