Tag: chemistry

You’ve Just Thrown Away The Healthiest Part Of Your Avocado

If you’re like the rest of the avocado-eaters of the world, you approach your avocado like so: Cut around the avocado length-wise with a knife, then twist the two halves to separate them.

In a slightly unsafe fashion, you aim your sharp knife for the seed, hacking away until you get a firm grip, twist again to dislodge the seed. And then, you throw the seed away.

Well, according to Scientists of the American Chemical Society, you’ve just thrown away the healthiest part of your Avocado On Toast breakfast. Here’s a hint: It’s in the seed.




Scientists gathered 200 dried avocados and pulverized the seeds down to a powder.

After close examination, they discovered the avocado seed husk carries a “gold mine of medicinal compounds” capable of treating “a whole host of debilitating diseases.”

Dr. Debasish Bandyopadhyay from the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, explains “it could very well be that avocado seed husks, which most people consider as the waste of wastes, are actually the gem of gems because the medicinal compounds within them could eventually be used to treat cancer, heart disease and other conditions.

Researchers found dodecanoic acid in the husk powder, said to increase high density lipoprotein (known as HDL), which in turn, can reduce the risk of atherosclerosis.

Docosanol, a crucial component in antiviral medications and treatment to cold sores and blisters, was also found in the husks. Dr. Bandyopadhyay and his colleagues hope to modify these compounds to develop medications with fewer side effects.

Diving for treasure” really takes on a whole new meaning with this discovery. The discarded avocado seeds from breakfast is not trash, it’s a nutrient-packed, heart-protecting gold mine.

But, you need not dip your hands into the trash to fetch this valuable stone seed. At least, not yet. In light of the research findings, experts believe this could one day lead to a new wave of supplements containing the healthy compounds contained in avocado husks.

For now, the jury is still out on the safety of consuming raw avocado husk powder.

Just to be clear: you cannot eat the pit or the husk. Repeat: DO NOT EAT AN AVOCADO PIT.

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Pass it on: Popular Science

Why 2,000 Year-Old Roman Concrete Is So Much Better Than What We Produce Today

roman

One of the fascinating mysteries of Ancient Rome is the impressive longevity of some of their concrete harbour structures. Battered by sea waves for 2,000 years, these things are still around while our modern concoctions erode over mere decades.

Now scientists have uncovered the incredible chemistry behind this phenomenon, getting closer to unlocking its long-lost recipe. As it turns out, not only is Roman concrete more durable than what we can make today, but it actually gets stronger over time.

Researchers led by geologist Marie Jackson from the University of Utah have been chipping away at the mysteries of Roman concrete for years, and now they have mapped its crystalline structure, figuring out precisely how this ancient material solidifies over time.




Modern concrete is typically made with portland cement, a mixture of silica sand, limestone, clay, chalk and other ingredients melted together at blistering temperatures. In concrete, this paste binds ‘aggregate’ – chunks of rock and sand.

This aggregate has to be inert, because any unwanted chemical reaction can cause cracks in the concrete, leading to erosion and crumbling of the structures. This is why concrete doesn’t have the longevity of natural rocks.

But that’s not how Roman concrete works.

Theirs was created with volcanic ash, lime and seawater, taking advantage of a chemical reaction Romans may have observed in naturally cemented volcanic ash deposits called tuff rocks.

Mixed in with the volcanic ash mortar was more volcanic rock as aggregate, which would then continue to react with the material, ultimately making Roman cement far more durable than you’d think it should be.

“We can go into the tiny natural laboratories in the concrete, map the minerals that are present, the succession of the crystals that occur, and their crystallographic properties,” says Jackson.

roman concrete

Aluminous tobermorite and a related mineral called phillipsite actually grows in the concrete thanks to the sea water sloshing around it, slowly dissolving the volcanic ash within and giving it space to develop a reinforced structure from these interlocking crystals.

“The Romans created a rock-like concrete that thrives in open chemical exchange with seawater,” says Jackson.

Making concrete the way Romans once did would be a boon to the modern building industry, but unfortunately the recipes have been lost to the tooth of time, so our only shot at recreating the ancient material is to reverse-engineer it based on what we know about its chemical properties.

“Romans were fortunate in the type of rock they had to work with,” says Jackson. “We don’t have those rocks in a lot of the world, so there would have to be substitutions made.”

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How Does Chlorine Work To Clean Swimming Pools?

Chlorine is the chemical most often used to keep swimming pools and Jacuzzis free of bacteria that can be hazardous to humans.

Chlorine kills bacteria though a fairly simple chemical reaction. The chlorine solution you pour into the water breaks down into many different chemicals, including hypochlorous acid (HOCl) and hypochlorite ion (OCl).

Both kill microorganisms and bacteria by attacking the lipids in the cell walls and destroying the enzymes and structures inside the cell, rendering them oxidized and harmless.

The difference between HOCl and OCl is the speed at which they oxidize. Hypochlorous acid is able to oxidize the organisms in several seconds, while the hypochlorite ion may take up to 30 minutes.

The levels of HOCl and OCl vary with the pool’s pH level. If the pH is too high, not enough HOCl is present and pool cleaning can take much longer than normal.




Ideally, the level of pH in the pool should be between 7 and 8; 7.4 is ideal — this is the pH of human tears.

Once the HOCl and OCl are done cleaning the pool, they either combine with another chemical, such as ammonia, or are broken down into single atoms. Both of these processes render the chlorine harmless.

Sunlight speeds these processes up. You have to keep adding chlorine to the pool as it breaks down.

While the bacteria-killing properties of chlorine are very useful, chlorine also has some side effects that can be annoying to humans, and possibly even hazardous.

Chlorine has a very distinctive smell that most find unpleasant, and some find overwhelming. There is also the “itch factor” — chlorine can cause certain skin types to become itchy and irritated.

The hypochlorite ion causes many fabrics to fade quickly when not rinsed off immediately after exiting the pool. This is why your swimsuit looks faded and worn so early in the summer.

Extremely high amounts of chlorine gas hovering above your pool can be hazardous to your breathing. Some companies have developed alternatives to chlorine, including other chemicals and ion generators.

Some of these are good alternatives, but they don’t achieve the cleanliness, oxidation levels or low price that chlorine provides.

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Electronic Nose Could Aid In Rescue Missions

Anatomy of a super-smeller.

The olfactory system is based on artificial intelligence algorithms that enable the detection of the scent of alcohol, but with some modifications to the system and the algorithms it can recognize odors and toxic gases or elements.

“In rescue missions it might recognize blood, sweat or human urine,” said the former student of Tec de Monterrey.

In the first phase of development, the student wondered about how living things carry out the process of odor recognition and then transferred that knowledge to the mathematical sciences, and thus translated it into algorithms.

We note that, biologically, animals perceive the direction of an odor using two characteristics: it comes at different concentrations to the nostrils, and, because it is appreciated with a time difference.”

These two factors can identify from which a certain aroma comes,” explained the researcher.




This is how chemical sensors that mimic the nostrils, and which are separated by a septum, will perceive specific odors.

The data, said Lorena Villarreal, is sent by radio to a computer, where it is analyzed in real time to know the origin and direction of the aroma, using programmed algorithms.

Unlike other olfactory systems, this has the feature that in each cycle of ventilation the air chamber empties, making sensors ready for a new measurement,” says the doctor.

Thus, the technology takes only one cycle to detect that there has been a change of direction in the path of smell, which enables the robot to perform the tracking faster.

A noble beast.

Later the young researcher implemented this olfactory system to a robotic platform funded by CONACYT, to achieve its deployment to hypothetical emergency zones.

Blanca Lorena Villarreal is developing algorithms that allow the discrimination of odors, to give the robot some artificial intelligence that contributes to decision making processes.

For developing the “electronic nose,” the researcher has been recognized as one of the most innovative young Mexicans in the Mexican edition of MIT Technology Review, by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

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Ditching Microbeads: The Search For Sustainable Skincare

Is smoother skin worth more than having potable water or edible fish?

For years, research has shown that beauty products made with tiny microbeads, gritty cleansers that scrub off dead skin cells, have been damaging water supplies, marine life and the ecological balance of the planet.

Beat the Microbead, an international campaign to ban the plastic beads, reports that marine species are unable to distinguish between food and microbeads.

According to the campaign, “over 663 different species were negatively impacted by marine debris with approximately 11% of reported cases specifically related to the ingestion of microplastics“.

To make things worse, microbeads can act like tiny sponges, absorbing several other dangerous chemicals, including pesticides and flame retardants. As they ingest microbeads, marine animals also consume these other poisons.




The obvious solution to the microbead problem is to cut it off at the source.

But while major cosmetic companies like Johnson & Johnson, Unilever, and Procter & Gamble have pledged to phase out the use of microbeads in favor of natural alternatives, they also say that the shift could take several years.

And as more research is done, it appears that microbead replacements may come with dangers of their own.

Some of the natural replacements for microbeads also have negative consequences.

Greg Boyer, chair of the chemistry department at SUNY-College of Environmental Science and Forestry, says a possible negative consequence is with degrading sugars that biochemically “burn” the sugar for energy.

A variety of biodegradable ingredients are available to developers.

Victoria Fantauzzi, co-founder of Chicago-based La Bella Figura Beauty, says that her company recently released a facial cleanser that uses enzymes found in papaya and pineapple, ingredients known to effectively exfoliate skin cells.

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How Fireworks Work? Here Is The Chemistry Behind A Firework Explosion

fireworks

It’s Independence Day, and that means it’s time for controlled explosions in the sky. No, not Texas post-rock, the great scientific display that is a fireworks show.

“Fireworks are an application of chemistry and engineering: you need good chemistry to get the effects up in the sky and good engineering to make sure they get to the right altitude and burst at the right time,” John Conkling, the former director of the American Pyrotechnics Association.

Firework shows last between 15 to 20 minutes on average, but the amount of planning and preparation that goes into producing these displays can take up to two years.




Designers need ample time to determine the right colors and shapes they want to use, and to time the explosions to the soundtrack.

There are limits on the types of chemicals you can use, however. For one, they can’t be agents that collect moisture, or else they won’t burn properly when lit.

So from its initial lighting to its final spectacular explosion, a firework’s life begins with a lit gunpowder fuse, followed by a gunpowder-boost into the sky, and finishes with an explosion of a chemical medley of fuels, oxidizers, colorants, and binders.

As you enjoy these fiery tributes this weekend, remember how much science is involved behind the rockets’ red glare.

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Why A Few Drops Of Water Make Whisky Taste Better

Ignore the snobs, because most experts agree: a few drops of water enhance the taste of whiskies, from well-rounded blends to peat bombs redolent of smoke, tobacco and leather.

The only real question is, why is this true?

The answer, a pair of biochemists in Sweden said Thursday, resides in the subtle interplay of molecules that brings those bursting with flavour to the surface of the liquid amber in one’s glass.

The smoky flavour typical of whiskies made on the Scottish island of Islay, for example, can be traced to a group of flavour-packed molecules known as phenols, and to one in particular called guaiacol.




Laboratory simulations revealed that adding a splash of H2O makes guaiacol rise to “the air-liquid interface,” Bjorn Karlsson and Ran Friedman of Linnaeus University in Kalmar, Sweden reported in the journal Scientific Reports.

Because this drink is consumed at the interface first,” they continued, belabouring the obvious as only scientists can, “our findings help to understand why adding water to whisky helps to enhance its taste.

Higher concentrations of guaiacol are found in Scottish whiskies than in American or Irish ones, the study found.

For any whisky, the importance of adding water is already evident in the manufacturing process.

Whiskies are made by distilling fermented grains, such as barley or rye. Distilled malt whiskies typically contain around 70 percent alcohol before being aged in oak barrels for at least three years.

Maturation reduces the alcohol content by 5 to 15 percent, But that is still far too high for optimal drinking pleasure, so the whisky’s alcohol content is further diluted to around 40 percent before bottling by adding water.

At least one famous connoisseur, Winston Churchill, has suggested that the scientists may have gotten things backwards in their findings.

When I was a young subaltern in the South African War, the water was not fit to drink,” Britain’s wartime prime minister famously reminisced.

To make it palatable we had to add whisky.

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Pass it on: New Scientist

Chill Therapy Is Endorsed for Some Heart Attacks

Hoping to save thousands of heart-attack victims a year, the American Heart Association has endorsed the cooling of comatose patients whose hearts have been restarted so that they can be brought back to life slowly, suffering less brain damage.

Studies in Europe and Australia have shown that comatose patients whose bodies were cooled to 89.6 to 93.2 degrees Fahrenheit and maintained at that temperature for up to 24 hours suffered significantly fewer deaths and less brain damage than patients who were quickly resuscitated, the association said.

Some major teaching hospitals already put comatose cardiac arrest victims on ice, but many smaller ones do not. The association now recommends that all hospitals use the procedure, a spokeswoman, Julie Del Barto, said.




The guideline was based on the findings of an international expert panel, the International Liaison Committee on Resuscitation.

About 680 Americans a day who have heart attacks go into sudden cardiac arrest, in which the heart stops beating and begins to fibrillate — quivering, in a common description, ”like a bag of worms.”

Unless its rhythm is rapidly restored by a defibrillator, the patient’s oxygen-starved brain will begin to die, the fate suffered by about 95 percent of those who suffer total cardiac arrest outside hospitals.

A major public health campaign is under way to save some of those lives by mounting portable defibrillators in airliners, office buildings and other public places.

After a few minutes without circulation, victims slip into comas. Then, even if the heart is restarted, they usually die anyway, or live with severe brain damage.

Doctors believe much of the damage to resuscitated patients is done when oxygenated blood rushes back into the brain, prompting inflammation.

An explosion of free radicals from the wastes built up during oxygen deprivation kills many cells. Cold slows that process. Inflammation is also part of the immune response, and a higher rate of infections is a troublesome side effect.

Many questions remain, including how to chill patients very rapidly but safely, whether to start in the ambulance and how long patients should stay in the hibernationlike state of ”therapeutic hypothermia.

Cooling must be done carefully, said Mary Fran Hazinski, a resuscitation instructor at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, and may, for example, include injecting muscle relaxants to prevent shivering.

Shivering, a natural reaction to cold, ”is the body trying to increase oxygen consumption, which contradicts what you’re trying to do,” Ms. Hazinski noted.

New cooling techniques now in experimental stages include cooling helmets; injecting cold saline solution into patients’ veins; threading loops of tubing carrying supercold liquids down arteries; pouring ice slurry into stomachs; or even pumping oxygen-carrying perfluorocarbon slurry into the lungs.

In 2000, a small Danish study that cooled stroke victims for six hours with a stream of cold air found that only half as many of the cooled patients died as the uncooled ones.

It took the association’s expert panel years to come to a firm conclusion because it is difficult to run clinical studies of cardiac arrest victims.

More than 90 percent of candidates were dropped from the two studies analyzed, which followed patients in nine hospitals in Europe and four in Melbourne, Australia.

Hypothermia is not used on alert patients because they are not showing brain damage. Doctors often do not try to restart the hearts of people who have clearly been brain-dead for so long that they will be left in a vegetative state.

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Pass it on: New Scientist

Goldfish Make Alcohol In Their Cells To Survive Months Without Oxygen In Icy Waters

Goldfish can survive for months at a time in oxygen-free water. They convert lactic acid into ethanol which keeps them alive under frozen lakes.

A little bit of alcohol probably means they lose their inhibitions too. Goldfish and carp produce at least 50 mg per millilitre in their blood.




This puts them above the legal drink drive limit in most countries“, lead researcher Michael Berenbrink said.

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Pass it on: New Scientist