Category Archives: Infographics

Why is Coffee so Irresistable? The Chemistry of STARBUCKS®

Many people are openly addicted to coffee. In northern Europe, home of the world’s greatest coffee drinkers, annual coffee bean consumption hovers around 9 kg per capita, which equates to 400 mg of caffeine per person per day (this is a highly addictive, highly stimulating dose). In North America, coffee bean consumption is much lower at 4.2 kg per capita per year, which equates to 185 mg of caffeine per person per day. However, this is still a highly addictive dose.

Chemistry of STARBUCKS jameskennedymonash
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Caffeine (around 225 mg in the beverage shown above) causes short, sharp increases in your blood pressure. It makes you feel alert, but jittery in large doses. Caffeine stimulates nerves by counteracting adenosine, which is a nerve activity suppressant, and the brain develops a tolerance to caffeine intake after a few weeks, which can cause some people to take increasingly large doses—sometimes exceeding the ~300 mg per day limit recommended by many doctors. That said, smaller doses are believed to provide some protection against Parkinson’s Disease in the long term.

Milk, a butterfat emulsion, gives the coffee its light colour and pleasant mouthfeel. Vanillin adds an interesting flavour and aroma, and consists of glucose syrup and vanillin, an artificial flavour compound modelled on the main aroma compound in real vanilla beans.

The most amazing aspect of the product shown is the polypropylene cup. Starbucks® sells these reusable cups for just $1 in its United States stores, in an attempt to serve 5% of all its beverages in reusable containers by 2015. In addition to giving you a 10-cent discount for bringing your own cup, and selling these reusable cups ridiculously cheaply, Starbucks® makes these cups from a fully recyclable plastic that’s completely inert at boiling-hot temperatures (100°C).

Ingredients of All-Natural Cherries

Cherries are extremely sweet, and are unusual in that they contain more glucose (52%) than fructose (42%). Their bright red colour comes from the carotenes and capsanthin (the E160 colourings) that are present in high quantities throughout the fruit.

Cherry flavour comes from a huge collection of aroma compounds produced naturally by the cherry. To make all of these compounds in the lab, then mix them together in the correct proportions would be ridiculously time-consuming and expensive.

When making artificial cherry flavourings, only the first two compounds are usually added: (Z)-3-hexenol and 2-heptanone. Artificial cherry flavouring thus tastes absolutely nothing like real cherries: it lacks most of the ingredients that give real cherries their delicious flavour.

It’s quite a different story with oranges and lemons, though. Most of the flavour of oranges and lemons comes from (+)-limonene and (-)-limonene, which, by themselves, smell like orange and lemon, respectively.

Ingredients of All-Natural Cherries
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How are Lego® bricks made? The Chemistry of LEGO®

I saw a Greenpeace advertisement recently that lambasted LEGO® for its ongoing toy deals with Shell Corporation. The advertisement was dark, sarcastic, and tasteless.

The video, made to highlight the Danish company’s $130-million relationship with Shell, has reappeared on YouTube after being withdrawn last week following copyright complaints from the toy-maker.

The video made me feel sorry for LEGO®. It also reminded me that LEGO® is made from oil-based products (even though they’re trying to find a sustainable alternative), and it inspired me to make this infographic: the Chemistry of everyone’s favourite building block.

Chemistry of LEGO jameskennedymonash
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LEGO® is made from ABS (acrylonitrile butadiene styrene), a thermoplastic polymer comprised of three monomers. The first monomer, acrylonitrile, gives the bricks strength. The second, 1,3-butadiene, gives them resilience (i.e. stops them from snapping so easily) and the third, styrene, gives them a shiny, hard surface. These three ingredients are mixed with colorants then polymerised (hardened) with the help of an initiator called potassium peroxydisulphate. LEGO® buys pre-made ABS granules and injects them into brick shapes on a massive scale.

LEGO® make 20 billion bricks each year (that’s 35,000 bricks a minute) and according to the Guinness Book of World Records, they produce more plastic tyres than anyone else. Personally, I think that’s a remarkable feat. It’s engineering genius.

In a statement, LEGO® said: “We firmly believe that this matter must be handled between Shell and Greenpeace. We are saddened when the LEGO brand is used as a tool in any dispute between organisations. We will continue to… deliver creative and inspiring LEGO play experiences to children all over the world.”

Artificial vs Natural Watermelon & Sweetcorn

Inspired by the recent Peach infographic, I set out to find the least natural fruit in existence, and decided it was probably the modern watermelon. Take a look below: which one would you rather eat?

Artificial vs Natural Watermelon
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The watermelon, delicious as it is, has increased from 50 mm to 660 mm in diameter, which represents a 1680-fold increase in volume. While ancient “wild watermelons” weighed no more than 80 grams, modern watermelons can range from 2 kg to 8 kg in the supermarket, while the Guiness World Record for the heaviest watermelon recorded exceeded 121 kilograms in the year 2000. Thousands of years of human-induced evolution have worked miracles on these fruits. Let’s not forget that they’re completely artificial.

The most famous example of artificial selection is of course the selective breeding of the feeble teosinte plant into juicy, delicious, North American sweetcorn.

Artificial vs Natural Watermelon
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In 9000 years, sweetcorn has become 1000 times larger, 3.5 times sweeter, much easier to peel and much easier to grow than its wild ancestor. It no longer resembles the original teosinte plant at all. Around half of this artificial selection happened since the fifteenth century, when European settlers placed new selection pressures on the crop to suit their exotic taste buds.

That’s all for now… More exciting infographics coming soon. Enjoy! ;-)

Why is Gold Yellow? The Chemistry of GOLD

Chemistry of GOLD jameskennedymonash v2
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Why is Gold yellow? Special relativity causes length contractions and time dilations in objects that travel at speeds approaching the speed of light. The valence electrons of large atoms such as gold have such high energies that their speeds actually approach the speed of light—and the relativistic effects on those electrons can become quite large.

Special relativity changes the energy levels of the 5d orbital in a gold atom so that the energy difference between 5d and 6s orbitals equals the energy of a ‘blue’ photon. Gold thus absorbs blue light when electrons are elevated from the 5d to the 6s orbitals, while other metals do not. These special relativistic changes to the energy levels of atomic orbitals are slightly different for each element.

Relativistic contractions on gold’s valence electrons (the 6s subshell) pull the 6s electron very close to the nucleus. Being closer to the nucleus makes the 6s electron less accessible to any potential reactants. Special relativity is not only the reason for gold’s alluring, yellow colour but also the reason for its low reactivity! ●

Ingredients of An All-Natural Peach

I enjoyed reading the discussion that last week’s Artificial vs Natural Peach spawned on Tumblr and Facebook. People discussed the meaning of “natural” versus “domesticated”, and debated whether humans have really “improved” fruits in the last few millennia or just evolved them into giant candy.

I hope that people now see the irony in the title, “Ingredients of an All-Natural Peach”. The fruits we grow aren’t natural at all—but I still love to eat them!

Ingredients of an All-Natural Peach POSTER

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Over the next few weeks, I’ll be posting more Ingredients posters onto this blog. I have a whole stash of them lined up, ready for you to eat…

I’m also looking for your ideas. What would you like to see the “ingredients” of next? Vanilla? Tea? List them in the comments below.

Stay up-to-date by following @VCEasy on Twitter, where I tweet about Chemistry for visual learners. These posters usually appear there first.

Enjoy :-)

Artificial vs Natural Peach

Artificial vs Natural Peach jameskennedymonash

This artificial vs natural foods phenomenon has grown somewhat since the All-Natural Banana.

This infographic explores the differences between the natural, “wild peach” and its modern, artificial relative. It explores how the ancient Chinese developed a small, wild fruit (that tasted like a lentil) into the juicy, delicious peaches that we eat today.

This image also pays homage to the thousands of years of toil that farmers put into developing the Peach regardless of whether they were aware of it consciously or not.

After the wild peach was domesticated in 4000 B.C., farmers selected seeds from the tastiest fruits for re-planting. They tended to the trees for thousands of years, and the fruits became bigger and juicier with each generation. After 6000 years of artificial selection, the resulting Peach was 16 times larger, 27% juicier and 4% sweeter than its wild cousin, and had massive increases in nutrients essential for human survival as well.

Which one would you rather eat?

The Ingredients in Food Phenomenon Continues…

Ingredients of an All-Natural Banana went viral back in January 2014 and attracted over 2 million views on various websites worldwide. The posters and t-shirts are now available in 7 different languages.

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Since January 2014, I’ve sold almost $8,000 worth of merchandise online, including t-shirts, posters and coffee mugs, and next month, Banana T-shirts will be available in two physical stores in the US and the Netherlands. Other successful bloggers are picking up on the trend as well: here’s a great contribution to the ‘Ingredients’ phenomenon from Compound Chem:

My favourite contribution overall has to be this one (below). it’s simple and artistic and states a very strong message. It’s part of an educational series by Sense About Science, and you can download their groundbreaking report from their website here.

The reality boils down to six points:

  1. You can’t lead a chemical-free life.
  2. Natural isn’t always good for you and man-made chemicals are not inherently dangerous.
  3. Synthetic chemicals are not causing many cancers and other diseases.
  4. ‘Detox’ is a marketing myth.
  5. We need man-made chemicals.
  6. We are not just subjects in an unregulated, uncontrolled environment, there are checks in place.

In the meantime, I’ve been producing educational Chemistry and Physics booklets for VCEasy, which are being released for free to high-school students via the internet. (VCE is the name of our high-school syllabus in Victoria, Australia.)

The VCEasy Visual VCE booklets are designed to give students a concise, visual summary of all the essential knowledge for their VCE course—with nothing superfluous added, and nothing taken away. Just 100% VCE notes.

The design is highly visual, and each page corresponds to one Key Knowledge Point taken directly from the VCAA Study Design. More information (including free downloads) are available here.

Introducing VCEasy

VCEasy Visual Physics Free Download PDF Student Book v1.1

It’s taken all weekend. My first version of VCEasy Visual Physics Units 1&2 is now ready for use in the classroom.

Visual Physics Units 1&2 is a set of concise, visual teaching notes. It contains all you need to know for VCE Physics, and nothing else. For teachers, it’s a whiteboard plan plus quizzes. For students, it’s a go-to resource for high-quality, primarily visual notes.

There also exists a teachers’ version, which contains lesson plans and worked answers to all the quizzes. This is available by request only.

During high school, I created similar notes for all of my subjects and tacked them onto my bedroom wall. I ate, worked out and daydreamed while staring at these notes. I obsessed about the layout and re-designed them several times. All that effort paid off: I got an ATAR score of about 99+ (four A-grades at A-level).

The Visual Physics project is designed to evolve, but to do that, it needs more input and more feedback.

Download it for free here or by clicking on the banner above.

All feedback is welcome. Enjoy :)

My Physics Alphabet Goes Pink!

My Physics Alphabet Poster Set of 4 in BLUE My Physics Alphabet Poster Set of 4 in PINK

The first three posters in the series were My Greek Physics Alphabet (which went viral on the internet), My First Physics Alphabet, and My BIG Physics Alphabet. They teach Physics notations in a kindergarten-friendly medium. The posters include B is for magnetic flux density, Q is for electric charge, I is for current and Z is for atomic number. They also include a few notations that make sense to non-physicists too, like “M is for molar mass”.

The fourth poster is called My Blackboard Bold Alphabet and features V is for Vector Space, J is for Irrational Numbers and H is for Hamiltonian Quarternions, along with more familiar notations, like R is for Real Numbers.

I hope this poster set encourages at least one young person to pursue math & science.

Click the banner to get your hands on these posters. They’re child-safe, laminated, and arrive flat with free shipping! Enjoy! ;)

My Physics Posters, with Free World Shipping!

My Physics Alphabet Poster Set of 4 in BLUE My Physics Alphabet Poster Set of 4 in PINK

Give your children a head-start in Physics with this set of four colourful Physics Alphabet Posters. Show them your love of Science and get them interested at a very young age.

They’re child-safe, laminated, and arrive flat with free shipping!

Click below to get your hands on a complete set. All major credit cards are accepted.

 

Enjoy! James :-)