The Colorful Chemistry of Lobster Shells

 
August is Maine Lobster Month, signaling prime lobster season in the Northeast. To celebrate, we investigated the chemistry behind these crustaceans' many colored shells to find out why lobsters -- whether they are brown, blue or even two-toned -- turn bright red when you cook them.
 
In the video, we visit Boston's New England Aquarium, where we talked to Dr. Michael Tlusty, the Aquarium's Director of Research. His lab grows different colored lobsters in an effort to understand shell disease, which weakens lobsters' shells. Between 2010 and 2012, the prevalence of lobster shell disease increased fivefold. While Maine lobsters are still largely unaffected, researchers like Tlusty are working hard to get to the bottom of the disease before it spreads further.
 


 

Inside the Mind of an Alchemist - Featuring Larry Principe

The world of alchemy is shrouded in mystery. Alchemists tirelessly sought the recipe for the Philosophers' Stone - a substance that could turn any base metal into pure gold. The Philosophers' Stone would give its user untold wealth and power, so alchemists were known to operate under total secrecy. They worked in codes and symbols - to reserve their great knowledge for only those who were deemed deserving. Instead of the chemical formulas used today, alchemists created elaborate, fantastic illustrations of dragons, warriors, and monsters to represent the chemical experiments they carried out.
 
Centuries passed, and many historical alchemical texts and images remain undeciphered. Luckily for the history of science, we have brilliant minds like Larry Principe of Johns Hopkins University.
 
In our latest video, we take a look at Larry's work: digging deep into ancient manuscripts and texts, trying to find clues and cues as to what it was that alchemists really were up to. In addition to an enormous book collection in his office, Larry has a lab where he performs ancient alchemical experiments, helping to set the record straight on the history and development of alchemy. Is he a historian of alchemy or a get-rich-quick schemer in search of the legendary Philosophers' stone? You decide.
 


 

Thanksgiving Chemistry: The science behind turkey pop-up timers, tryptophan and more





Does tryptophan really cause the bleary-eyed daze after a Thanksgiving meal? Why does that timer pop up from the Thanksgiving turkey at just the right moment? What causes bloating after eating?

For the answers to these questions and more, we're serving up two Bytesize videos that celebrate the chemistry of Thanksgiving. The first video in the series debunks the long-held holiday myth that a compound in turkey known as tryptophan makes people especially drowsy after a Thanksgiving meal. The other video features an entertaining holiday lecture from Diane Bunce, Ph.D., professor of chemistry at The Catholic University of America and recipient of the ACS Helen Free Award for Public Outreach.

 

A Brief History of Photography: Innovations in Chemistry



The history of photography is rich with chemical innovations and insights, producing hundreds of different processes to develop images in unique and often beautiful ways. But these historical images can be difficult to conserve, especially since each type of photograph requires a different preservation technique. While two photos could look very similar, they may differ chemically in dramatic ways.

This is where photo conservation scientists like Art Kaplan at the Getty Conservation Institute come into the picture. Art spends his days studying different styles of photographs, their materials and the chemistry that gave life to still life in the early days of photography. His office is loaded with drawers of photographic samples, scientific instruments and a clear passion for frozen history. In our latest video, Art explains the developmental processes of several types of photographs including daguerreotypes, ambrotypes and tintypes.

 

Chemistry On Mars: The Curiosity Rover's Mission to Uncover Martian Habitability

After an epic 354-million-mile trek through space, the Mars Curiosity Rover is zooming along at 13,000 miles per hour toward a scheduled Aug. 6 landing on the Red Planet to search for evidence of extraterrestrial life. We took a visit to NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory to talk to the Mars Science Laboratory Deputy Scienctist, Ashwin Vasavada, who gave us a look "under the hood" of the rover, explaining the role of the analytical chemistry instruments found onboard Curiosity. Curiosity's primary mission goal is to determine the habitability of the Gale Crater, which scientists believe was once filled with water. Curiosity is basically an entire chemistry lab packed into a one mobile unit, equipped with the tools necessary to test the chemical composition of soil. Test results from these instruments will pave the way for future Mars missions, and may provide insight in the search for life on other planets.
 


 

Prized Science - Robert Langer: A Founding Father of Tissue Engineering and Controlled Drug Release

 
The first episode of the 2012 season of Prized Science highlights the work of Robert Langer, Institute Professor at MIT. His influential research on tissue engineering and controlled drug release earned him the 2012 American Chemical Society Priestley Medal, the highest honor given by the world's largest scientific society.

To get a sense of Langer's prolific career, just look at the numbers: He runs one of the largest academic laboratories in the world, with nearly 100 members. He is the author of an unprecedented 1,100 research papers. He has approximately 800 issued and pending patents worldwide. And he has had a hand in creating some 25 companies. All of this is in service of his primary goal— to use chemistry and chemical engineering to help improve people's lives.

Prized Science explains how the research behind American Chemical Society awards impacts everyday life. In the coming weeks, we will release five episodes of Prized Science, highlighting new cancer treatments using gold nanoparticles, theories behind protein folding, the effects of dust particles in the atmosphere, and improving chemistry education.


 

The Chemistry of Fireworks

 
From the sizzle of the fuse to the boom and burst of colors, this video brings you all of the exciting sights and sounds of Fourth of July fireworks, plus a little chemical knowhow. The video features John A. Conkling, Ph.D., who literally wrote the book on fireworks — he is the author of The Chemistry of Pyrotechnics, Basic Principles and Theory. Conkling shows how the familiar rockets and other neat products that light up the night sky all represent chemistry in action.


 

The Electronic Nose: Sniffing Out the Dangerous Stuff to Keep Our Noses Safe

In the past decade, our cell phones have evolved into multi-functional, always online digital assistants and gaming devices. Nate Lewis, Professor of Chemistry at Caltech, is working on technology that may turn your next smartphone into a bomb-sniffing, disease-diagnosing "electronic nose."

Like a canary in a coal mine, chemical vapor sensors — or electronic noses — can sniff out chemicals that might be hazardous or undetectable by human noses. These e-noses have potential applications in public safety as bomb or toxin detectors. They could even sense diseases on a patient's breath, providing faster diagnosis for deadly illnesses like tuberculosis and lung cancer. Caltech grad student Heather McCaig showed us around Nate's lab to give us the inside scoop on this promising technology.

So in the future, don't be surprised when you step into the doctor's office for a diagnosis and they tell you, "Did you know there is an app for that?"


 

Getting More Out of the Sun's Rays: Artificial Photosynthesis

Photovoltaics, otherwise known as solar cells, are an important source of energy around the world, converting solar radiation into electricity which we use every day to power our lights, computers, and appliances. But even the most advanced solar cells can only use a fraction of the sun's energy What if we could use the unused solar energy to also produce fuel? Matt Shaner, a graduate student in the Lewis Research group at Caltech, shows us a demo of an intriguing new technique in the production of hydrogen, a promising alternative fuel. Plants convert the sun's energy into sugar through photosynthesis. In this process, hydrogen is produced when the sun's rays hit a piece of silicon, a material often found in photovoltaic cells.

Produced by the American Chemical Society


 

The Periodic Table Table Featuring Theo Gray

 
 
Some people collect stamps. Wolfram Research co-founder and author Theo Gray collects elements. Step into his office, and you'll see a silicon disc engraved with Homer Simpson, a jar of mercury, uranium shells and hundreds of other chemical artifacts. But his real DIY masterpiece is the world's first "periodic table table." Within this masterfully constructed table-top lay samples of nearly every element known to man, minus the super-radioactive ones.

Theo Gray is 2011 winner of the ACS Grady Stack Award for Interpreting Chemistry for the Public. The Periodic Table Table is a testament to Theo's love for chemistry -- as well as his Ebay buying habits -- and is full of fascinating stories. Come see for yourself in the latest episode of Bytesize Science.
 
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