Spending extra time in kitchen? Try a chemistry lesson

Assistant Professor Lea Nienhaus and graduate student Zachary VanOrman wrote a new piece about how ordinary kitchen supplies can demonstrate the wonders of chemistry.

Embracing some quarantine baking challenges? Or just trying to up your game when it comes to evening mealtime? Why not try some chemistry experiments at the same time?

In a new piece for the journal Matter, Florida State University Assistant Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry Lea Nienhaus and graduate student Zachary VanOrman write that even with labs and schools closed during the COVID-19 pandemic, there are still plenty of opportunities to introduce the magic of science to the next generation. And it might help fight off some pandemic blues for the adults in the house.

“Inspiration to learn new things can be found anywhere,” Nienhaus said. “Especially in times like these, some fun science experiments (or magic) can go a long way in keeping spirits high and minds busy.”

Nienhaus’ research delves into the optoelectronic properties of materials and how they could be used to make more efficient technologies. However, she and VanOrman noted there are plenty of everyday household items, specifically in the kitchen, that display varying amounts of fluorescence. These include honey, olive oil and tonic water.

The researchers wrote that though a UV light is best, a flashlight or cell phone could be used to excite photon molecules. Using a cell phone camera and a UV light, Nienhaus and VanOrman captured the reddish emission of an eggshell, the bright green emission of honey, the blue of tonic water and several fluorescent bands in olive oil. They also looked at turmeric and other spices.

VanOrman said that showing the scientific potential in these everyday products was a fun way to think about science.

“Being the synthesis guy, or the guy who actually makes cool, glowy things with dangerous chemicals in the lab, we obviously haven’t had the opportunity to do that lately,” he said. “We got to do that with this paper, and I think it’s even cooler that this could be used by others to make their own cool science experiment at home.”

For more “glowy” photos, follow the Nienhaus lab on Twitter at twitter.com/NienhausFSU

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