The Up-Goer Five Challenge for Chemists

Once again, SeeArrOh has started a chemblogo/twittersphere storm with the Up-goer Five Challenge for chemists. Using the online text editor,  I had a couple of goes at this, one for twitter on the hashtag #upgoer140, which is my attempt at explaining chromatography in less than 140 characters;

I use a box which takes stuff that was close together and makes them not be near to each other any more #chromatography #upgoer140


And then another longer version in which I try to explain my work looking at the thermal degradation of fuels;

I use a box which takes stuff that was close together and makes them not be near to each other any more. Then I can see what each of the things are, when before it was hidden from me.

Usually I use the box for looking at stuff that makes cars and other things like flying and water cars go. When the flying cars are flying, this stuff can get too hot and then new stuff is formed, which can be bad and make the flying cars stop flying.

I use the box to look at the new stuff that is formed when it gets hot to try and find out things about the new stuff. I want to know what it is, where it came from and how to make it stop happening.


It’s actually pretty hard, but quite fun too. I recommend giving it a go.

Chocolate Chip Cookies – Science Style

Because we can just never get enough chemophobia, See Arr Oh from the Just Like Cooking blog has alerted the chemblogosphere to some more ridiculous scaremongering about the chemicals in our food. He has rightfully ridiculed the advertising and you should go there and read it (and about what the pseudonymous dog has for breakfast himself!).

However, the post made remember something I did ages ago (maybe 6-7 years?) which I had completely forgot about and I will share with you below:


The biscuits made from this recipe actually won me a baking competition at the place I worked at the time. Although of course they were tremendously delicious, I attribute my win to the fact that I displayed this recipe along with the cookies, and the judges all had chemistry degrees. A lesson in knowing your audience 🙂

***Update 13-01-2013

Reader @markemer has pointed out that vanilla essence (reagent #7) is not pure vanillin, and usually is a solution containing a number of other compounds, including water, ethanol, and methyl carbinol. Thanks Mark, corrections always welcome.

Chemical Free Cookware Redux

Following on from my last post, I decided to email Baccarat, the company selling the ‘chemical free’ cookware range, Bio+. My email is reproduced below. I tried my darnedest not to be snarky, but I fear I am a self-confessed, born smart-alec and I find it impossible to fully suppress.

Dear Sir/Madam

I recently came across some advertising for the new Baccarat cookware range named Bio+, and there were a couple of things about the product marketing that I found a little confusing.

1. The products are marketed as ‘chemical free’.

I recall from my primary school science classes that all matter in the universe is made from chemicals. I’m fairly certain that the materials that your cookware is made from are also chemicals (perhaps iron or aluminium, carbon, oxygen, hydrogen and others). If what you are trying to say is that the cookware is free of Teflon or other fluorinated molecules, I think it would be more appropriate, and importantly, more accurate, to say this instead. To claim the products are ‘chemical free’, is simply untrue and chemophobic.

2. The use of the prefix ‘Bio’.

I am curious as to the reasoning behind the use of ‘bio’ in the product name. Is there anything in particular about the manufacture of the cookware that is biological? Perhaps biologically (plant, algal) derived source materials? Biorefined metals? I do hope that there is a basis for using this prefix and would be very interested to know what it is, and that it is not just greenwashing.

Thank you for reading and I look forward to your reply.

And the reply I received today:

Good Morning Renee,

Thank you for your enquiry.

I believe you would be referring to matter being a chemical element is a pure chemical substance consisting of one type of atom distinguished by its atomic number, which is the number of protons in its nucleus. This is different from this, which is a natural occurrence, and the traditionally used term ‘chemical’ which is a compound or substance that has been purified or prepared, esp. artificially.

The Bio+ range is simply a name that was chosen for this range due to its chemical free ceramic interior (PFOA and PTFE free), making it a healthier choice. Ceramic coatings are environment friendly, pollution free. The body provides effective and even heat distribution reducing cooking times and saving energy fuel. Non stick, easy clean and chemical free.

I would like to take this time to thank you for your comments, I have passed them on for review.

Kind Regards,

[name redacted]

The person who replied to me has helpfully provided a number of Wikipedia links, to help me understand what constitutes an atom. Of course, they weren’t to know that I have a reasonable grasp of this area, mainly thanks to my double major in chemistry which funnily enough, did actually go over this stuff a little bit.

I will have to concede that this person has a basis for saying that the colloquial meaning of ‘chemical’ is generally something which has been processed or refined in some manner, and I guess I wasn’t clear enough in my email in trying to get across my point that *everything* is made from chemicals. This is really the crux of the problem; even though they have (I hope) thought a little bit about what I wrote in my email, and at least looked at some pertinent Wikipedia entries, the false delineation of natural=good=element/artificial=bad=chemical, still stands in their mind.

The second point was, I feel, addressed in a more flippant manner. It seems that the use of ‘Bio’ in the product name is indeed greenwashing, and they may have been better off using ‘enviro’ or something like that. Their claim that ceramic coatings are more environmentally friendly seems plausible to me, and I think the argument could be made that their manufacture is less energy and resource intensive (although definitely not ‘pollution free’ as they claim) than that of fluoropolymers. Although my knowledge in the area is really limited, and I would be happy if an industrial chemist could correct me.

It’s not all bad though, I am very grateful that someone took the time to respond to my query and I am really glad that my comments have been ‘passed on for review’ (I can only take it in good faith that they have been). The fight against chemophobia goes on!