Everyone loves fireworks.  Fireworks are quite old. The oldest form of fireworks was a firecracker from 7th century China, now we can make complex shapes like planets and clown faces.

So what gives the colors in fireworks?

There are a few elements at work. Barium, strontium, copper, and sodium make the colors green, red, blue, and yellow.  Aluminum and titanium make white; and carbon makes yellow.

So as you can see, fireworks are a explosion of color and chemistry.

No picnic would be perfect without ketchup. But ketchup has this habit of taking its sweet time when leaving the bottle.

There are several ways to get ketchup out of the bottle.

  • Stick a knife in it and scoop it out.
  • Hit the bottle at the neck (where the 57 is located).
  • Skip it and use mustard instead.

But there is a better, scientific way:

Shake the bottle.

Ketchup is made up of tomato pieces, water, vinegar and spices. And, it is the arrangement of the tomato pieces that give ketchup a structure and cause the flow of ketchup to slow down.

Scientists would call ketchup a thixotropic yield stress liquid. The yield stress part means that it takes force for the ketchup to move. This is why we have to hit the bottle to get it out. The thixotropic means that the ketchup has the ability to “remember.”

Once someone has used the ketchup bottle, the ketchup inside “remembers” it and will flow faster afterwards. This means that the second person that gets the ketchup bottle will have an easier time getting the ketchup out then the first person to use it.

What is going is on is that the tomato particles in the ketchup get rearranged after the first use and can easily flow passed each other the second time.

So how do you get ketchup to flow faster? If you are the first person with the ketchup bottle, then shake it. But, if you are the second person, don’t worry; you won’t have long to wait. The ketchup will flow real easily.

So, next time you are at a picnic, let someone deal with the ketchup bottle first. It is polite and scientifically a better way to reduce the wait.

 

And this year’s Oscar goes to .   .    .   chemistry.

On that wonderful night in LA, the red carpet is full of celebrities and fans all eager to hear who wins the gold statue.  However, the Oscar statue isn’t pure gold. That would be extremely expensive.  The Oscar is actually a bronze statue that is coated with gold.

So how does the Oscar become, well, an Oscar?

To understand we have to think about frog’s legs.

In the late 1700s, Luigi Galvani, who was a professor of anatomy in Italy, was dissecting frogs using a metal scalpel and a copper clamp. He noticed something: The frog’s legs twitched like they were alive! He repeated this a couple of times and they twitched every time.

He found something amazing and called it animal electricity. That is the animal had some supernatural life force inside of it. Galvani wrote up his results and all of Europe embraced this idea.

But, on the other side of Italy was a physics professor named Alessandro Volta. He believed in Galvani’s idea at first, but began to think it was the two different metals that caused the legs to twitch. Volta recalled an earlier experiment by another scientist who had put his tongue between two different coins, and it created a terrible taste. Ends up, that  the two metals next each other in a liquid (saliva, in this case) started a chemical reaction.

So with this old experiment in the back of his mind, Volta made sandwiches of two different metals and put them in a jar full of saltwater. Then, he connected wires from this stack of metals to the frog’s legs. They twitched.

What Volta showed is that two different metals together make electricity. He made a battery.

In a battery, electricity flows from one metal to the other.

But what does this have to do with the Oscars?

Well, in order for electricity to flow in a battery in one direction, there has to be metal flowing in the opposite direction.  If you were to look at the metal under the microscope you would see that a metal coating is starting to form.

So to make an Oscar this coating process is taken to a much bigger level.  The bronze statue is put in a huge chemical tank that has microscopic gold floating in a liquid. Electricity is attached to the statue and the gold particles become attracted to the statue and start to coat it. After a really long time in the tank, the statute becomes the beautiful icon we know today.

So, if you enjoy the Oscars, and many do, you really have frog’s legs to thank.

References:

Luigi Galvani: Bern Dibner

How the Oscar Got a Facelift this Year

How Frog Legs Helped Make the Oscars Possible (Video)

When the voice in the commercial says “chocolate melts in your mouth and not in your hands,” well they aren’t joking. Scientifically, it is true. Chocolate melts around 92 degrees Fahrenheit, while your mouth is 98.6 degrees. (Your hands are only 60 degrees.)

Chocolate comes from a seed housed in football-shaped pods, which sprout from a tree called Theobroma cacao. This name literally means food from the gods. This tree grows along the Equator in places like Ghana, Nigeria, the Ivory Coast, Indonesia, Brazil, and Ecuador.

Chocolate is an old food. Montezuma, the ancient Aztec emperor, drank 50 jars of a chocolaty drink to increase his vitality and virility. But, what he drank was very different from the hot cocoa we drink today.

It takes many many steps to make modern chocolate. First, when chocolate farmers open the fruit, the seeds do not look appetizing, that is because the cocoa beans are surrounded by a white gooey mash. “It looks pretty disgusting,” said Gail Ambrosius, a chocolatier based in Madison, Wisconsin. But if you were to taste these beans, you’ll be surprised. “It tastes just amazing. Kind of like honeydew, melon, apricot, peaches. It is just delicious, ” she said.

Once the cocoa beans are taken out, then the transformation begins. The beans are tossed in a large box to ferment, which generates lots of heat—especially after about a week. After that the cocoa beans are laid out on a black tarp to dry. And sorted to remove any stones that might be there. Then, the beans are roasted. “It teases out the final flavor of the beans,” said Ambrosius. The cocoa beans are then crushed and at this point they are called cocoa nibs. And with heat and pressure, you get a drippy melted chocolate, which is called cocoa liquor.

After all of that, a decision has to be made: Are you making a dark chocolate, a milk chocolate, or cocoa powder?

So then you do the math.

“If you’re making a 70 percent chocolate and you’re making a thousand pounds total, you would put 700 pounds of the liquor in your machine and 300 pounds of sugar. So there you get the 70 percent chocolate,” said Ambrosius.

Interestingly, the higher the percentage of cocoa, the healthier the chocolate is. Some studies suggest dark chocolate raises the good cholesterol—and lowers the bad.

But remember, chocolate has lots of sugar—as much as soda. So eat a little bit and savor all the tasty chemistry in your mouth.

Snowflakes reflect light like a mirror to create their white color.

Liquid water is clear, but snow is white. Why is that?

Well, the snow crystals have many surfaces at different angles and each one of these surfaces acts like a tiny mirror which bounces back the light.  So, the white color you are seeing is actually the light that is being reflected.  The light bouncing off the surfaces contains all the colors of the rainbow combined together, to make white light.  This white light lands on a snow crystal’s surface and then reflects back off, like a flashlight beam on a mirror.

This act of bouncing light is what scientists would call scattering. The surface of the snowflake scatters  light in many directions, causing us to see the white color.  In an earlier podcast, we learned why snow has six sides. Snow is a crystal, with facets just like a diamond. Each one of these facets bounces light back to give it the color we see.

Now, snow is not the only thing that bounces light back. Water droplets can scatter light back too. This is why clouds, steam, and fog look white.

So, the colors you see, well, they  are just the surface.

 

 

 

 

 

Warm lakes and cold Canadian winds create the perfect (snow) storm.

In the early winter (from November to January), there is a chance for large winter storms because lakes help to produce more snow.  When cold dry winds from Canada blow over the Great Lakes, the winds pick up moisture that is evaporating from the lakes.  That moisture is turned to snow and then dumped on some poor city. This is called Lake Effect Snow and it occurs when there isn’t any ice on the lakes. As soon as the lakes freeze over, the lake effect snow season is over.

You might have heard stories of snow storms where feet of snow are produced in a few days. The lakes enhance the snowstorm by providing more moisture to the system.  Cities along the Great Lakes are most effected. However, Buffalo, NY has been a sweet spot for lake effect snow in recent years.

So, be on the look out for mega-snow storms early in the winter season. Without ice to capped off the moisture, there will be more precipitation.

Rain is also increased by lakes and oceans, but the amounts are not as much as the snow. This is because 1 inch of rain is equal to 10 inches of snow, according to the National Weather Service. (That ratio depends on the temperature and the fluffiness of the snow, by the way.)

No matter how you measure it, increased precipitation by lakes is snow joke and will make one wish for an early spring.

 

It’s getting hot in here (so hot), and fossil fuels are to blame. 

When sitting in a parked car, on a sunny day, with the windows rolled up, the inside of the car is going to get hot. Really hot. The glass windows and roof of the car allow the sun’s energy to enter the car, but that heat is unable to escape. The trapped heat makes the car hotter and hotter.

Well, something similar is happening to our earth. Heat from the sun shines onto the earth’s surface. The earth accepts the heat and sends back the heat that it doesn’t need. The earth is trying to stay in equilibrium with the energy from the sun. So, the earth accepts some of the heat, but not all of it.

But something happens to the heat that is being sent back up. In the atmosphere is a layer of gases that act like a blanket over the planet. And, these gases take some of the heat from the earth and send it back down to the earth. This heats the earth up more. The heat is trapped just like that hot car.

These gases are called the greenhouse gases because a greenhouse is full of windows that let heat in, but don’t let heat escape. The layer of gases in the atmosphere behaves the same way the windows of the greenhouse behave.

The greenhouse gases include carbon dioxide and less popular gases like methane and nitrous gas. The role of carbon dioxide is important because this gas is produce in the burning of fossil fuels.

Scientists have found this warming trend has taken off in the last 200 years. This is exactly the same timeframe that society started using fossil fuels in earnest. This era is called the Industrial Revolution and coincides with the growth of factories, power, agriculture and transportation (read: cars). Cars produce greenhouse gases, but so do cows. Cows burp methane gas, which is warming our planet too.

So what can you do?

Get an energy efficient car, use LED light bulbs, insulate your home, and recycle.

If everyone does one small thing, all of us together, will make a big impact and stop this warming trend. According to Michael Mann, a climate scientist, we only have about 10 years to change this around before the earth goes to a point of no return.

So, do something small today and help make a big change. Fight the molecules that heat the planet!

 

Learn more here:

The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars by Michael Mann (featured in the podcast)