At the ACS national meeting in Boston, Newscripts got a lesson in food safety, popcorn, ballpark hot dogs, and the art of beer-making before the Aug. 23 Red Sox-Mariners baseball game at Fenway Park. “THE CHEMISTRY OF STADIUM FOOD” tutorial hosted by the ACS Office of Public Affairs featured food chemist Sara J. Risch of consulting firm Science by Design and cookbook author Shirley O. Corriher.
First up to bat, Risch discussed the chemistry and physics of popcorn—a topic, she secretly admitted, that keeps her fascinated. Dense starch inside the sealed kernels explodes when the moisture reaches a critical temperature, she explained, leading to mushroom-shaped or butterfly-shaped puffs, depending primarily on the variety of popcorn. The mushroom type is best for coating with caramel, as in the ballpark favorite Cracker Jack. Butterfly popcorn has more volume and is preferred by vendors for filling containers.
Batting second, Corriher gave an overview of hot dogs: “There’s an incredible amount of chemistry in a hot dog,” she enthused. All-beef franks, such as the ones served at Fenway, start out as chunks of beef that are finely ground with water and a pinch of sugar, salt, and spices, she noted. Potassium lactate, sodium diacetate, sodium phosphate, sodium nitrite, and ascorbic acid are also added as brining agents.
Brining helps control acidity, ward off microbes, and keep the dogs moist and plump. It works by denaturing the protein myosin in the muscle fibers, which Corriher demonstrated by waving her arms above her head to show how a protein unravels. The floppy protein, water, and fat in the ground meat combine to form an emulsion, which is injected into a casing, cooked, and then smoked to add flavor. As the last step, the casing is removed.
After being sated with knowledge, a Fenway Frank, and a beer, the entourage taking in the tutorial took in the game. The Red Sox won 6–3.
Technical programs at ACS national meetings are chock-full of sessions with titles that are typically informative but often bland and uninviting. But that could be changing.
In Boston, the Division of Computers in Chemistry reached a creative zenith with session titles such as “Novel Is So Passé, Just Say New Methods” and “Colloids: Gels, Sols & Emulsions. You Know … Goo.”
The BARDIC TITLES are the handiwork of computational biochemist Emilio X. Esposito of the consulting firm exeResearch, in East Lansing, Mich. As a meeting organizer, Esposito has started spicing up the division’s program with pop culture references and wordplay. No other symposium titles at the Boston meeting came close to his zingers.
For example, “Insane in the Membrane” was a session on the modeling of membrane behavior. It was a nod to the popular 1990s rap song of the same title by the group Cypress Hill, Esposito explained, in which said membrane refers to the brain.
Another session was titled: “We Were Promised Jet Packs. They Found Out About These on the Way.” The talks in this symposium were on methodology—where computational science on a particular topic was once upon a time, where people thought it was going, and what actually happened. Esposito likened the theme to the old cartoon show “The Jetsons,” in which George Jetson lives in a world of jet packs, flying cars, robot maids, and sundry automated gizmos.
“The future always promises us something, perhaps more than can be delivered,” Esposito told Newscripts. “But along the way we discover so much more.”