Greetings from the Chemistry Symposium!


I type this as I sit in the San Francisco airport. What am I doing in San Francisco? Well I am here for a Chemistry Symposium. While I wish this trip was just for leisure, I also learned so much! I gathered with many other chemists and I learned quite a lot about how chemistry is used every day. As I was listening to these presentations I realized how valuable some of these topics would be to all of you-my readers! There were so many applications to everyday life that there was no way I would neglect all of my readers from gaining this knowledge as well.

So many topics were touched on. From paintball, to candy, to coffee and so so much more. Out of the many presentations I chose the very best three-both because the presentation was good and the topics fit perfectly with my lifestyle blog. What are these three topics? Easy: chocolate, electric engines, and marathons. I thought that these three topics covered so many aspects of our lives: food, cars, and fitness. Could there have been any better combination for a lifestyle blog?

The first presentation was on chocolate…yum! The presenter was well rehearsed and had such a good understanding of the topic. She did not try to go to broad or too narrow with her topic and kept the audience engaged. This got my attention right away. How many of you have heard that chocolate is good for you? I know I have, that’s how I justify eating so much of it. But is it really? This was the main question asked by the presenter and I soon found out that the answer is “it depends”. Chocolate has anandamide and phenylethylamine in it. These two compounds make a person feel bliss and mimics the brain chemistry of someone in love, respectively. In addition, chocolate also has polyphenols in it. Polyphenols are antioxidants that protect our cells against free radicals-which are atoms, molecules and ions with unpaired electrons. Free radicals can damage a cells DNA and can lead to Alzheimer’s, cancer, and heart disease. So if chocolate has these awesome things working in its favor it must be good for us. Wrong-chocolate also has its drawbacks. A lot of chocolates are processed with extreme amounts of sugars and fats. Also, the longer the cocoa bean is fermented the more antioxidants are lost. So what is the solution to this? Eat dark chocolate (in moderation)! While it is still processed with sugars and fats the concentration of these two things are much lower. And who knows, research is being done to genetically modify chocolate to make the antioxidants last longer so that you can have that delicious milk chocolate with the benefits of dark chocolate.

The next presentation was on electric engines. This presentation was so well organized, had great visuals, and there was no question as to what the main topic was. Now, I don’t know about you, but I am definitely not a car person so I when I saw the topic slide I was not intrigued. But as the presentation went on I saw how relevant this topic is to everyone! In this day and age energy efficiency and environmentally friendly cars are very popular, but why? Electric engine cars have both of these qualities, and they also come with free charging stations in many metropolitan areas. The drawback is that they cannot drive as far as gas battery cars, convenience of charging (especially in rural areas), and length of time to charge. So what is the difference between these two engines? You guessed it, chemistry! The conventional gas battery is an example of a redox reaction. There are two plates in the battery-one of lead and one of lead-oxide. The lead plate reacts with sulfuric acid that produces electrons that generate energy. Those electrons are then part of the reaction of the lead oxide plate with the sulfuric acid. The electric battery has the same overall function as a conventional gas battery but its composition is different. It is a lithium-ion battery and is much lighter, holds a better charge, and can be recharged. Overall there are a lot of positives to electric engines but also many drawbacks such as price, range of travel, and lack of an environmentally friendly energy source. One solution to this is a hybrid car which uses gas and electricity to run. This is something that we can all look forward to using in the future to help our planet!!

The last presentation that struck me was on marathons. While I am not much of a runner myself I was really intrigued by the topic. The main focus was on “hitting the wall” at the 20-mile mark. This presenter did such a good job of getting to the point of their presentation, but also did not leave any important information out. He did a great job of making sure that all of his points connected and related to each other. The basis of this argument is that the average human burns 100 calories per mile. A given person stores 2000 calories worth of glycogen but if you do some simple math you will see that roughly 2600 calories are needed to complete a marathon. These glycogen “reserves” are used as energy to carry out aerobic respiration (chemistry!). So what happens when these reserves run out? Your body can go into anaerobic respiration, but this does not produce quite as much energy. The other option is to start breaking down fat-but this takes even more oxygen! So how can the wall be prevented? It’s actually pretty easy to prevent as long as you know that its something to prevent. A lot of athletes will “carbo-load” (aka eat tons of carbohydrates) the week before the race. Another option is to take race carbohydrates a couple miles before the wall so that you can finish the race with no problems. And lastly, some elite athletes are trained so that they can carry more oxygen in their blood, which is completely different story. So, if you are soon going to run a marathon, or are thinking of running one, now you know the chemistry behind why you hit the wall!

These three presentations were wonderful not only to watch, but also to learn more things than just science. I learned many new skills that I can use in future presentations! These three presenters all had one main thing in common-they new what they were talking about! They were able to answer any and all questions that the audience had and were not surprised by unexpected questions. This is a skill that I can definitely use to improve on, while I can sometimes predict what questions the audience may have, you never really know what they may be thinking. The other thing that struck me was the use of minimal words and enough images on their slides. I really enjoyed this because it showed the basics of the topic and had visuals that were engaging but not distracting-something everyone can learn from.

These presentations were so wonderful and I wish that all of my blog audience could have been there. You would have all learned how chemistry is in literally everything we encounter in life and that these are just a few highlights!



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