TIME Food & Drink

Why Does Pizza Taste So Delicious? Allow Science to Explain

A look at the chemical reactions that lead to that magical, magical taste

A few months back, an intrepid team of scientists declared that mozzarella is the best cheese for pizza because it melts, bubbles and browns better than any other varieties. Now, some other scientists from the American Chemical Society have taken an even closer look at the chemistry of everybody’s favorite cheesy food with this new video, part of the organization’s Reactions series.

“Whether it’s a plain cheese, a deep-dish stacked with meats or a thin-crust veggie delight, there’s just something about pizza that makes it delicious,” the video description explains. “There’s a lot of chemistry that goes into everything from dough to sauce to toppings to, of course, cheese.”

In particular, as the video explains, there’s something called the Maillard Reaction at work — and that’s what we all have to thank for the magical taste we encounter in every bite.

TIME Science

These Amazing Chemical Reactions Will Show You the True Beauty of Science

This incredible video depicts the mystical wonders of chemistry

lost-at-e-minor_logo

This article originally appeared on Lost at E Minor.

Even if chemistry isn’t your thing, and even if you fell asleep in almost every chemistry class, you’re sure to appreciate just how incredible science really is by watching this Beautiful Chemistry video. The video is a new collaboration between Tsinghua University Press and University of Science and Technology of China that make chemistry more interesting (and awesome) for the general public.

The first project of the collaboration used a 4K UltraHD camera to capture chemical reactions without the distraction of beakers and test tubes. So what you’re seeing is a chemical reaction in its finest form. And how fine it is!

(via Colossal)

TIME Chemistry

2 Americans, 1 German Win Chemistry Nobel

A screen showing the names and pictures of the laureates of the 2014 Nobel Prize for Chemistry, is pictured at the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences in Stockholm Oct. 8, 2014.
A screen showing the names and pictures of the laureates of the 2014 Nobel Prize for Chemistry, is pictured at the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences in Stockholm Oct. 8, 2014. Reuters

(STOCKHOLM) — Americans Eric Betzig and William Moerner and German scientist Stefan Hell won the Nobel Prize in chemistry on Wednesday for developing new methods that let microscopes see finer details than they could before.

The three scientists were cited for “the development of super-resolved fluorescence microscopy,” which the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said had bypassed the maximum resolution of traditional optical microscopes.

“Their ground-breaking work has brought optical microscopy into the nanodimension,” the academy said.

Betzig, 54, works at the Howard Hughes Medfical Institute in Ashburn, Virginia. Hell, 51, is director at the Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry in Goettingen, Germany. Moerner, 61, is a professor at Stanford University in California.

Last year’s chemistry prize went to three U.S.-based scientists who developed powerful computer models that researchers use to understand complex chemical interactions and create new drugs.

This year’s Nobel announcements started Monday with U.S.-British scientist John O’Keefe splitting the medicine award with Norwegian couple May-Britt Moser and Edvard Moser for breakthroughs in brain cell research that could pave the way for a better understanding of diseases like Alzheimer’s.

On Tuesday, Isamu Akasaki and Hiroshi Amano of Japan and Japanese-born U.S. scientist Shuji Nakamura won physics award for the invention of blue light-emitting diodes — a breakthrough that spurred the development of LED technology that can be used to light up homes and offices and the screens of mobile phones, computers and TVs.

The Nobel Prize in literature will be announced Thursday, followed by the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday and the economics prize on Monday.

The prizes are always handed out in ceremonies on Dec. 10, the date that prize founder Alfred Nobel died in 1896. A wealthy Swedish industrialist who invented dynamite, Nobel wanted his awards to honor those who “have conferred the greatest benefit to mankind,” but gave only vague instructions on how to select winners.

TIME Chemistry

Octopus Skin Has Inspired a New Type of Camouflage Sheet

It can only switch from black to transparent and back again, but that's a start

Scientists have developed a color-changing device inspired by octopuses and their natural camouflaging techniques.

The research, carried out at the University of Houston and University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign, looked at how the skins of octopuses, squid and cuttlefish can change color so rapidly. From there, researchers were able to design a heat-sensitive sheet that quickly changes color when detecting light.

At room temperature the flexible sheet is black. Once the device’s top layer, which contains a heat-sensitive dye, detects light it becomes transparent. True, this is hardly a rainbow of hues, but scientists believe it is the first step to developing a camouflage material for human use.

“[The device] is by no means a deployable camouflage system but it’s a pretty good starting point,” said a lead researcher, John Rogers of the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign, to National Geographic.

Popular Mechanics broke down the layers of the new device as follows:

The top layer of the new device is loaded with a temperature-sensitive dye that appears black at low temperatures and clear at temps above 116 degrees F. This dye-filled layer sits on top of a layer of white reflective silver tiles, an ultra-thin layer of silicon circuits that control the dye’s temperature, and a transparent silicone rubber foundation. All together, this stack measures less than 200 microns thick. (The average human hair is 100 microns wide.)

Underneath this flexible sandwich is a base layer containing an array of light-sensing photodetectors. The corners of each dye-filled pixel and silver tile above this photoreceptor layer are notched, creating gaps that are like holes in a mask, allowing light to get through to the photoreceptors so they know how and when to change color. This adaptive camouflage system can respond to changing patterns of illumination within just one to two seconds.

[National Geographic]

TIME remembrance

Doctor Who Contributed To Early Research on Smoking Has Died

LUTHER TERRY
U.S. Surgeon General Luther Terry, at rostrum, answers questions on a landmark report on the dangers of smoking during a Jan. 11, 1964 news conference in Washington. Members of his advisory committee sit behind him, with Dr. Emmanuel Farber sixth from left, with arms folded ASSOCIATED PRESS—ASSOCIATED PRESS

Dr. Emmanuel Farber's research contributed to a paradigm shift in American attitudes to tobacco

Emmanuel Farber, the Canadian-American doctor whose medical research contributed to groundbreaking discoveries in the study of cancer-causing chemicals, died on Sunday. He was 95.

“He represents a guiding example of a life devoted to serving his fellow man and scientific colleagues with unmatched qualities of integrity, humbleness, deep reasoning, and an exquisite no-nonsense … approach to science,” the Society of Toxicologic Pathology wrote in 1985, when inducting him as an honorary member.

Farber was born in 1918 in Toronto, where he would first study medicine. After graduating from the University of Toronto with an M.D. in 1942 and serving in the Royal Canadian Medical Corps during World War II, he earned a Ph.D. in biochemistry from the University of California, Berkeley.

His career was long and his legacy is vast, but perhaps his most prevailing accomplishment came at the nexus of medicine and public policy, when, in the early 1960s, he sat on the Surgeon General’s Advisory Committee on Smoking and Health, which produced some of the earliest conclusive evidence that cigarettes could cause cancer. The committee’s report, according to Harvard Medical School, caused a paradigm shift in American culture, which until then largely dismissed concerns surrounding smoking’s health risks.

Over the course of his career, Farber held positions on the faculties of Tulane University, the University of Pittsburgh, and his alma mater in Toronto; he also served as president of both the American Association for Cancer Research and the American Society of Experimental Pathology. He received numerous awards for his scientific research.

He spent the last years of his life in Columbia, S.C., where he would meet his second wife, Henrietta Keller Farber. She died in 2011. He is also preceded in death by his first wife, Ruth Farber, and two siblings, Lionel Farber and Sophie Goldblatt. He leaves behind a daughter, a son-in-law, and one grandson.

TIME Malaysia Airlines Flight 17

Lives Lost: Remembering Karlijn Keijzer, Indiana University Rower and Chemist

Ukraine Plane Indiana Victim
An undated photo of Karlijn Keijzer provided by Indiana University on July 18, 2014. Indiana University/AP

After helping transform the Hoosiers rowing program in the 2011 season, she turned to her PhD career as a scientist intent on fighting cancer and other diseases.

“I’m not an overly emotional person,” says Steve Peterson, the head women’s rowing coach at Indiana University.

But late Friday afternoon, while talking about Karlijn Keijzer (pronounced Kar-line Kite-ser)–a former Indiana University rower who was killed on Malaysia Airlines Fight 17 on Thursday–Peterson reached his breaking point. She was 25. “One of my favorite memories that keeps popping into my head, and it makes me so sad to say this,” Peterson says, unable to continue his words. Between several pauses to let the tears pass, he explains why he can no longer hide his grief. It was such a small thing, really, but it meant so much.

After every season, Peterson conducts exit interviews with his athletes. Keijzer was from the Netherlands, and under NCAA rules was eligible to row only one year while she pursued her graduate studies in chemistry. Keijzer was a key recruit for Peterson, who was looking to draw more international athletes, with more experience, to help keep Indiana competitive in the Big Ten. Keijzer was a terrific fit. She had competed in prestigious events, like the European Rowing Junior Championships and the World Rowing Junior Championships. She had Olympic aspirations.

During that 2011 season, she helped transform the Indiana program, leading the Hoosiers to a 14-5 record. She rowed with the Varsity 8 – “the big cheese,” says Peterson – and sat in the “stroke” position. In rowing, the stroke sits closest to the coxswain, and is not unlike the boat’s quarterback. “The stroke sets the rhythm, the pace,” says Peterson. “The best rower sits in the stroke seat.” Peterson calls Keijzer one of the best rowers he’s ever coached, and he’s been at it for 30 years.

But during that exit interview that Peterson can’t bear to describe, Keijzer didn’t want to talk about her own performance. “She was just encouraging me, telling me, “Your on the right path, keep doing what you’re doing,” says Peterson. Smitten with Bloomington, Keijzer wound up staying on the IU campus, ditching a potential rowing career for the school’s PhD program in chemistry. So this season, she saw Peterson’s team make it all the way to the NCAA championships for the first time in school history. Peterson traces this success directly back to Keijzer’s boat, which made IU nationally relevant and helped bolster recruiting. “After we finally made it, she says ‘I told you you can do it,’” says Peterson. “She was just so ridiculously supportive.”

The Malaysia Flight 17 tragedy has already cost so much. In Keijzer, a senseless act cost of group of rowers a beloved teammate, her fellow chemistry students a popular colleague, and the world a scientist intent on fighting cancer and other diseases.

David Giedroc, professor and chair of Indiana’s chemistry department, remembers Keijzer walking into his office as soon as she got on campus. She asked if he would advise him. “Here was this confident young lady, passionate about science and sports,” says Giedroc. “High level science and high level NCAA sports – that’s a fairly exotic combination for a graduate student.” During her first year at IU, when she was both rowing and studying, Keijzer would sometimes fall asleep in her lab chair. Still, she somehow managed to make the 6:00 am practices.

“We’d be in the locker room at 5:30, it would be windy, rainy,” says Jaclyn Riedel, one of Keijzer’s teammates. “But she was kind of leading the charge, cheering everyone on. She was just infectious.”The Amsterdam girl took to Indiana, calling herself a “Dutch Hoosier.” To fit in, she came to one party dressed as an ear of corn. “She wore black spandex, a long yellow shirt with frayed edges, and her hair was green,” says Riedel. Her teammates would ask her for informal Dutch lessons, and when they found out the word for garden gnome – kabouter – a select few, including Keijzer and Riedel, started calling themselves “the kabouters.” They headed to Home Depot to pick up a few statuettes. The gnomes became good luck charms. Riedel would carry one in her backpack, “though it never went into the boat,” she says.

After wrapping up her rowing career, Keijzer kept pursuing her doctorate. “As a computational chemist, she had enormous potential,” says Giedroc. This summer, Keijzer was working in the Netherlands, collaborating with researchers at VU University Amsterdam on simulations of anti-tumor drugs. At IU, she was working on developing a computer program that calculates how anti-cancer molecules interacted with partner proteins that might play a role in cancer or Alzheimer’s disease.

“She was so passionate pharmacological chemistry, and helping people that way,” says Meghan McCormick, Keijzer’s lab mate for four years. “Cancer was just one obstacle she was tackling. She also took on a project seeking better HPV vaccines.” Keijzer and McCormick were co-authors on a study just published in the Journal of the American Chemistry Society, titled: “Understanding Intrinsically Irreversible, Non-Nernstian, Two-Electron Redox Processes: A Combined Experimental and Computational Study of the Electrochemical Activation of Platinum(IV) Antitumor Prodrugs.” McCormick offers the lay explanation: “Many second and third generation cancer drugs aren’t working as well as they could be. We think we can make better ones, based on the methodology and tools that we used.” “She was just a strong woman,” says McCormick. “As a woman in science, a woman in chemistry, she was a big inspiration. We always felt like we had to prove ourselves a little bit more, to fight through the biases. We fed off each other’s strengths.” McCormick starts tearing up. “It’s certainly going to take a very long time to walk into that lab, and not see her sitting next to me,” says McCormick. “I’m so used to seeing her smiling at me, drinking coffee, giving me encouragement.”

Keijzer was on the Malaysia Airways flight with her boyfriend, bound for a summer vacation in Indonesia before she returned to Indiana. Kuala Lumpur was a layover. When Peterson, her old coach, got word from a former rower on Thursday that Keijzer was most likely on the plane, he was in a car with his family, on his way to visiting a friend in northern Ohio. He didn’t want to believe it. When he saw the confirmation on Keijzer’s Facebook page, the devastation set in.

“She was such an optimist,” says Peterson. “Not just for herself, but for her team, and for everybody around her. She was always there, smiling, a best friend. That’s now all cut way too short. That’s what really makes me sad.”

TIME Chemistry

Here’s Why You Shouldn’t Pee in the Pool

Besides being icky, it could also be very bad for you.

Now that summer is here, there’s a good chance you might spend some of your time cooling off in a swimming pool. But, given that the average swimmer leaves behind 30 to 80 ml of urine when they go swimming, there might be more than just refreshment waiting for you in the water.

A recent study published in the American Chemical Society journal Environmental Science & Technology shows that mixing chlorine and uric acid — the latter of which is “almost entirely attributable to human urine” — can result in “volatile disinfection by-products.”

Those by-products include trichloramine, which can affect the respiratory system and lead to irritation of the skin and eyes, as well as cyanogen chloride, which has been used in the past as a chemical-warfare agent.

There isn’t enough chlorine or urine in a pool to produce quite that level of destruction, but what is there can still find its way into your body, so science just gave swimmers another reason to hold it until you can get out.

TIME Chemistry

Squid Protein: Our Best Defense Against Chemical Weapons?

A woman, affected by what activists say was a gas attack, receives treatment inside a makeshift hospital in Kfar Zeita village in Hama
A woman, affected by what activists say was a gas attack, receives treatment inside a makeshift hospital in Kfar Zeita village in the central Syria province of Hama on May 22, 2014. Reuters

If engineered correctly, the enzyme can "chew up" toxic agents in the human body

A team of researchers at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville has identified an enzyme produced in the bodies of squid that may be effective in breaking down nerve gasses and other deadly chemical weapons.

The team’s study, recently published in the Journal of Physical Chemistry, focused on engineering the improvement of these proteins — known as “bioscavengers” — that “chew up” nerve agents like sarin, a chemical infamous for its use as a weapon in the ongoing Syrian civil war and in a terrorist attack on the Tokyo subway in 1995.

The team aspires to create a prophylactic drug from these enzymes that will mitigate their harmful effects on humans, but first they must modify the enzymes to ensure that the human body won’t destroy them first.

“Using an enzyme from a squid as a bioscavenger in humans is problematic because the human body will recognize it as a foreign substance and chop it up,” said research team member Jerry Parks, adding that “other groups have already shown possible ways to get around that problem.”

TIME Chemistry

The ‘Godfather of Ecstasy’ Is Dead at 88

Alexander Shulgin, pharmacologist and chemist known for his creation of new psychoactive chemicals, ..
Alexander Shulgin, pharmacologist and chemist known for his creation of new psychoactive chemicals, is interviewed in Cambridge, Mass., on Dec. 1, 2005 Brian Snyder—Reuters

He introduced psychiatry to the medical potential of psychoactive chemicals, even as they attracted controversy elsewhere

Alexander Shulgin, the eccentric American scientist whose study of psychoactive chemicals inspired psychiatric research and gave wings to two generations of electronic-music apostles across the globe, died on Monday after a prolonged battle with illness. He was 88.

Shulgin, known as Sasha to his friends and as the Godfather of Ecstasy to just about everyone else, had a career that spanned more than half a century — he received his Ph.D. in biochemistry from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1954 — but gained most attention for his groundbreaking work on the chemical compound MDMA, popularly known as ecstasy.

The substance had first been synthesized and then forgotten by German scientists shortly after World War II, only to be rediscovered by Shulgin in 1976. Recognizing its powerful ability to lower inhibition and increase feelings of empathy — and thus its potential as a treatment for anxiety and other psychiatric disorders — he went to work perfecting it, and then championing its benefits.

The adverse effects of MDMA quickly ruled it out as a therapeutic tool, however, and instead the drug forged an intimate connection with dance music and modern rave culture. This reporter first learned about Shulgin while researching a 2013 story on MDMA and American electronic dance music. At that time, the drug was the subject of intense media scrutiny. Two college students had died at, or shortly after, the Electric Zoo music festival in New York City; the killer, several media outlets insisted, was a strange new drug called Molly (as MDMA came to be colloquially called in the U.S.).

For Shulgin, though, the chemical — and the 200 others he explored and synthesized in his backyard laboratory — was benign, even as three decades’ worth of critics insisted otherwise, and despite the drug’s linkage to scores of deaths around the world.

According to the psychedelic-research website Erowid, which broke the news of his death, Shulgin’s health had been on the decline since 2010, when he suffered a stroke.

TIME Appreciation

Google Doodle Honors Dorothy Hodgkin, Nobel-Prize Winning Chemist

She was famous for discovering the structure of organic molecules

Monday’s Google Doodle honors Dorothy Hodgkin, a Nobel-Prize winning British chemist who determined the 3-D molecular structures of some of our most important biomolecules, like penicillin, insulin and vitamin B12.

Hodgkin, who would have turned 104 on Monday, was best known for helping improve the techniques of X-Ray crystallography, a process which allows scientists to learn how molecules are put together and determine their three-dimensional structures. Previously, this method had mostly been used on inorganic molecules, but she and her mentor John Desmond Bernal were the first to use X-Ray crystallography to determine the structure of complex organic molecules like insulin and penicillin. She won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1964 for her work in this area, and became only the third woman in history to win this prize.

Hodgkin was also heavily involved in humanitarian causes. She was the chair of the Pugwash Conference from 1976 to 1988, an organization inspired by a manifesto by Albert Einstein and Bertrand Russell that works to reduce harm and conflict caused by scientific discoveries (like nuclear weapons.)

She died in 1994.

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