ChemMatters Infographic: Why Bacon Smells So Good

Why bacon smells so goodBacon and eggs. A bacon, lettuce, and tomato sandwich. Bacon crumbles sprinkled over roasted Brussels sprouts. Even a doughnut topped with maple icing and, you may have guessed, bacon. Hungry yet? These are all food items that have one time or another been on my menu. The common thread, of course, is the crispy, tasty addition of bacon. How does bacon go from its initial properties and appearance to the flavorful, delicious cooked product that many of us love to eat? Continue reading ChemMatters Infographic: Why Bacon Smells So Good”

Summer Science at the Farmers Market

Visitors to The Dalles Farmers Market, young and old alike, were invited to take a few minutes from their shopping for fresh produce to learn a little bit about chemistry. Our ChemClub from The Dalles, Oregon, received a ChemClub Community Activities Grant to fund hands-on activities last summer and fall at our local outdoor Saturday market. Each activity related to color in some way. Our inspiration was the National Chemistry Week 2015 theme Chemistry Colors Our World.

Chem in a Bag activity

We offered the activities once a month, from June through October, at the markets community education booth. The five activities were:

  • Nano bookmarks.Visitors made bookmarks by pulling rectangles of black posterboard through a single drop of clear fingernail polish floated on the surface of a pan of water.
  • Radial chromatography.Visitors decorated squares of fabric using Sharpie markers and drops of rubbing alcohol.
  • Solar S’mores.Visitors made s’mores using solar ovens made out of pizza boxes. The activity highlighted the idea that white light is made up of all the colors of the rainbow.
  • Chem in a Bag.Visitors looked for clues that chemistry was happening in a bag with calcium chloride, baking soda, universal indicator, and water. They observed bubbles, a color change, and a temperature change.
  • Chemeleons. Visitors painted different acids and bases onto pictures of chemeleons that had been soaked in purple cabbage juice. Depending on the pH of the solution, it resulted in a different color on the paper.

Every activity began with participants getting a safety stamp. After they listened to the brief safety rules, each person got a fruit-themed rubber stamp inked on their hand. For each of our activities that a child visited, they received an entry into an end-of-market drawing for fun science toys from Educational Innovations. We had a great time, and many people got a chance to try some summer science!

Martian Gardening

Look at a raw potato and you might visualize tater tots. Potato chips. French fries. A baked potato dripping with butter. The Martian character Mark Watney looks at one and sees survival.

Readers of Andy Weir’s The Martian, including those who have joined the currently running American Chemical Society (ACS) ChemClub virtual book club, will recognize the humble potato as a key plot item. It’s a major part of Watney’s saga to survive until a possible rescue from his predicament of being left for dead on the planet Mars. He calculates that his remaining food will not provide him with enough calories to last until rescue. (Watney “spares you the math” in the book, but you can do the math yourself with the Think Like a Scientist: Back of the Envelope Calculations handout from the virtual book club resource packet.) His solution is to turn his living space into the first Martian garden, using raw potatoes sent with his mission team to use for a Thanksgiving meal as his planting material. The challenges are many.

What are the chances for actually growing food on Mars, beyond the science-based fiction of the book? A view of the planet’s dry red landscape might suggest the chances are slim. Dig deeper into the issue using additional free resources from ACS.

ChemMatters April 2017 coverChemMatters is a magazine designed for high school students to help find connections between chemistry and the world around them. The most recent issue includes the articles “Growing Green on the Red Planet” and “Open for Discussion: Surviving on Mars.” The two pieces discuss the extreme conditions astronauts would face on Mars. Although “Growing Green on the Red Planet” states that it is the most habitable planet in our solar system besides Earth, humans (and any plants) would face extremely cold temperatures, an atmosphere of 95% carbon dioxide, a lack of readily available water, and less than ideal soil. The article also touches on plant growth experiments done on Earth using volcanic soil from Hawaii to simulate Martian soil.

Readers can also take advantage of two accompanying resources for “Growing Green on the Red Planet”: a Teacher’s Guide and Background Information. The Teacher’s Guide is packed with tools you can use with the article itself and extensions to take the article topic further. You’ll find an anticipation guide, student questions and answers, possible student misconceptions, links to lesson plans on the science of soil and the chemistry of fertilizer, and more. I found the beginning of the Background Information particularly interesting. It summarizes the spacecraft that have been used to study Mars and the resulting data/information obtained by each. The first was in 1964, and a future mission is in the works.

The ChemMatters site also highlights the video “Can We Grow Plants on Mars?” from D News. At three-and-a-half minutes, it could be a good way to kick off a discussion of the chances of Martian gardening.

Together, these free resources are ways to link science fiction from The Martian with real-life connections to Mars and its possibilities.

Science in Fiction

The Martian Header

I don’t even remember why I chose it to read. Maybe it was random buzz on the internet. I mainly needed something to kill time on a cross-country flight. On the plane, I cracked it open. Just a few pages in, I knew it was different. An interesting science fiction story, but it was something more that appealed. It was how science and problem solving were woven directly into the plot of The Martian at nearly every turn. Continue reading “Science in Fiction”

Halloween Chemistry

halloween-1486549_1280Halloween Chemistry and Mole Day are rising to the top of the most visited list on the ACS ChemClub Activities page. It must be October! If you haven’t visited the page before, ChemClubs offers a new Activity of the Month, well… every month. Each Activity collection focuses on a particular theme. For example, the latest topic is Makeup, Tattoos, and Hair. Each theme has a curated list of links. We comb the web for experiments, demonstrations, informational sites, and videos related to the month’s theme, then categorize and collect them with brief descriptions. ChemClubs also archives past Activity of the Month pages. The Halloween Chemistry and Mole Day pages are typically among the most popular during this time of year.

Mole Day may be over for the year, but bookmark the page for ideas for 2017. There’s still time to use the Halloween collection to get ideas for adding some creepy chemistry and spooky science to your day.

Some things you’ll find on the Halloween Chemistry Activity of the Month page:

  • Looking to make chemistry your Halloween wardrobe of choice? Take a look at the Costumes tab for ideas on masquerading as your favorite element or compound.
  • One link in the Body Parts tab suggests giving a classic demonstration a Halloween twist. You could probably dig up the materials at your house right now. Fill a plastic zip-seal bag with water, add red food coloring, and seal to create a bag of blood. Then, stab through the bag with skewers or sharpened pencils. The bag won’t leak due to the structure of the polymers that make up the bag.
  • Dry ice is indispensable for a bubbling cauldron effect. But, it can also be used to create a crystal ball filled with a swirling fog of the future. Look for the Boo Bubbles link in the Dry Ice tab. I’ve used the homemade container featured in the Sick Science! video at the link with kid-crowd-pleasing results.

There’s lots more to explore. Take a look at this Halloween collection or a different Activity of the Month new or old.