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-From-Jurassic-World

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.

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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

2013, End of the Year Wrap Up

Happy Holidays, Loyal Readers!

From: scontent-b.xx.fbcdn.net/hphotos-frc1/q71/s720x720/1457545_400995086699764_805290069_n.jpg

We’ve had a great time getting to know you, our readers and our writers, and we look forward to a great 2014, and to hopefully meeting and working with new writers, maybe even you (Seriously, do you want to write for us?  Let us know!). And here are a few things for you to look forward to as well!

  1. The 245th National Meeting in Dallas!
    The American Chemical Society (ACS) heads to the Big D for its 247th National Meeting. We’ll be featuring a robust Undergraduate Program, which we encourage you to attend!
    Dallas_transition
  2. Apply for a Community Interactions Grant or an Innovative Activities Grant
    Does your chapter perform work in the community, like chemistry demonstrations at local schools or water monitoring of local streams? If so, we encourage you to research and apply for our two grants, the Innovative Activities Grant and the Community Interactions Grant. These grants fund new activities and outreach to minority and economically disadvantaged schools, respectively. Let us fund your plans next year!
  3. Apply for an Internship
    Many internships have their application due dates in mid-January. If you haven’t already started applying for internships or REUs for this summer, you should start now. You can use our Get Experience site to jump-start your summer plans. Hurry, the good ones go fast!

The Past Year:

We’ve had a great year on the blog. The views have been counted, the critics ignored. Here are your favorite posts of 2013:

  1. A Cup of Coffee for the Chemists – Tyler Brisbin takes us through the chemistry of coffee from picking, to roasting, and even the process that decaffeinates the beans.  Ever seen raw caffeine?  You may wish you hadn’t.
  2. The Chemistry of Tattoo Ink – Christine Dunne explores the ins, outs, and questionable content of the chemistry of tattoos.  She also explains the regulation (or lack thereof!) of the current tattoo ink market.  And of course, what would a post like this be without some cool geeky science tattoos?
  3. Are You Loco for Four Loko? – We were lucky enough to have input from a Berkeley student publication, The Science of Wellness, for a few posts this year, and this one was the crowd favorite.  Sophie Shevick described the problems of mixing caffeine and alcohol.  Hmm, all of these posts are about Caffeine or Tattoos, should we take a hint here?
  4. High Fructose Corn Syrup vs. Sugar – Ruby Schuler, another Science of Wellness author, breaks down the myth of high fructose corn syrup.  So does this mean Twinkies are still bad for you?
  5. The Chemistry of Science Fiction: Isaac Asimov’s Chemical Tales– Rounding out our top 5 list, Gursu Culcu takes us deep into the world of science fiction and describes how Isaac Asimov used chemical principles to invent a substance that dissolves before the solvent is added.  Interested?  There’s also a goose that lays golden eggs!

IMG_2194Thanks for reading. Since starting this blog last year, we’ve had a great time getting to know our readers, and we look forward to getting to know you more in 2014. We wish you and your families a safe and happy holiday season.

Sincerely,

Nicole and Chris
Reactions Blog Editors

NCW Pictures from Our ACS Student Chapters

National Chemistry Week has come and gone, but we’ll always have the memories, right?  Oh, we’ll also have these great pictures you said we could use!  Got other pictures for us?  Email us and let us know!  We’ll add to this post as we receive your pictures.

Nick L Mole, the CSU-Fresno ACS Student Chapter Mascot, celebrates his 3rd birthday.

Nick L Mole, the CSU-Fresno ACS Student Chapter Mascot, celebrates his 3rd birthday.

There was a pinata at Nick's birthday.  I think our invitation got lost in the mail....

There was a pinata at Nick’s birthday. I think our invitation got lost in the mail….

TCU had a demo show at the Fort Worth Museum of Science.  Also, love the science tank tops.

TCU had a demo show at the Fort Worth Museum of Science. Also, love the science tank tops.

TCU students performing demonstrations.  Nice use of goggles!

TCU students performing demonstrations. Nice use of goggles!

Apply for the Student Chapter Inter-chapter Relations Grant!

Hi Student Chapters,

There’s a new grant available for those chapters that want to do things with other chapters. If you want to have a Battle of the Chem Clubs, or host a science day at a museum, or put on chemistry based plays for local schools, among many other things, we want to help!

Apply for the Student Chapter Inter-Relations Grant. Due October 1st.

It’s easy. Check it out:

1. Get together with you fellow student chapter officers and come up with an idea for a multi-chapter event.

From: quixoteconsulting.com/Blog/2010/09/21/three-tools-for-building-your-collaborative-team/

From: quixoteconsulting.com/Blog/2010/09/21/three-tools-for-building-your-collaborative-team/

2. Fill out the application.

3. We’ll send you a list of all the ACS Student Chapters, High School Chem Clubs, NOBECChE chapters, and SACNAS chapters in your area. Invite them all!

If Flavor Flav accepts your invite, more power to you. From: cracked.com

And that’s it! Apply today, and contact us if you have questions!

Sharing Chemistry with Plays by Fusion Science Theater

Today’s post comes to us from the ACS Student Chapter at Union University in Jackson, TN.  They were awarded a Community Interaction Grant to share their love of chemistry with underrepresented groups in chemistry, and the project you’re about to read about is the result.  Is your chapter interested in doing the same?  Visit the Community Interactions Grant webpage and learn more, and while you’re there, check out our other grants as well!

The Union University student chapter of the American Chemical Society needed a way to encourage student involvement and simultaneously interact with the Jackson, Tennessee, community. Students had a desire to spread their love of science while also working with children, especially those who are underprivileged. A golden opportunity appeared in 2011 in the form of Fusion Science Theater, a program based in Madison, Wisconsin.

Fusion Science Theater creates plays for children based on fundamental science concepts so that they can experience science in an interactive, fun atmosphere. The length of the plays range from 30 minutes to an hour long, and during that time, actors encourage audience questions and participation in demonstrations, and they use ballots to gauge audience attention and comprehension of subjects covered.

Union University students Spencer Rhodes and Brooklin Byrd perform the play "Will It Light?" on March 7, 2013, for elementary students at Alexander Elementary School.

Union University students Spencer Rhodes and Brooklin Byrd perform the play “Will It Light?” on March 7, 2013, for elementary students at Alexander Elementary School.

“What Makes the Loudest Boom?” centers around two actors, one a show host and the other a guest on the show. Children learn about how things burn, how this process relates to gases, and how balloons filled with different gases explode differently when exposed to heat. “That’s the Way the Ball Bounces” is a science show that teaches children how various materials bounce differently based on their molecular bonding.

“What Makes the Loudest Boom?” centers around two actors, one a show host and the other a guest on the show. Children learn about how things burn, how this process relates to gases, and how balloons filled with different gases explode differently when exposed to heat. “That’s the Way the Ball Bounces” is a science show that teaches children how various materials bounce differently based on their molecular bonding.

Union University student Phillip Kurtzweil performs a demonstration for the “What Makes the Loudest Boom?” play on April 12, 2013 at Lane Elementary School.

Union University student Phillip Kurtzweil performs a demonstration for the “What Makes the Loudest Boom?” play on April 12, 2013 at Lane Elementary School.

Phillip Kurtzweil, a junior at Union University, said that having multiple demonstrations keeps the kids engaged. “The kids say, Oh, wow! That’s cool! Flames! But in between the demos, you explain all the topics to them,” said Kurtzweil.

In September 2012, Dr. Randy Johnston, chair of the chemistry department, and two Union students were invited to a three-day training workshop at the Madison Area Technical College to learn a new play called “Will It Light?”, which involved explanations of electricity and how it is conducted through liquids. Through that experience, the Union students learned new techniques to communicate with younger students, enabling student to more concretely understand science concepts. These new skills were tested at the Madison Children’s Museum on the last day of the trip.

For the 2012–2013 academic year, the play “Will It Light?” was added to the lineup, replacing “That’s the Way the Ball Bounces.” Two actors were needed to perform each play, along with stagehands and people to prepare the liquid nitrogen ice cream. These students prepared rigorously for their performances, using fellow Union students and faculty as mock elementary school students to practice demonstrations. Andrew Stricklin, a junior at Union University, said, “I learned that … when people go and put on these plays … it’s a lot of work and it takes a lot of people willing to give up their time.” Demonstrations were scheduled to fit around Union students’ schedules and were performed at various schools in low-income neighborhoods around Jackson.

Union University student Andrew Stricklin encourages audience interaction during the play "What Makes the Loudest Boom?" at Lincoln Elementary School on April 12, 2013.

Union University student Andrew Stricklin encourages audience interaction during the play “What Makes the Loudest Boom?” at Lincoln Elementary School on April 12, 2013.

Upon visiting these schools, Union students were welcomed with open arms by students and teachers alike. Students eagerly bounced up and down to answer questions and yelled out answers when called upon. Tyler Byrd, a junior at Union University, said, “The teachers enjoyed it very much. They thanked us multiple times [for coming] … and they seemed very interested by most of it themselves.”

Students agreed that exposing kids to this game-show form of teaching and interaction encourages children to be inquisitive about the world around them and about science in general. Evan Lewoczko‎, a sophomore at Union University, said, “I think it was really a humbling experience because we realized that was us ever so long ago, and … some of us may have been thinking back to when we first got interested in chemistry.”

Union University students Andrew Stricklin and Phillip Kurtzweil call on students at Lane Elementary School on April 12, 2013.

Union University students Andrew Stricklin and Phillip Kurtzweil call on students at Lane Elementary School on April 12, 2013.

Fusion Science Theater shows allowed Union students to reach out to underprivileged youth in a unique, interactive way, allowing students who may not have had much exposure before to enjoy a hands-on experience in science. In the future, Union faculty and students hope to work together to create a play oriented toward high school students. Johnston, who is also faculty advisor to the Union University student chapter of the American Chemical Society, said that the plays require a lot of group commitment, work, and a clear purpose. Johnston said, “I think other schools should focus on the goal, which is helping students understand science, the scientific principle, and develop an interest in science.”

Brooklin Byrd is from Memphis, TN, and is a senior biology major/chemistry minor at Union University in Jackson, TN. She is involved with many organizations on campus, including the Union University Student Members of the American Chemical Society, in which she currently serves as the chapter secretary. After graduation from Union, Brooklin plans to attend dental school to become a doctor of dental surgery.

Brooklin Byrd is from Memphis, TN, and is a senior biology major/chemistry minor at Union University in Jackson, TN. She is involved with many organizations on campus, including the Union University Student Members of the American Chemical Society, in which she currently serves as the chapter secretary. After graduation from Union, Brooklin plans to attend dental school to become a doctor of dental surgery.