Why Cats Can't Taste Sweets

Do cats prefer sardines or sweets? Our newest video explains why cats, unlike humans and other mammals, are indifferent to sweet flavors. The video was filmed at the Monell Chemical Senses Center, an institute dedicated to research on taste and smell. Prior to becoming Monell's Director, Gary Beauchamp studied the sweet taste receptor genes of cats in the late 1970s. At the Philadelphia Zoo, he gave lions, tigers, cheetahs and housecats two different types of water-sugar water and regular water. The cats showed no preference to the sugar water, suggesting a physiological difference between other mammals, such as humans, monkeys, and dogs.

Watch the video to find out the cause of your cat's missing sweet tooth.

Produced by the American Chemical Society
Directed and animated by Elaine Seward


Five "sweet" facts about the chemistry of chocolate

Valentine's Day is right around the corner. Whether you're spending Valentine's with a special someone or you're stuck celebrating "Singles Awareness Day," we put together a list of five fascinating chemical facts about why chocolate, in moderation, may be good for you.

The video explains how a bar of chocolate contains hundreds of compounds, many with beneficial properties. Among the video's "sweet" facts:
  • Chocolate may improve your mood, and not just because of its delicious flavor. Chocolate contains a number of chemicals that inhibit the breakdown of the neurotransmitter anandamide -- sometimes called "the molecule of bliss" -- which can block feelings of pain and depression.
  • According to an article from the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, the naturally occurring polyphenols in cocoa - the key ingredient in chocolate - boost levels of HDL, commonly known as the "good cholesterol.


The Chemistry of Snowflakes

The video tracks formation of snowflakes from their origins in bits of dust in clouds that become droplets of water falling to Earth. When the droplets cool, six crystal faces form because water molecules bond in hexagonal networks when they freeze. It explains that ice crystals grow fastest at the corners between the faces, fostering development of the six branches that exist in most snowflakes. As snowflakes continue to develop, the branches can spread, grow long and pointy, or branch off into new arms. As each snowflake rises and falls through warmer and cooler air, it thus develops its own distinctive shape.


ChemMatters - Get to know the nutrition facts label

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Our latest ChemMatters episode explains the science behind calories and nutrition facts labels. Find out how scientists first determined the calorie content of food in the 1800s, and how fat, protein and carbohydrate levels on nutrition facts labels are found today.

Test your nutritional facts knowledge with our latest ChemMatters quiz!


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.


Super-Small "Microsubmarines" Could Help Clean Up Oil Spills

Imagine a submarine. Now shrink that down to one-tenth the size of a human hair. It's not science fiction. Scientists recently made these tiny "microsubmarines" a reality. According to the American Chemical Society journal ACS Nano, scientists have created the first ever self-propelled "microsubmarines" able to pick up and transport droplets of oil from contaminated waters. These tiny machines could play an important role in cleaning up oil spills, like the 2010 Deepwater Horizon incident in the Gulf of Mexico.


Bytesize Science celebrates 25 years of National Chemistry Week with two new videos

It's the 25th anniversary of National Chemistry Week (NCW)! To celebrate, we've got two new videos to kick off this year's NCW right.

In the first video, we visited the Maryland Nanocenter at the University of Maryland (UMD) to check out the latest research in nanotechnology -- this year's theme for NCW. Three UMD researchers explain how their work in the nano-scale could lead to better fuel cells, solar cells, cancer treatments and super strong materials made from carbon nanotubes. It's a first hand look at the exciting applications of nanotechnology available today, and those that are just around the corner.

Our second video highlights 25 years of NCW -- check it out to hear about participant's favorite NCW moments and its 25 year legacy of getting people exciting about chemistry.


ChemMatters - Graphene: The Next Wonder Material?

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A TV screen as thin and flexible as paper. A cook's pot that flashes a warning if it detects E. coli. Possible treatments for damaged spinal cords. It's not science fiction - these are all possible applications of a material known as graphene.

This so-called "wonder material" is 100 times stronger than steel but thinner than any known solid. And It's the focus of the latest episode of ChemMatters.

The video explains how graphene's incredible properties come from the unique arrangement of its atoms.  Graphene, like diamonds and coal, is made up entirely of carbon. But unlike those materials, graphene's carbon atoms are arranged in two-dimensional sheets, making it incredibly strong and flexible. Since graphene also conducts electricity as well as copper, it could lead to flexible cell phone touchscreens and transparent, inexpensive solar cells. Ongoing advances in manufacturing graphene are bringing these and other devices closer to reality.

Animation and motion graphics by Sean Parsons
Directed by Adam Dylewski

Also, please check out the ChemMatters Quiz on Graphene:



Chemiluminescence: How Glow Sticks Work

Listen up all you ravers out there! Our latest episode breaks down the chemistry behind everybody's favorite party favor, the glow stick. Chemiluminescence is at the heart of how glow sticks (as well as fireflies) give off their otherworldly light. When scientists first tried to make their own glowing material in the 1960s, they realized they needed two components. The first is a molecule that lights up when excited, and the second is an energy source to excite the first molecule. To think of it another way, dancers are needed to "light up" a party and a DJ is needed to kick start the dancing. In a glow stick, the dancer is called oxalate ester and the DJ is hydrogen peroxide. But that's not all the chemistry involved - every unique glow stick color requires a different glowing molecule.


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