Posts Tagged ‘Chemistry’

Christmas chemistry, the science of holly

// December 21st, 2011 // 5 Comments » // Poisons

pudding with holly

Chocolate orange icecream pudding with side of holly. Image by webmink

Green and red, classic Christmas colours, adorn the spiky holly shrub. A sprig may garnish puddings, but garnish nibblers like me must hold back on holly for it is poisonous in large doses – though some leaves can make a tasty beverage!

Holly includes about 400 species in the genus Ilex. The cultivated species is Ilex aquifolium, and about 20 or 30 of those bright berries can kill an adult. Poisonings are more likely in pets or children, and about five berries will make a kid feel sick.

It’s the usual suspects in symptoms – sleepiness, sore tummy, vomiting, diarrhoea. Larger doses cause paralysis, kidney damage and death.

Chemically, they contain a cocktail of active ingredients. Among them are the triterpenes, precursors to steroids which are cytotoxic (kill cells), steroids and a nitrile called menisdaurin.

Traditional medicines use holly for fever, gout and chronic bronchitis.

Holly, image by 4nitsirk, flickr

A couple of species native to North America, I. vomitoria aka yaupon and I. cassine, make caffeine and were used to make “black drink”, a stimulating brew also used as a vomit-causing emetic.

South American species I. paraguariensis contains as much as 1.6% caffeine (five times more than the above species) and some of the cocoa chemical theobromine in their leaves, and tasty tannins.

Also called yerba mate, I. paraguariensis is brewed to make mate tea, which is delicious. It’s pronounced MAH-tay, but be careful not to put the emphasis on the second syllable. Wikipedia says that makaes mah-TAY, which means “I killed” in Spanish.

So it’s fine to have a sprig of holly in the house for Christmas, just don’t make a holly pie out of it!

Alcoholic art, crystals of liquor

// July 12th, 2011 // 2 Comments » // Just for Fun, Science Art

So it’s appropriate that I’m a little bit tipsy while writing this.

Alcohol under a microscope! That’s today’s post. BevShots take photographs of alcohol crystallized on a slide, shot under a polarized light microscope. It can take up to four weeks for the alcohol to dry completely on the slide. It’s art, distilled. And quite magnificent.

Margarita

Mmm margarita. And do you like pina colada?

Pina colada

What pretty rum. I think the citric acid helps. Anyone for a pint?

English oatmeal stout

Bevshots sell the pics (there’s heaps) as metallic prints, on canvas or as merchandise – like hip flasks, for example. Look, I’m not big on promoting items, but these would make a sweet gift for a 21st birthday. They’re stunning, and only $28. It’s a nice personal touch if you know their favourite drink.

Oh, and vodka shot glasses! So cool…

Vodka shot glasses

There’s even an iPhone app, so you can pick your poison and see the bevshots version. I imagine this will increase your popularity and attractiveness with every drink. Kind of like beer glasses.

Isn’t this just the best mix of science, alcohol and art? They should be paying me for this kinda publicity (feel free to send me a gift, guys!)

Gummi bear explosion (and other experiments)

// March 16th, 2011 // 1 Comment » // Just for Fun

Enjoy what happens when a gummi bear is dropped into potassium chlorate.

Cool. Why did I never do this in chem class when potassium chlorate was available to me?

How does it work, I hear you ask? (And where can I get this stuff?) Potassium chlorate is KClO3, and contains one potassium, one chlorine and three oxygen. It comes as a solid salt, but can be melted by a Bunsen burner.

At high temperatures it decomposes to potassium chloride (KCl) and oxygen gas (O2). No bigger. Until the sacrificial gummi bear.

A gummi bear is full of sweet, delicious sucrose, a source of carbon and energy. Add it in and BAM! The trifectar – fuel, oxygen and heat – the ingredients for fire. The reaction is hugely exothermic, producing MORE heat which produces MORE oxygen which drives the gummi bear into complete annihilation.

For more gummi bear destruction try drowning them, stabbing them shortly after hatching, or decapitating them with a laser.

Curiously, it’s always the red gummi bear that gets it. That’s discrimination.

ChemWiki, free textbook for University students

// March 3rd, 2011 // 4 Comments » // Science Communication

This week, thousands of Australians went back to Uni starting a new semester of study. For some, science is their bag and they’re picking up a chemistry class or two. I’ve been there, and they’ve got a big year ahead.

There’s nothing quite like studying chem. Is it the nerdiness? The lab work? The elegant complexity and simplicity of laws? Perhaps its the joy of pushing electrons, pure love of a benzene ring, cherished conjugated systems or perfectly balancing equations.

But it takes a while to get to that state of love, like dating an attractive person with a terribly annoying habit. Don’t drop out, seek counseling at the ChemWiki.

An open access textbook, ChemWiki is a collaborative approach towards chemistry education. Students and faculty members write and rewrite sections to make it accurate and easy to understand. It’s been in development for two and a half years, and over 2000 people have contributed.

I first heard about it when it was still an infant wiki in swaddling clothes from Kyle Finchsigmate at The Chem Blog, which is now sadly shut down. Kyle is the reason I started blogging, being the first blog I subscribed to after his Nacho Average Cheesecake post changed my life.

Since those small beginnings, $2000 and a handful of uni classes spreading the news, it has grown pretty huge. It’s at the stage where it could replace paper textbooks for Uni chem courses, which is a saving of at least $150 per student. It’s ideal for Universities who are embracing new technologies in the classroom, like the University of Adelaide who gave a free iPad to every new student this year.

Unlike paper textbooks (and most hypertextbooks too,) the ChemWiki is designed in a non-linear way. You can jump from topic to topic with hyperlinks, so knowledge is constructed to suit the student. For me, chemistry only really came together in third year when the separate subjects wove together like a tapestry. It suddenly ALL made sense. But with non-linear learning, its easier to see patterns and connections and build up a frame of understanding as you go. I’m a fan.

I can’t recommend the ChemWiki enough. It covers coursework about analytical, biological, organic and inorganic topics, and is perfect for Chemistry students at Uni. Get involved and spread the word!

A Gingerbread Laboratory

// January 19th, 2011 // Comments Off on A Gingerbread Laboratory // Just for Fun, Science at Home

Thought I’d share some pictures of this awesome gingerbread laboratory my dad made me for Christmas.

Gingrebread Laboratory Front

It’s a science and research lab. Unfortunately some of the roof caved in during transit.

Gingerbread Laboratory Top

The lab comes complete with helipad. You can see some of the decorations inside through the “sky light.”

Gingerbread Laboratory Skylight

Royal icing, smarties, jelly beans, mint leaves, marshmallows and licorice allsorts decorate the interior while icing sinks ensure proper hygiene. Here’s the view from the front door.

Gingerbread Laboratory Front Door






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