Featured Articles and Best Practice Blog

There is an entire science devoted to the production of ice cream?

By Kate Heller, QA/QC Chemist, Triumvirate Environmental New York

There are approximately 100 scientists world-wide who claim ice-cream to be their medium of choice. These chemists pursue not only new flavors, but also new textures. The number one goal is to eliminate the presence of freezer-burn and create a product that is revolutionary in a world where chains dominate and thirty-one flavors is the norm. While it may initially seem questionable to label this field as a science, especially a chemistry based science, it is surprising to discover just how scientifically precise your single scoop of vanilla (or double fudge sundae) can be.

Ice-cream chemists are constantly creating new and exciting ways to transform their dessert of choice from the cold concoction we all know to something currently unheard of. There have been numerous recent developments such as no-melt ice cream (presently found at ColdStone Creamery) and Hot ice cream (no not simply microwaved). The hot ice cream includes such ingredients as cream cheese, yogurt, vanilla bean, and methocel food gum SGA150 which helps the dessert keeps its gelatinous texture in increased temperatures. Methocel, short for Methylcellulose, is actually quite common in the culinary world, primarily because it does not dissolve when combined with hot water. CarboxyMethylCellulose (CMC), synthesized by the alkali-catalyzed reaction of cellulose with Chloroacetic acid, is employed in the food industry as a thickening agent whose primary function is to stabilize emulsions. This is of critical importance to ice-cream chemists because when a high concentration of CMC is present, the gel becomes thermoreversible thereby inducing a decrease in viscosity which would aid in baking by increasing gas bubble formation.

At first glance it may seem as if the familiar frozen dessert you’re ingesting is a simple treat, but the many scientists of the ice-cream niche of the food science industry are striving to eliminate the ubiquity of the flavor choices and cup vs. cone presentation. Ice cream is evolving, with the help of creative chemists and an alkali based cellulose agent. Perhaps soon the question will no longer be “one scoop or two” but “Hot or Cold.”

Aqua Regia: Overview, Chemical Inventory & More

By Matt Bedford, Chemist

Every now and then I come across a chemical that gets my attention. Normally the chemical is in a researcher's satellite accumulation area and the researcher is enquiring into the best way to get rid of the chemical waste. Recently this scenario brought me into contact with (not literally, I was wearing nitrile gloves) Aqua Regia, a mixture of concentrated nitric and hydrochloric acids. Like all good field chemists who want to know more about a chemical I utilized my number one resource...Wikipedia, and found out an astonishing array of facts about this acidic mixture.

Aqua Regia, clear when freshly mixed but quick to turn yellow, is highly acidic and is also a strong oxidizer. In the laboratory setting it can be used to clean glassware, such as NMR tubes, of organic compounds.

From a safety point of view the storage of Aqua Regia is not recommended. After mixing, the solution rapidly decomposes, liberating nitrosyl chloride, nitric oxide and chlorine. This causes a loss of potency, but if the liquid is stored in a closed container the resulting buildup of gas can cause the bottle to explode. If it is unavoidable to store Aqua Regia it should be kept in a fume hood, away from flammables and in a container that allows it to off-gas.

One of the more interesting facts about Aqua Regia is that it is capable of dissolving gold. I found this interesting, as by themselves neither nitric nor hydrochloric acid are able to do this, but together they each perform a different task to form the gold solution chloroauric acid. This property was put to good use during World War II. As Germany invaded Denmark, scientist George de Hevesy dissolved the gold Nobel Prize medals of Max von Laue and James Franck to prevent the Nazis from stealing them. The jar containing the gold / acid solution was placed on a shelf and consequently ignored by the Nazis thinking it was just another chemical. After the war the gold was reclaimed and sent to the Nobel Foundation to be re-cast and presented again to Laue and Frank.

So the next time you come across a new chemical, and have a couple of minutes to spare, dig around a little, there might just be an interesting back story to it.

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