December 2015



Guest post by Yuandi Li

January’s Chemistry World sees the launch of The Hot Plate, with the first instalment looking at how the addition of malt powder can improve mash. I was tasked with giving the recipe a try in my own kitchen to see if using a little chemistry knowledge would deliver a boost in sweetness and texture. There are few ingredients in the kitchen as useful yet underappreciated as the humble root vegetable, and it was exciting to take these Cinderella ingredients to the ball and give them some overdue attention and respect.


Ingredients

  • 1kg root vegetables
  • 10g diastatic malt powder (1% by weight)
  • Amylase powder can be used as an alternative to diastatic malt powder if unavailable; use the same weights

Instructions

  1. Peel, chop and boil the root vegetables until soft
  2. Mash the root vegetables into a purée along with milk, butter or any other seasoning and allow to cool
  3. Once the purée is at room temperature, stir in the malt powder
  4. Heat to 55°C for one hour using a water bath. (Alternatively, heat in a bowl over a pan of boiling water or bain marie, then put in an insulated container to hold for an hour; the temperature does not need to be exact)
  5. Enjoy!

I tried the recipe with regular potatoes and sweet potatoes. The potato was boiled, mashed and pushed through a sieve to produce as smooth a texture as possible. Still, like all mashed potato, it maintained some granularity. As expected, at this stage it didn’t taste sweet at all. The malt powder was then mixed in and potato was divided into two portions. One portion was heated at 50°C in a bain marie (a bowl placed over a pot of simmering water; you will need to stir the mixture regularly to maintain an even temperature) for one hour. I also made a control batch, which was obliterated in a microwave to denature the amylase. This control sample tasted exactly like normal potato at the end of the experiment, confirming that any changes in taste or texture are due to enzyme action rather than the simple addition of malt. (more…)

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Hopefully, it hasn’t escaped your notice that our December issue had a feature about chocolate in it – one of our tastiest articles this year! As soon as we knew that article was going in the issue, we knew exactly what we wanted on the cover: chocolate, and lots of it. But we’re Chemistry World, not Cadbury World, so we had to shoehorn in some chemistry.

What better way than to make a molecule of theobromine (one of the key alkaloid compounds found in everyone’s favourite cocoa-bean-based confectionery) out of chocolate?

In extensive (and hunger-inducing) discussions among the team, we came down to a couple of options: make a model ourselves out of shop-bought chocs or get a pro to do it. So armed with £20 out of the magazine’s budget, I headed to the shops to try the first option. (more…)

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Guest post by Heather Cassell

As we get deeper into December, it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas, holiday season festivities, and researchers are thinking about having some time away from the lab. But for some December can lead to a blue Christmas; the approach of the holidays can fill certain groups of lab denizens, especially students, with fear. Students have to contend with coursework deadlines approaching rapidly – and there are the January exams to consider – so they’re rarely heard to say ‘thank God it’s Christmas.’ This also means it’s not the most wonderful time of the year for those who have to mark the coursework too.

And so, the start of December ‘tis the season for careful lab work planning; you must make the most of the time you have left in the lab before you leave, otherwise you’ll risk abandoning an experiment or driving home for Christmas with work on your mind. Worse still, poor planning means you may have to come in at awkward times over the holidays, or even miss the opportunity to be rockin’ around the Christmas tree, enjoying the mistletoe and wine at the lab Christmas party!

When it comes to Christmas decorations offices are fairly easy to decorate. There are very few restrictions on what you can put up (it’s more down to taste, or in some cases lack of taste), so you can deck the halls with pretty much whatever you like. But health and safety rules in the lab mean that many decorations are not suitable for use, as they constitute a fire hazard. This means the offices tend to get all of the silver bells, the holly and the ivy, but the labs can seem so very bare in comparison, the non-scientists might ask even each other ‘do they know it’s Christmas?’ (more…)

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Chemistry World was pleased to sponsor a poster prize at ISACS18 (Challenges in Organic Materials and Supramolecular Chemistry), held in Bangalore, India, last month. PhD student Emmanuel Etim from the Indian Institute of Science, India, was the winner with his poster titled: Interstellar hydrogen bonding

Emmanuel Etim

Emmanuel explains his work:

‘We are interested in understanding the chemistry of interstellar molecules – ie molecules that exist in the space between the stars – because of their importance in astrochemistry, astrophysics, astrobiology, astronomy and related fie

Over 200 of these molecules have been detected in different astronomical sources largely via their rotational spectra. Isomerism is a conspicuous feature of these molecules with over 40% of the known molecules (excluding the diatomics and other special species like the C3, C5, which cannot form isomers) observed in more than one isomeric form.

(more…)

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Kathryn Harkup, science communicator and one of the judges for the upcoming Chemistry World science communication competition gives her advice for entering the competition.

I am very excited to see the entries for the Chemistry World competition. This year’s fantastic theme of public attitudes is a really good opportunity to show how we can get the general public enthusiastic about chemistry. So what am I looking for from the entrants?

© Courtesy of Kathryn Harkup

There is no set way of being a good science communicator. You can be funny or serious, spectacular or straightforward but the most important thing me is be interesting. Tell people nuggets of information they will want to share with their friends. Tell stories with a clear beginning, middle and end so an audience or reader can follow your train of thought and relate it back to others later. Keep it simple. Don’t get bogged down in details. If it isn’t relevant to your topic, ditch it. Think of some science communicators who inspire you and try to figure out what it is that makes you read their books or watch their TV shows.

Think carefully about who your audience is. Chemistry sometimes sounds like a foreign language to those who don’t speak it every day. Avoid using technical terms and describe things in everyday language. Chemistry can be complex, but you don’t need to dumb it down for your audience, you just need to explain it well. Use analogies to explain tricky concepts.

Get non-chemists to read your work and hear your presentations and watch and listen to them carefully for feedback. Learn from your audience. If something you do doesn’t get the reaction you wanted, think about what you can do to change it. And most important of all, emotions can be contagious, so enjoy yourself.

Kathryn Harkup is a trained chemist and freelance science communicator who swapped the fume hood to deliver talks and workshops on the quirky side of science. Kathryn’s book A is for arsenic: the poisons of Agatha Christie was published by Bloomsbury in September 2015.

If you are passionate about science and science communication, the 2015/16 Chemistry World science communication competition on the topic of public attitudes to chemistry offers a fantastic opportunity to demonstrate your skill, win £500 and be published in Chemistry World.

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