Thursday, December 27, 2012

Frying Calamari in Batter

Our Christmas Eve dinner consists of a variety fish and pasta of which I claim no credit or preparing.  I was watching my sister-in-law, Pattaya, fry calamari and was of course interested in understanding what the heck was going on as she was dipping each piece in flour and then into a yummy batter.  She explained (and then demonstrated as shown in the 1st couple of seconds of the video) that the batter simply drips off the calamari and therefore dips it into the flour first as it makes the batter sticks better.

This makes sense as calamari is quite slippery due to its oily nature.  Flour, being a fine powder made from grain contains starches which stick to most liquids and allows the batter to stick to the calamari.  The end result was delicious!  Also thanks to my sister and my wife for making this dinner possible.


Thursday, December 20, 2012


In the Northern Hemisphere the winter solstice occurs when the Sun is at its greatest distance from the earth's equator and falls on either December 21 or 22 when the sun shines directly over the tropic of Capricorn.  The summer solstice occurs on June either June 20 or 21 when the sun shines directly the tropic of Cancer.  In the Southern Hemisphere the solstices are reversed.

The winter solstice also represents the shortest day of the year while the summer solstice represent the longest day of the year.  Many cultures and religions have festivals, celebrations, and gatherings around this time of year.  Keeping track of the time of year is not a new invention as it was extremely important for crop production and such.  Many archaeological sites are identified with keeping track of the summer and winter solstice.  One of the most famous being Stonehenge in England.


Friday, December 7, 2012

Interesting View of the Sun

Though it is never advisable to look directly at the sun, the other day while leaving SHS my colleague, Mike Sirowich, noticed the unusual view of the sun being partially blocked by fog and some low-lying clouds.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

It's Newton!

You knew Isaac Newton had to show up sooner or later so I figured December would be good since he was born on Christmas Day in 1642 (or was he?) according to the calendar used in England at the time.  England had not adopted the Gregorian calendar yet which would list his birthday as January 4, 1643.  Newton was born in Woolsthorpe Manor in Lincolnshire county in England and is arguably the most influential scientist the who ever lived.  In his 1687 book the Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica, Newton described universal gravitation and the three laws of motion know known as Newton's Three Laws.  In the field of optics he built the first built the first working reflecting telescope and discovered white light to be combination of the many colors of visible spectrum.  In the field of mathematics, he along with  Gottfried Leibniz, is credited for the discovery of differential and integral calculus.

In the later years, Newton became a member of Parliament and also secured a post at the  Royal Mint.  In 1699 he became Master of the Mint and held on to this position until his death.  He took this position very seriously as counterfeiting was considered high treason punishable by hanging and then being drawn and quartered.  Newton was made president of the  Royal Society in 1703 and knighted in 1705.  He died in London in 1727 and was buried in Westminster Abbey.

wikipedia: Isaac Newton

Friday, November 23, 2012

Botany and Physics meet at the NYBG

Every year since 1992 the New York Botanical Garden puts on the Holiday Train Show that features model trains and trolleys winding their way though New York area landmarks.  The models, handmade by Paul Busse and his group from Applied Imagination, are constructed from sticks, bark, stems, and seeds among other natural materials.  We have visited this evolving seasonal exhibit for years and are always pleasantly surprised, minus the crowds of course (they get smaller ounce you get past the beginning).

The bridges zigzag throughout the entire exhibit and are very sturdy and well built.  An engineering marvel put together with twigs and such.  Other models show intricate craftsmanship and authenticity as the models represent what original building looked like when first constructed.

For more pics: Train Pics

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

A Visit To Tory's Cave

Our newly formed, or perhaps want-to-be-formed, Seymour High School Faculty Adventure club consisting of Jim Freund (Assistant Principal), Stephanie Shelinsky (English), Paula Burton (Math) and yours truly (Science) explored Tory's Cave in New Milford CT.  Jim, no relation to Marlin Perkins sidekick on Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom but is a former Outdoor Guide, led the expedition.  He explained how the cave got its name during the Revolutionary days when British sympathizers (Torys) used to hide out in the cave.  The cave is one of very few solution formed caves in Connecticut and the only one open to the public.  The passage was narrow and drops into to a larger room capable of holding perhaps a dozen people.

Other Pics
The cave is 55 °F year round and is home to bats during the winter months.  There were none when we visited on November 14th.  There are no stalactites or stalagmites but there is very neat looking flowing marble with a golden hue.  We all really enjoyed exploring the cave and just being in it.  The climax was when we turned off our lights and just listened in the pitch black at the slow dripping of water ever changing the cave.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Ouch - Hot Pizza!

When eating pizza the recently with my family, my wife and I burned the roof of our mouth's as so many people do.  The next time we had pizza we waited several minutes before chowing down.  While waiting my son was asking why the crust did not feel hot while the cheese was very steamy even after several minutes.  A great question!

I immediately proceeded in giving some long-winded explanation to an 8-year old about the heat capacity of cheese being higher than the heat capacity of the crust.  Of course I had to explain that heat capacity (C) is amount of heat energy (q) needed to raise the temperature (Δ T) of a specific amount of substance (mass, m).

The formula:  q = C × m × (Δ T)

The higher the Heat Capacity the longer it stays hot.  In addition, bread is a good insulator so it transfers heat very slowly while mozzarella cheese being a better conductor transfers heat faster.

After after giving this explanation I asked my son if he understood, to which he replied, "Oh I got it, the crust has lots of holes in it like bread or bubbles which means it won't get as hot".  His explanation is essentially correct (replace get as hot with hold as much heat) and is simpler to understand than mine.  The crust is much less dense than the cheese, thus the same volume of cheese can hold a lot more heat than the same volume of crust.  In think I will run explanations through him from know on.

Believe it or not, others have studied this topic.  For more information checkout: The Thermodynamics of Pizza from ChemPRIME.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

And the Winner is...

Dmitri Ivanovich Mendeleev (1834-1907) was a Russian chemist famous for creating the first periodic table of elements.  He was born near Tobolsk, Siberia to Ivan Pavlovich Mendeleev and Maria Dmitrievna Mendeleev and had between 11 and 17 siblings (depending on source).  Mendeleev was a professor when he arranged the 63 known elements by increasing atomic mass and grouping them by similar properties in 1869.  His great insight was he predicted the existence of three elements he named  ekasilicon, ekaaluminium and ekaboron (germaniumgallium and scandium) and left spaces on the table for them.

Other achievements of Mendeleev include the investigation of the thermal expansion of liquids and the composition of petroleum.  In 1893 he was appointed Director of the Bureau of Weights and Measures where he developed new standards for vodka production (must be 40% alcohol by volume).

Though Mendeleev received many awards throughout his career including the Copley Medal from the Royal Society of London, he was never awarded a Nobel Prize due in part to rivalries with other scientists of the time including one with Svante Arrhenius. Mendeleev probably got the last laugh, however, since he is more known now than any of the others that were jealous of him plus he has a crater on the Moon named in his honor.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Big Week in Chemistry Coming Up!

October 21 - 27, 2012 is National Chemistry Week (NCW) (sponsored by the American Chemical Society) and marks the 25th anniversary of the NCW program designed to promote the value of chemistry in everyday life.  This years theme is Nanotechnology: The Smallest Big Idea In Science and is a partnership between NCW and Nanoscale Informational Science Education Network (NISE).  Yes, a couple of tongue twisters.

Also happening this week is National Mole Day (sponsored by the National Mole Day Foundation)  which takes place 6:02 am and 6:02 pm on October 23 in honor of Avogadro's Number (6.02 × 1023) which is a basic unit of measurement in chemistry (602-1023 is also my colleague's, Mr. Ciccone, phone number, or so he tells his students).  If refers to the number of particles in one mole of substance.

(from the mole day website)
For a given substance, one mole is a mass (in grams) whose number is equal to the atomic mass of the substance.  For example: carbon has an atomic mass 12, therefore one mole of carbon is 12 grams.  One mole of substance contains 6.02 × 1023 particles of that substance.  This relationship was first recognized by Amadeo Avogadro.  Thank you Amadeo!

American Chemical Society
National Mole Day Foundation, Inc

Friday, October 12, 2012

I Could Not Resist!

While I was walking my dog at 5:45 am this Friday morning, 10-12-12, I looked up and a saw two heavenly bodies and went back for my camera.  I could not resist!

waning crescent moon with Venus, other pics on Flicker
The waning crescent moon is slowly disappearing and will completely hide from view on October 14, new moon.  Meanwhile Venus, the morning star will remain bright.  The moon is approximately  374,000 km away while Venus is 169,000,000 km.  The question for my students on Monday who are currently learning about light waves is how does it take the light to reach us for both objects.  The solution is to convert the lengths to meters and divide them by the speed of light (3.0e8 m/s).
[answers: 1.2 seconds - moon, 9.4 minutes - Venus]

Monday, October 8, 2012


Every year our school system has a new focus, or directive, or panacea to save education, or whatever.  If I sound a little skeptical, it's because it usually involves more time and not very useful information.  All of this in the long run means less time assist my students and less time to develop and modify my classes.  Also, they usually end up scrapped a few years later.  However, this year I am more positive and actually think it might be useful.

Let me explain:
1) Each teacher(s) will develop a Benchmark Assessment (BA) for their subject.  The BA will be connected to appropriate Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and/or mimic some type of rigorous standardized test.

  • Since chemistry as well as some other subjects are not part of the the CAPT Exam, the exam taken in 10th grade that Connecticut students are required to pass before they graduate, we (myself and Tony Ciccone) used the SAT II in Chemistry and the NY State Chemistry Regents to create our BA.  Also, we used the new (2014) AP Chemistry Big Ideas for our Standards.  Lastly, our assessment is designed to be 45 minutes in length.
  • Four BA will be given beginning in October then in December followed by two more in the second semester.
  • Since the assessment is comprehensive, the students are not expected to score will on the first BA but improve throughout the year.
  • The expectation is that we will evaluate and analyze the results make changes to our instruction as necessary. 

2) Each teacher will use the school-wide learning expectation rubrics and develop authentic learning projects and consistent applications of grading rubrics.  

  • We will evaluate and provide evidence of how we are using the data from our assessments to inform instruction for classes as well as individual students.
The analysis is the critical piece of this pie.  The hard part will be for the students to take them seriously, thus acquiring meaningful data.  I am hopeful that we will be able to modify and align our curriculum to the Standards as well which is why I think this years' focus is useful, although I think this is going to take more time than the powers at be think.

As a side note: 
The following year, teacher evaluations in Connecticut are supposed to be based 40% on standardized test scores.  YIPPEE!  ITS HERE - TEACH TO THE TEST!!!  These BA will most likely serve as a basis for upper division subjects such as chemistry which there is no one standardized test that everyone in the state takes.  

Monday, October 1, 2012

This Month's Winner of the Coveted Award!


Just getting ready to start my unit on atomic theory I have selected Marie Curie (1867-1934) as this month's Featured Scientist winner.  She was born Maria Sklodowska in WarsawPoland to well-know teachers.  While growing up in Poland the young Maria was sent to a boarding school for primary education.  Because most higher educational institutions at the time did not admit women, Maria and her sister attended a Flying University which operated in Poland.  In 1891 she along with her older sister went to Paris.  Once there, she took classes at the University of Paris (Sorbanne) and tutored eventually earning a degree in Physics in 1893 and Mathematics in 1894.  

Around this time she became romantically involved with French physicist Pierre Curie and eventually married him.  At first they worked on separate projects, however, they soon took up interest in the work of Henri Becquerela French physicist who discovered that uranium casts off rays.  Marie theorized the rays were due to the atomic structure of the element.  This opened the new field of atomic physics and she coined the phenomena radioactivity.  She and Pierre would later discover the elements Polonium and Radium.  Marie shared the 1903 Nobel Prize in Physics with Pierre and Henri Becquerel making her the first woman to win a Nobel Prize.  Unfortunately Pierre was killed in a horse carriage accident 1906.  In 1911, she won a second Nobel Prize, this time in Chemistry.  During World War I, Marie and her daughter Irene Joliot-Curie set up portable X-ray machines to be used in the field.  

Former winners of the Featured Scientist

Saturday, September 22, 2012


While my son was having his "Pirate Treasure Hunt Birthday" at Webb Mountain Discovery Zone in Monroe CT, I got to snap a couple non-pirate pics of the site.  The first shot is one of the many vernal pools located 171-acre plot and the second pic is the butterfly garden located near the entrance.

Vernal Pool
Butterfly Garden
The Discovery Zone officially opened to the public in 2007 with a mission to promote exploration and learning in a fun, hands-on environment.  If you are traveling through Monroe CT, it is a definitely a worthwhile stop.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Hey any mycologists out there!  Are these edible?

These neat looking bright orange mushrooms are growing on the side of my house in a recently planted field of pachysandra.  I am a self proclaimed bio bozo and have no clue.  About all I know about mushrooms is they are a fungus and get their nutrients from decaying organic matter since they lack chlorophyll.  My wife, the much better biologist in our family identified the fungus as either Jack O`Lantern or Orange-latex Milky.  The Jack O'lantern is poisonous while the Orange-latex Milky is edible.  I think she wants to know whether to put them in the family salad or just my salad...

Monday, September 10, 2012

Low Tech Activity Yet Worthwhile Results!

Although I love using the latest technology or some computer app, sometimes the simplest things give students the best understanding.  When discussing the many benefits of knowing the density (D) of a substance, I focused on how you can determine the mass (m) of object if it is too big to put on a scale if you know the density.  The solution is to simply multiply it by the volume (V).

D = m/V  or rearranged is m = D*V

Rather giving examples from the book or a worksheet as I normally would, today I took the students outside and asked them to estimate the mass of some concrete slabs that make up sitting benches outside our building.  As an added bonus they got practice taking measurements and it led into another discussion about significant figures.  The students were able to see real-world applications since you can use this to estimate masses of sorts of objects, even buildings.  I thought about having some students determine the mass of the school by counting all the bricks if they get bored in class.  Good lesson and we got outside on a nice day...

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Am I Joking?

I just got done making a big stink about why we need to use the Metric System and my choice for Featured Scientist of the Month is Daniel Fahrenheit.  Actually Fahrenheit was a brilliant dedicated scientist who understood the need to develop a universal scale for thermometers.  See post below...


Daniel Fahrenheit (1686-1736) was born into a German merchant family in Gdansk, Poland.  He was a scientist who is best known for making the modern day alcohol thermometer and mercury thermometer.  His parents died from eating poisonous mushroomswhen he was fifteen.  After spending time in foster homes, apprenticeships, and studying natural science, Fahrenheit become a  glassblower making barometers and thermometers. 

Early thermometers had arbitrary scales and he as well as Isaac Newton years earlier recognized that thermometers based on materials that change at certain temperatures would make them reproducible.  Newton was not a thermometer maker and did a couple of other things anyway.  Fahrenheit choose a mixture of ice, water, and ammonium chloride (a salt) for zero.  He used 32 degrees for the freezing point of water and 96 degrees for body temperature.  The funny numbers come from his original idea of have a 12-point scale where zero, four, and twelve are the three constants.  He then separated each point by eight gradations.  The result, multiply each constant by eight: 4 X 8 = 32, 12 X 8 = 96.  Body temperature is normally measured at 98.6 degrees but he was close.


Unfortunately Fahrenheit's constants were not as simple as the constants Anders Celsius chose for for his scale who used the freezing point and boiling point of pure water.  

Also, for those interested in the where the following conversion formulas comes from:

        F to C where C = (F-32)*5/9     
        C to F where F = C*9/5+32

Notice the difference between 0 and 100 (100) on the Celsius scale and their corresponding Fahrenheit temperatures 32 and 212 (180).  The ratio is 100 to 180 which reduces to 5 to 9.  Whether it is 5/9 or 9/5 and if you have to add or subtract 32 depends on which scale your looking for.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Why Use The Metric System!

A few weeks ago I wrote a blog post "IS AMERICA'S MEDIOCRE (AT BEST) SCIENCE SCORES DUE TO NOT USING THE METRIC SYSTEM?suggesting the mediocre science scores for U.S. high school students is related to the lack of familiarity to the metric system.  That is one reason for using the Metric System.  But why do scientists like the Metric System (technically scientists use the  International System - SI which is a simplified Metric System) in the first place?

The U.S. Metric Association (USMA) summarizes these to six points or advantages:
  1. No conversions - only one unit for each quantity.
  2. Coherence - derived units are based on simple algebraic quotients or products of base units.  There are no numerical definitions to memorize.
  3. No fractions - uses decimals only.
  4. Prefixes - prefixes are short and to the base 10.
  5. Few units - The SI system only 30 individually named units and students only need to remember a few units depending on which subject they are taking.
  6. Easy to write and say - quantities are much easier to express in the SI system.
Although my colleagues and I always teach and reteach the metric system year in and year out for science classes, this year I am focusing on why we prefer the Metric system.  It should be a "no brainer" but I always have a student who will argue that the U.S. customary system works fine and the rest of the world should follow us.  I tell the student I hope not!

U.S. Metric Association (USMA), Inc. 

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Good Observation and Question from my son!  The answer to the question is biochemistry...

On my way to dropping my son off at the Peabody summer camp during the cool morning, we pass by a large pile of wood chips on the side of Route 111 in Shelton near Jones Farm (Figure 1).

Figure 1
My son not only noticed but asked why is the pile smoking?  This is a great question because it involves lots of science disciplines.

The pile is not really smoking as it is water vapor produced as the wood chips are being composted somewhat.  Composting is a bit more involved.  Aerobic bacteria in the pile feed on the wood chips, as they do they produce carbon dioxide, water vapor, and heat.  Most life forms on Earth do this.  In fact, most of the instruments looking for extraterrestrial life are looking for these compounds rather than direct evidence.

Since the wood chip piles are slightly warmer than the rest of the ground, the cool morning air causes warm moist air from the compost to condense and produce the mist.   The air became saturated with water and reached its dew point as a result of lowering the temperature.

Saturday, August 11, 2012


While on vacation last week to Montreal, I learned that Mont Royal sits on a volcanic complex or more precise is a remnant of one.   In particular, 125 mya southern Quebec, Canada was above a volcanic hotspot (region where magma is close to the surface a.k.a. plume).  Mont Royal (or Mount Royal) as well as the rest of the Monteregian Hills are the remains since they are more resistant to erosion.  The hotspot known as the New England Hotspot, is similar to the more famous hotspots currently over Hawaii and Yellowstone.

Apparently, the hotspot had its beginnings 200 mya in an area northwest of Hudson Bay, as the plate moved the plume was recorded in 150 million year old rocks in Ontario.  Continued movement of the North American Plate produced Mont Royal 125 mya.  It was recorded again in rocks from the White Mountains of New Hampshire and from 100 to 80 mya the hotspot created the New England Seamount chain of the coast of North America.  The hot spot became active again 75 mya as it produced the Corner Rise Seamounts.  The Mid-Atlantic ridge has overridden the hotspot and formed the Great Meteor Seamount chain 20 to 10 mya.

Figure 1 (from NOAA)

Figure 1 shows the plate movement over hotspot from formation of Mont Royal ~125 mya to the Great Meteor Seamont chain ~10 mya.

For the rock hounds (weird people who worry about such things and collect them), the Mont Royal country rock is a grey limestone (CaCO3) which was intruded  by magma.  Where the magma was in contact with the limestone marble was produced.  Inside the chamber the magma crystallized to form a dark gabbro of which I have a sample [ROCK HOUND].  The gabbro consists of the following minerals; pyroxene ([Fe,Mg]Si2O6), olivine ([Fe,Mg]SiO4), and plagioclase (CaAl2Si2O8).

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Featured Scientist

The following is my own version of a "HALL OF FAME" for scientists.  Monthly selections from my wiki homepage will be archived on my google sites Featured Scientist Webpage.  I began last month (July 2012) with Democritus. What is shown is a picture and short teaser bio with a link(s) to more extensive bios.  Enjoy... 

Who can forget the Polish mathematician and astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus (1473-1543) who proposed that the center of the universe is near the Sun (heliocentric) and not Earth (geocentric) as was believed at the time.  He was born in the town of Torun (Thorn) in Royal Prussia what is know Poland to a well-to-do family.  He studied mathematics, astronomy, medicine, canon law, and economics and spoke several languages.

Interestingly enough, he was not the first person to come up with the Heliocentric model, that belongs to Aristarchus of Samos from the 3rd century B.C., unfortunately for Aristarchus, his model was rejected in favor of the geocentric models proposed byAristotle and Ptolemy.  Copernicus was not satisfied with the geocentric model and made numerous observations using some devices developed by various Islamic astronomers in the 12th and 13th century to publish his own handwritten heliocentric model around 1514.  


Friday, July 27, 2012

Is America's Mediocre (At Best) Science Scores Due To Not Using The Metric System?

In my opinion, the answer is yes, in part.  We spend the first couple of weeks of chemistry class going over measurement in general.  Over half of that time is spent on the Metric System some of which they already 'learned' in other science courses.   I put learned in quotes because many students were not comfortable with it since they do not use it once they leave the classroom.

I use analogies to describe concepts, as most science teachers do.  For example, when talking about the fundamental concept of density which is mass divided by volume, common units for chemistry are grams per cubic centimeter (g/cm3).  I may ask a student to estimate the density of water using those units, they would at a loss, however, if I said use pounds per cubic feet (lbs/ft3) they would probably have a guess that is close to the answer of 63 lbs/ft3.  This makes analogies that much harder to because then I have to have the students convert these units to the Metric System.  This is where I lose a significant number of students as it adds another layer of mathematical minutia that would not exist if we were using the Metric System.  Incidentally, it is not an accident that the density of water in the Metric System is 1.0 g/cm3 but the reasons why the Metric System is so much better is a discussion for a later post!

Most (or maybe all) of my students from other countries perform much better than the U.S. born students.  A few years ago a former student moved to CT from Albania.  She joined the class after the first marking period and barely spoke any English.  I was thinking to myself "how is this student going to function not speaking English?"  However, it soon became apparent that I when started putting equations on the board, she saw and understood the familiar units and ended up being the curve breaker.  Her math skills along with her knowledge of the Metric System allowed her to succeed.

Sunday, July 15, 2012



While camping in Western MA we went to Berkshire Botanical Garden where they had a wonderful special feature on sundials.  Through the gardens there are sundials made of stone, bronze, iron, and other materials.  
Fig 1
DSC_0032_01 by kurt zeppetello 
                  Fig 2
(DSC_0032_01, a photo by kurt zeppetello on Flickr.)

The spherical sundial in Fig 1 shows the time at 2 o'clock while the time on the permanently displayed sundial in Fig 2 indicates the time as 1 o'clock even-though they were taken almost at the same time.  Since this event is scheduled from June 23 - October 15, only the 'temporary' sundials are set to Daylight Savings Time.  The others are set to Eastern Standard Time.

My favorites are:

All of the sundials can be viewed on the following link: Berkshire Sundials 

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Connecticut Audubon Society: Aspetuck Land Trust and Connecticut Audubon Societ...


We tagged along a wonderful vernal pool walk set up by the Aspetuck Land Trust in late May designed for kids.  The following link shows the results.  Somehow my son ended up in most of the pictures.

Connecticut Audubon Society: Aspetuck Land Trust and Connecticut Audubon Societ...: In late May, the Aspetuck Land Trust set up a vernal pool walk for kids at the Trout Brook Valley Preserve led by our own Conservation Biolo...

Saturday, July 7, 2012

The Blog of Phyz: "The good ole days weren't always good...

The Blog of Phyz: "The good ole days weren't always good...: And tomorrow's not as bad as it seems." Billy Joel "Keeping the Faith" Here's an interesting eye-opener from Slate : Five Misconception...

Dean Baird summarizes "Five Misconceptions About Teaching Math and Science" from Slate.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Featured Scientist of the Month

In an effort to keep my homepage in a somewhat dynamic state and to increase student (or anyone else's) interest in science I will feature a person each month who participated in science.  Also, I really enjoy learning about what made these people tick.  It will consist of a picture and short teaser bio with a link to more extensive bio.  Think of it as my "Hall of Fame" for scientists...

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The Ancient Art Of Brewing And The Chemistry Behind It!

According to archaeological evidence, brewing was first done by people living in ancient Mesopotamia around the 5th millennium B.C.  The oldest beer recipe comes from a 3900-year old Sumerian poem honoring the brewing goddess, Ninkasi.  More recent, however, is my summer break which allows me time to experiment with brewing.  This year I decided on a blueberry concoction since I have been seeing fresh fruits all over the place.  As added bonus, my son who loves doing things in the kitchen, assisted me with this endeavor.  Last month we made strawberry ice cream from our excess handpicked strawberries - look for a "chemistry of ice cream post" later in the summer.

The ingredients consist of four main parts:
1) malted grain - barley, wheat, oats, corn, or rice that is soaked with water until germination begins.
2) hops - the flower of the humulus plant that is used for aroma and more importantly adds bitterness which balances the sweetness of the malt.
3) yeast - a type of fungi which converts fermentable sugars into alcohol.
4) water - H2O.

Our Ingredients:
As you can see I cheat a little bit as I brew from a kit (Mr. Beer).  They have numerous recipes and suggestions to choose from.  The brew that we are making is based on the recipe for Jazzberry Ram but we are substituting blueberries in syrup for raspberries in syrup (I like blueberries more).  

Step 1 - Decontamination:
All equipment must be cleaned and sanitized before fermenting.  The cleaner contains sodium percarbonate (2Na2CO3*3H2O2) which is a white solid that releases the oxidizing agent hydrogen peroxide (H2O2when dissolved in water.

Step 2 - Create the Wort:
The wort is the term used for the mixture that is the unfermented beer.  In our case we first boiled water (4 cups) and mixed the Booster from the kit which consists of dextrose (C6H12O6) and maltodextrins (a polysaccharide consisting of multiple dextrose units).  The Booster provided additional fermentable and unfermentable sugars to the wort.  We also added a packet of Saaz Pellet Hops to give a spicy flavor to the wort.  As the powder is added to the water it forms a cool looking soft crystalline mass and before dissolving completely.

After boiling, we added a can of Linebacker Doppel Bock from the kit which is a gooey mixture of already malted grains and hops.  This is the wort.

Step 3 - Final Mixing:

To the decontaminated fermentation chamber (keg) we added cool water (4 quarts) from the faucet.  The water has to be cool as the hot wort could damage the plastic keg.  You might be tempted to use distilled water or water purified by reverse osmosis but it lacks important nutrients for the yeast.  On that note, however, make sure your water is not polluted and tastes good.  We then added the warm wort mixture and the can of blueberries to the keg holding the cool water.  Next we added more water to the mixture until the total volume was 8.5 quarts.  Finally we added the small packet of dry yeast, stirred the wort, and placed it into to the basement so it can ferment.

Fermentation (what's cooking in my basement):
Fermentation is a metabolic (biological) process by which sugars are converted ethanol and carbon dioxide.  The chemical reactions look like this:

1)  C12H22O11    +    H2O    +     Invertase        =>        2C6H12O6
     (sucrose)                        (enzyme in yeast)              (glucose)

2)  2C6H12O6    +    Zymase        =>        4C2H5OH    +    4CO2
     (glucose)        (enzyme in yeast)         (ethanol)         (carbon dioxide)

According the reactions shown above, one mole of sucrose produces four moles of ethanol and carbon dioxide.

The End! Or until bottling...

wikipedia - Good general info for initial an source.
Maltose Express - Good local source for serious brewing.
GlenRo - Good local source for general info.
Mr. Beer - Good source for info and for brewing without leaving your house.

Friday, June 15, 2012


I have been assigning a Final Project for the the students to complete during the last week of school before final exams for the past three years.  The end of the year project morphed out of my original assignment which I gave after the first month of school and was to have students research a scientist who contributed to atomic theory.  This became rather boring for me since students kept choosing the same scientists from year-to-year.  Add to that, the students have not had that much chemistry yet so their knowledge was limited.  At the suggestion of Mike Sirowich, a.k.a. The Physics Teacher at Seymour, I moved the project to the end of the year for a couple reasons: 1) the students have more chemistry behind them so they can go more in depth with their research and 2) it is very difficult to hold the students attention during the final weeks of the school year.

Another change that I made from the early days was to open the topic of study list.  In its new form students can choose from the following list:

·      Explore the life and contributions of a famous chemist/scientist
·      A unit we have covered this year (atomic theory, electrons, organic molecules, etc.)
·      A topic and integrate content from several units (synthesis of a compound, distillation, refrigeration, etc.)
·      Medical or other devices used in chemistry (CAT scans, X-ray, PET, MRI, electron microscopy, GC, GC/MS, etc.)
·      Other topic/experiment with instructor approval 

This new approach has given the students more choices in what they want to do as some would rather do an experiment or research a topic.  Also new this year , thanks Mike, was having each student who did a group project assess each their team members.  They simply handed me a sheet of paper indicating what they did and what the other members DID or DID NOT do.   The last of Mike's ideas incorporated into the project was to create Google Form where each student comments and rates each presentation at the conclusion.  Students were able to link to the short form with cell phones or laptops.  This kept most everyone's interest throughout the talks and provided positive feedback to the students.

Of the 36 total projects, 12 were of scientists, 4 involved cooking or baking, 7 involved students performing experiments, and 11 were of various chemistry topics.  I learned many new things this year and found a new demo.

Students from Period A did a presentation on Newton, another team did Galileo, and  a third complimented the first two be doing the broad topic of Relativity.

Students from Period B did reaction experiments using Mentos and soda while another group made and filmed the chemistry of baking chocolate covered cupcakes.  They were delicious!

Students from Period G focused on topics such as X-rays and chemotherapy, however, one group baked pizza while another group attempted to see if there was a relation between Mentos and acidity in soda.  Could Mentos be used an indicator?  The results were indicated that it was not a good indicator.

Students from Period H mainly did scientists such as Einstein and Curie but one group made ice cream and another person baked bread.  Unfortunately she forgot to convert to Fahrenheit so we could not sample the product.

My AP Chem class (Period C) students focused on experimentation such as Mentos, chromatography, fire works, and wood gas.  Another student found a penny from the 1800s in her backyard and did experiments cleaning it.  The results indicate 6.0 M acetic acid with a concentrated salt solution works the best.  Lastly, a student synthesized nitrogen triiodide and then let it do its thing.  It is so unstable that when it dries any perturbation sets it off.  Spectators are treated to a loud explosion with purple smoke.  Unfortunately you never know when it goes off as the first batch went off unexpectedly during a different class.  I found a new Demo!

I would love to show off the students with their creations but our school district, as most are, is hesitant when showing students or even printing their names without parental notification.  In order to get that I would have to fill out paperwork in triplicate and send it home for the  parents to fill out as well.  Hopefully I will be able edit out names and such to show off some of their work.