Tag Archives: photography

The most beautiful Chemistry videos I’ve ever seen

Beautiful Chemistry banner
Image via BeautifulChemistry.net

I’ve discovered the most beautiful Chemistry website ever created via someone’s Twitter feed. It was created by several researchers at the Institute of Advanced Technology at University of Science and Technology in China. The goal of this project is to bring the beauty of chemistry to the general public through digital media and technology.

The first project of the collaboration used a 4K UltraHD camera to capture beautiful chemical reactions in specially-designed glass containers that eliminate the problems of refraction and reflection caused by rounded beakers and test tubes. I also love how the researchers play with time, slowing down and speeding up the videos at just the right moments. The video footage is then annotated and matched perfectly with background music to give a truly mesmerising result. Here are three of my favourites:

Precipitation reactions (my favourite)

Metal displacement reactions

Bubbles!

As a visual learner and a huge fan of new ways to pique people’s interest in science, I got in touch with Yan Liang, an Associate professor at the Department of Science and Technology Communication at the University of Science and Technology of China (USTC).

Yan Liang, like the visionary data-visualisation gurus David McCandless and Hans Rosling, is passionate about bringing hidden data to the public domain in a form that’s really easy to digest. When I asked him what inspired him to make these videos, he said:

“To me, science is beautiful and full of wonders. However, the beauty of science is often hidden inside research laboratories and buried in scientific literature. By creating engaging visuals and make them available to the general public, I believe more people would appreciate the beauty and wonders of science, and hopeful get interested in science.”

Just like the All-Natural Banana poster series I posted one year ago, the goal of the BeautifulChemistry.net project is mostly about education and scientific outreach.

“The goal is to bring the beauty of chemistry to the general public. To many people, Chemistry might usually be associated with pollution, poison, explosions, etc. We want to show them the other side of chemistry, which is much less well-known. We also want to get more kids and students interested in chemistry and inspire them to learn more chemical knowledge.”

Since Yan Liang, Edison Zheng, Jiyuan Liu, Xiangang Tao and Wei Huang launched Beautiful Chemistry on September 30th, 2014, they have received over 110,000 unique visitors and over 2 million page views. The project has been a huge success, and has already inspired young people worldwide to pursue Chemistry.

“People love our videos of chemical reactions. Some people commented if they saw these videos when they were in high schools, they might work harder and learn more chemistry. A 15-year old student from Germany and others told us our videos inspired them to shoot their own videos of chemical reactions. Artists like these videos and many request our footage to make music videos.”

They’ve got some exciting plans for the future, too. Yan Liang tells me they’re planning to use microscopes to film future videos and that they’re developing a fashionable clothing line-up as well!

Beautiful Chemistry Metal Displacement Clothing for Women
Reaction between Zn(s) + Pb(NO3)2(aq) to produce beautiful crystals of lead

There are currently 33 gorgeous 4K videos on their website, and there’s even a Chinese version as well. Check out their website and subscribe to their blog here. You can see more of Yan Liang’s projects, including amazing scientific illustrations, at l2molecule.com.

Colourful Chemistry: Chemistry of UNIVERSAL INDICATOR

Chemistry of UNIVERSAL INDICATOR jameskennedymonash
jameskennedymonash.wordpress.com

By definition, an indicator is a substance that changes colour in different pH environments. Universal indicator is a brown-coloured solution—containing a mixture of indicators—that can be added to any substance to determine its pH. Like all indicators, universal indicator changes colour in different pH environments. At low pH, it appears red, and at high pH, it appears blue or violet. At neutral pH, it appears green. Universal indicator can form a continuous spectrum of colours that give an approximate reading of the concentration of protons in a sample.

Water and propan-1-ol are used as solvents. They are both polar and dissolve all the other ingredients in the solution. Sodium hydroxide (NaOH) is an alkaline solution that adjusts the pH of the universal indicator to ensure that each colour is shown at the correct pH value. It is necessary to add NaOH to the universal indicator because some of the indicator compounds (e.g. methyl red) are acidic themselves, which would affect the colour of the other indicators present. NaOH is added to neutralise the solution.

Methyl red is red at pH <5 and yellow at pH >5. It provides orange and red hues to the universal indicator solution at low pH. The end point of an indicator compound is defined as the pH at which it changes colour. The end point of methyl red, therefore, is somewhere around pH 5.

Bromothymol blue is blue at pH >6 and yellow at pH <6. It gives blue and indigo hues at high pH. Its end point is therefore around pH 6.

Thymol blue has two end points: it is red below pH <2, blue at pH >8 and yellow in the middle. Thymol blue allows universal indicator to differentiate low and very low pH by providing another red hue below pH 2. Thymol blue is yellow at pH 7, which, when combined with bromothymol blue (which is blue at pH 7), give a green colour.

Finally, phenolphthalein gives universal indicator a deep violet colour at very high pH.

This 2-miunte BBC video is a great introduction to universal indicator:

Happy Mid-Autumn Festival! New infographic: Chemistry of MOON CAKES

Chemistry of MOON CAKES infographic jameskennedymonash
jameskennedymonash.wordpress.com

Mid-Autumn Festival (中秋节) is a traditional Chinese festival celebrated on the 15th day of the 8th lunar month each year (a full moon night in September). It started as an agricultural tradition (like harvest festival in western cultures) around 1000 BC in the Zhou Dynasty, and was formally acknowledged as a festival during the Northern Song Dynasty (between 960 and 1279 AD).

Today, Mid-Autumn Festival is celebrated with moon cakes, family reunions and three days off work. Moon cakes are circular to represent the full moon that always occurs on the Mid-Autumn Festival. Watch the video below to learn about the story behind the festival:

Moon cakes consist of crust, filling and an egg wash. The crust is made from flour, the polysaccharides in which bind together at oven temperatures to form a strong, intricate network (also including proteins) that allows the moon cake to keep its all-important circular shape.

The crust also contains invert sugar syrup, which is chemically similar to both honey and golden syrup. Invert sugar syrup is made by hydrolysing sucrose into its constituent monomers, glucose and fructose. The result is a sweeter-tasting, gooey liquid that doesn’t crystallise during cooking. This gives the moon cake a smooth mouthfeel.

Peanut oil (a blend of mostly monounsaturated triglycerides) is added to the crust for two reasons. First, it is a non-volatile liquid at room temperature, which prevents the moon cake from drying out. Second, the peanut oil molecules disrupt the protein matrix in the crust and give it an even smoother texture (not a doughy texture).

Maillard reactions are caramelisation reactions involving the removal of two hydrogen atoms from a sugar aldehyde or ketone. The resulting compounds are yellow/brown in colour because they contain carbon-carbon double bonds (C=C), which absorb violet and UV light (λmax ≈ 190 nm). The moon cake is usually also given an egg wash, which provides extra protein necessary for Maillard reactions to occur. More egg wash will provide a deeper brown colour to the dough.

Alkaline water (枧水) is a common ingredient in Guangdong-style cuisine. Chemically, it’s a ~0.020 molar solution of potassium carbonate and can be considered as the ‘opposite of vinegar’. It raises the pH in the moon cake, which accelerates the Maillard reaction, which is favoured by alkaline conditions. Alkaline water thus makes the crust more brown!

Finally, the fillings can be very diverse. Lotus seed with salted duck egg yolks is a common filling, but “five kernels”, red bean and green tea (with beans) are also quite popular. Lotus seed filling, for example, is made by soaking dried lotus seeds in alkaline water, pulverising and adding sugar. The resulting paste is then cooked with more oil and sugar before being used to fill a moon cake. ●

Full “Ingredients” Poster Set Just $99 with Free World Shipping!

From today, all 12 Ingredients of an All-Natural Banana (and other Fruits) posters are available for just $99 with free world shipping by clicking the image below.

Ingredients of an All-Natural Banana and other fruits set $99

They’ve been featured on dozens of news websites and magazines and received over 2 million views in total this year. They started as an educational ‘hook’ for the classroom (specifically to introduce organic chemistry), but went viral online and sparked articles from all sides of the “is natural always best?” debate.

From today, get the entire original 12-poster set on sturdy 300 gsm card stock for just $99 with free world shipping by clicking the button above. (Usual selling price is $10 each plus postage).

Ingredients of an All-Natural Coffee Bean

Following last week’s Starbucks® graphic, it seems right to follow up with a quick poster on the Ingredients of An All-Natural Roasted Coffee Bean.

The Ingredients poster series was featured in Forbes last week (article written by Robert J. Szczerba, CEO of X Tech Ventures).

Follow me on Twitter (@VCEasy) to see all the latest posters (unfinished ones included!)

Ingredients of an All-Natural Coffee Bean
jameskennedymonash.wordpress.com

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
jameskennedymonash.wordpress.com

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. 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. Vanilla syrup 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, which is part of 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). This ensures that absolutely nothing from the cup leeches into your piping hot drink before you drink it. ●

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
jameskennedymonash.wordpress.com

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
jameskennedymonash.wordpress.com

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.”

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

jameskennedymonash.wordpress.com

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 🙂

Ingredients of an All-Natural Kiwi

Welcome Kiwi to the all-natural gang.

Merchandise is in the T-Shirt Store.

Also, some exciting changes are coming to the T-Shirt Store very soon.

Ingredients of an All-Natural Kiwi POSTER
Click for large JPEG

Ingredients of an All-Natural Banana

This visualisation has a short story behind it.

Ingredients of an All-Natural Banana
Click to view large JPEG

I usually care too much about food labels. If something has monosodium glutamate (E621) or high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) in it, I’m probably not going to buy it no matter how healthy or delicious the food looks as a whole. (Strangely, I’d be willing to eat it, though.)

Some people care about different ingredients such as “E-numbers”. I made this graphic to demonstrate how “natural” products (such as a banana) contain scary-looking ingredients as well. All the ingredients on this list are 100% natural in a non-GM banana. None of them are pesticides, fertilisers, insecticides or other contaminants.

There’s a tendency for advertisers to use the words “pure” and “simple” to describe “natural” products when they couldn’t be more wrong. With this diagram, I want to demonstrate that “natural” products are usually more complicated than anything we can create in the lab. For brevity’s sake, I omitted the thousands of minority ingredients found in a banana, including DNA 😉

Enjoy!

Black Bamboo Park Little Planets (Beijing, China)

Beijing has only two seasons: winter and summer.

On March 18th, it was winter. We woke up to several inches of snow.

By March 30th, summer had arrived! These two Little Planet pictures were taken in Black Bamboo Park (紫竹院) at the start of Beijing’s glorious summer.

Little Planets Gallery 小地球

Little Planet 小地球 Cambridge River Cam

Little Planet Chongwenmen City Wall

Above: Take Subway Line 2 or Line 5 to Chongwenmen Station (Chinese: 崇文门 English: Gate of Dignified Culture) and walk east (not south: that’s gaudy malls) towards the old City Wall. There’s a tranquil teahouse by the Wall, which, as demonstrated by the comment-plastered notice-board, is clearly loved by its patrons. At night, the wall is lit with pale coloured lights, which make for a pleasant walk/run around the park that runs parallel to it.

Follow the City Wall to Chang’an Jie (长安街 Avenue of Eternal Peace), leading to Tian’an’men Square.

Little Planet 小地球 Peking University

I created this Little Planet on an iPhone with the free Photosynth app from the App Store. The process is incredibly quick and fun to do. The only limitation with the iPhone’s camera here is the apparent dark sky around the sun. More clouds would reduce the contrast and solve this problem.

This is the lawn toward the famous West Gate of Beida (the one tourists pose by). It’s the best place to study in summer, and is usually populated with frisbees, foreigners, a rabbit, lost property and people who read textbooks standing up. Enjoy 😉

Little Planet 小地球 Peking University 100th Anniversary Hall

Panorama: Behind Tian'an'men Gate

Little Planet Xisi Temple 小地球

Above: Take Subway Line 4 to Xisi Station (Chinese: 西四 English: “West 4th”). Walk 100m west of Exit A to find this Buddhist temple. Recitals begin at around 3:50pm each day (during which I took this photo). Buddhists are allowed into the main building to chant; while visitors are allowed to stand outside and watch from a few meters away.

Being in a temple is a very soothing experience, especially during a recital. Afterwards, walk 50 meters south to find a Christian Church, then 300m further south to find excellent black sesame bao’zi 黑芝麻包子 from A’chunjia Bao’zi Shop (阿春家包子店).

Little Planet 小地球 Cambridge University Library

Little Planet 小地球 Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge Univeristy

Little Planet 小地球 Between the Bird's Nest and Water Cube, Beijing

Little Planet 小地球 Downing Site, Cambridge University

Method

Recipe for Little Planet pictures

Ingredients
1 camera
1 sunny day
1 pretty place
Software (PTGui Pro and Photoshop with the Flexify 2 plug-in)

Method
1) Choose a beautiful location. This is the hardest part. Good Little Planet pictures have a balance of colours, shapes and structures. 50:50 trees:buildings looks great. I found myself cycling around Cambridge looking in all directions, checking for potential “Little Planet” hotspots. By searching high and low for Little Planet opportunities everywhere I went, I realised the the world was much more beautiful than Al Gore told us in his movie(e.g. Downing Site looks like a butterfly).

2) Take lots of photos of the surroundings. Set the camera up perfectly (fastest shutter, highest ISO without noise, high-speed SD card, no flash, zoom right out). After lots of practice, this step can be done in less than 60 seconds. Photograph everything (360° both horizontally and vertically) and make sure the pictures overlap by at least 50%. Do the ground in great detail. Pause at the mid-levels to avoid (moving) people and wind. Rush the sky to capture moving clouds. Each photo should be about 1 megapixel with no flash. About 80–150 photos will be enough to cover absolutely everything you can see, including the ground and the sky (nadir & zenith). The bending process requires more photos of the ground than the sky (so photograph your feet, even if doing so makes you look like a lemon). Important: Don’t move and remember to photograph your feet (they’re your fixed, detailed ‘nadir’).

3) Blend them into a spherical/equirectangular panorama using PTGui Pro. The resulting picture is distorted, like a projection map of the world, and will be about 9 megapixels (HD versions are possible but they have to be stitched overnight; 9 MP is high-res enough for most purposes).

4) Export as a high-quality JPEG and open in Photoshop.

5) Open the Flexify 2 plug-in and set: Latitude=minus 90; Input=”equirectangular”; Output=”stereographic”. Then play with the zoom/ spin/ longitude settings until the surroundings are balanced on all sides. Keep your feet (your ‘nadir’) exactly in the centre, then use the photo-overlaps to edit them out completely with a cropping tool (as in the picture above).

6) Print Big.

Facebook Page: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Little-Planets-小地球-by-James/132220726815260

Creative Commons License
Little Planets Method (text) by James Kennedy is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.