If you have an ACS member number, please enter it here so we can link this account to your membership. (optional)

ACS values your privacy. By submitting your information, you are gaining access to C&EN and subscribing to our weekly newsletter. We use the information you provide to make your reading experience better, and we will never sell your data to third party members.


Food Science


A new nighttime nibble, and a robot baby helps decipher dust risks

by Andrea Widener
March 26, 2021 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 99, Issue 11


Nighttime snacking science

A photo of a carton of Nightfood ice cream in the Pickles for Two flavor.
Credit: Courtesy of Nightfood
Sweet dreams: Nightfood is designed to make nighttime snacking less damaging to your health.

When it’s the middle of the night, people who can’t sleep often head straight to their kitchens. And in many cases, they turn to high-fat, high-calorie foods, like ice cream. Insomniacs in the Newscripts gang recently noticed Nightfood, which bills itself as “sleep-friendly ice cream,” on supermarket shelves. Michael Grandner, a sleep researcher at the University of Arizona College of Medicine–Tucson, worked with the Nightfood company to help develop its ice cream, which has less fat, sugar, and calories and more fiber than your typical nocturnal nibble.

“When people are sleep deprived, they start getting hungry,” Grandner explains. It’s unclear what causes these common nighttime cravings, he tells Newscripts. It could be your body’s response to expending energy when you should be still. Or maybe it’s circadian rhythms, which push you to eat a meal every few hours when you’re awake.

The ice cream includes a “Nightfood mineral blend”—calcium citrate, magnesium citrate, and zinc citrate—as well as glycine. Data on nutrition and sleep are sparse, Grandner says, but there is some correlation between those compounds and improved sleep. But, he cautions, “this isn’t going to fix all of your sleep problems and make you sleep perfectly.” The Nightfood company found that pregnant people, who routinely have problems sleeping, have been particularly drawn to the product. The company has started marketing it to them and even has a flavor called Pickles for Two.

So should you reach for Nightfood if your stomach growls during a sleepless night? It all depends on your larger eating patterns and lifestyle, says Monica Theis, a senior lecturer in food science at the University of Wisconsin–Madison and a registered dietitian. Some people can incorporate ice cream into a healthy eating pattern, while others might want to look toward other foods to meet their dietary needs.

Nightfood does meet US federal criteria on its health claims, such as less sugar, less fat, and fewer calories than regular ice cream, but Theis tells Newscripts it all comes down to portion size and what a person needs for a healthy diet. For example, she would never recommend eating a pint or more of ice cream in one sitting. “I wouldn’t consider that a good public health message,” she says.

While the occasional ice cream indulgence is fine, there is probably a healthier late-night nosh.


Robot baby stirs up dust

A photo of a baby-shaped robot covered in alumnium foil crawling on a rug.
Credit: Brandon Boor/Environ. Sci. Technol.
Dust devil: This robot baby stirred up dust to help scientists determine infant exposure.

An aluminum foil–covered robot baby is helping scientists understand how many dust particles babies might breathe in while crawling (Environ. Sci. Technol. 2021, DOI: 10.1021/acs.est.0c06157).

Purdue University’s Brandon Boor does research on indoor dust exposure and the contaminants that dust might contain. His team has looked at dust exposure for adults, and he was interested in exposure for babies, who are much closer to dust sources on the floor. “Dust has been shown to impact early childhood health,” he tells Newscripts.

As you can imagine, it’s not easy to do experiments with babies. So Boor’s team designed the robot baby, which mimics a type of crawling in which a baby drags itself forward with its arms.

The experiment confirmed that babies stir up particles when crawling over rugs, and they are in a zone to breathe in some of the larger particles. In some cases, vacuuming eliminated the dust, but sometimes it simply loosened particles, creating more dust.

“There are a lot of complex things that are occurring within our home,” Boor says. “We need to better understand what’s going on because a lot of our exposures are happening inside.”

Please send comments and suggestions to


This article has been sent to the following recipient:

Chemistry matters. Join us to get the news you need.