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Have a Coke, and….Some Chemistry!

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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Coke, a favorite “empty calorie” drink normally feeds those adipocytes at our waistline. I say, let’s put it to better use  to feed our neurons instead with a refreshing splash of science!

I missed posting for Chemistry Day here on SciAm (August 2, 2011), but I don’t feel too sad as I often feature chemistry on my home blog Joanne Loves Science. Even though SciAm’s Chemistry day has come and gone, I thought you might like these engaging videos showing the chemistry of Coke or their aluminum containers.

I enjoy a great story as much as the next person, but sometimes for science, I just need a demonstration told by someone who is pleasant to listen to and knows their stuff!

Previously, Carin shared a few videos from Periodic Videos. Here, I present one from the same folks about what occurs when they put Coke cans in an acid and a base. It is a simple, but dramatic, demonstration of the power of high molarity caustic reagents!

Coke Cans in Acid and Base

I took a good number of organic chemistry classes in my undergraduate years. My memories of organic chemistry classes include:

  • A dog running into the lecture hall at 8am, distracting all of us, and waking a few of us up!
  • Nightmares before exams from seeing way too many animated organic reactions on PLATO computer system.
  • Discovering I was obsessively scraping soup out of cans at home out of habit of trying to increase my product yield in “orgo” lab!
  • Learning to describe an increase in temperature as seen in a mercury thermometer succinctly rather than using the perfectly understandable: “The stuff in that thing budged a smidgen.”

I learned a lot of valuable information in organic chemistry which is part of my thought process for cell biology (organic molecules are fundamental), yet really wish I had a great teacher like Dave Smith. Dave Smith is Professor of Chemistry at the University of York,  a leading international nanochemistry researcher who is also highly committed to transforming the student learning experience and the culture of chemistry teaching. He believes teaching should be highly interactive and engaging, and is passionate about the power of both chemistry and education to transform people’s lives. I promise to feature more of his work in the future.

In this video, Professor Dave engages us with the history of Coke and Coke-like libations and gives us an education on the underlying chemistry.

Coca Cola–Professor Dave’s Amazing Molecules 4

And his follow-up Coca Cola Tutorial if you want to learn more:

One of the most popular science youtube channels out there is NurdRage, which is run by a group of scientists who had the insane idea of having actual scientists perform experiments. Everyday they see things in the lab that most people never even conceive of so wanted to share that with the public. They feel there is a large gap in contemporary science education between the basic fundamentals of high school and the advanced concepts of university. They wanted to bridge that gap with experiments more interesting than high school but less conceptually difficult or abstract than university.

Gallium is a fascinating substance, a solid metal at room temperature that becomes liquid if warmed in your hand. It is also capable of intercalating within the crystal structure of aluminum and changing the physical properties of aluminum. Watch what happens to this Coke can after Gallium is applied and surmise why Gallium is a forbidden substance on an airplane should it ever come in contact with the aluminum body. Yikes.
Gallium Induced Structural Failure of a Coke Can

You may be wondering where the Coke and Mentos reaction video is at. It seems Coke and Mentos is a physical, not a chemical reaction, so we will save that for another day.

Joanne Manaster About the Author: Joanne Manaster is a university level cell and molecular biology lecturer with an insatiable passion for science outreach to all ages. Enjoy her quirky videos at www.joannelovesscience.com, on twitter @sciencegoddess and on her Facebook page at JoanneLovesScience Follow on Twitter @sciencegoddess.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.





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