Science Highs and Lows of 2014

Merry Christmas from The Element of Nature! I hope you had a great festive break and are looking forward to 2015 and everything the new year may bring us. With New Year’s Eve is fast approaching, I took a look at this article featured on the Nature News website which takes us on a whirlwind tour of both the highs and lows in science in the past 365 days.

It’s certainly been a rollercoaster of a year, with the most famous event of the year no doubt being the Rosetta mission landing a man-made vehicle on a comet for the first time. It hasn’t all been positive news, with the devastating story in July that the ‘Mississippi baby’ – thought to have been cured of HIV – had suffered a relapse.

It makes for an interesting read and concisely collects all of the biggest science stories of the year for our perusal.

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Festive Science!

It’s that time of year again! Christmas is here, and to get us all in the festive mood, the New Scientist website has posted this page of Christmas-themed science articles for our entertainment.

From how to breed a perfect Christmas tree to what snowflakes really look like, from microbes making chocolate and using chemistry to make the ideal cocktail, there’s something for every science-lover to get in the holiday mood.

If that isn’t enough for you, chemists at my own University of Nottingham posted this video to their Periodic Videos page back in 2009, where they decorated a Christmas tree in our foyer with festive molecular models! It’s interesting to see what they chose as their favourite molecules to hang on the tree, and it’s the perfect way for us fans of the chemical sciences to celebrate Christmas.Dr Deborah Kays selected alpha pinene, which you may know is one of the source of the delightful scent of pine trees – perfect for Christmas time.

If that isn’t enough for you, chemists at my own University

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Cider Science

This interesting article from Chemistry World this week explores the chemistry behind the cider making process.

Many of us are aware of the basic science behind the fermentation process – turning sugar into alcohol – but do you know what chemicals are responsible for the various flavours and aromas in each different cider?

The article explains the whole process of cider production, which is unknown to many of us, and is a career path many chemists wouldn’t have even thought of. It’s actually quite complex, and even the exact variety of apple can have a massive effect on a cider by having different amounts of tannins and malic acid. Apple tannins vary between different apple varieties, with the degree of polymerisation of polyphenols affecting the bitterness of the cider.

There’s also some insight into the research being carried out into cider production, and the analysis being carried out by chemists not only to determine the composition of ciders, but to investigate the processes at work during their fermentation.

It really is quite a fascinating read, and I personally always enjoy finding out the chemical background of something apparently so simple in our every day lives.

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