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Chemistry Now

The National Science Foundation (NSF) joined forces with NBC Learn and the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA), in 2011, to celebrate the International Year of Chemistry by creating "Chemistry Now"--a weekly, online video series that uncovered and explained the science of common, physical objects in our world and the changes they undergo every day. The series also looked at the lives and work of scientists on the frontiers of the 21st century.

Episode 1. Chance Discoveries: Post-it Notes

This video, part of a series on "Chance Discoveries" in chemistry, tells the story of 3M chemist Spencer Silver who, in a lab experiment, created a weak adhesive with no apparent practical use -- until a 3M colleague, Arthur Fry, used it to develop the first Post-it Notes.

 View video (3:01 min.)

Episode 2. The Chemistry of Salt (NaCl)

This video explains and illustrates the molecular structure of sodium chloride (NaCl) crystals; the structure and symmetry of crystal lattices; and why one crystalline solid, salt, melts another, ice.

 View video (6:23 min.)

Episode 3. The Chemistry of Ice

This video explains how the molecular structure of H2O changes as it reaches its freezing point, and turns from a liquid to a less dense, solid, crystal lattice.

 View video (5:22 min.)

Episode 4. Chance Discoveries: Cellophane

This video, part of a series on "Chance Discoveries" in chemistry, traces the development of cellophane from liquid viscous cellulose, applied to fabric to protect it from stains, to a thin clear film first used as a luxury gift wrap and, after it was made moisture-proof, as a fundamental form of protective yet transparent food packaging.

 View video (4:11 min.)

Episode 5. The Chemistry of CO2: Carbon Dioxide

This video explains and illustrates the molecular structure of CO2; how the bonding of the carbon and oxygen molecules illustrates the Octet Rule, or Rule of 8; carbon dioxide and carbonation; the role of CO2 in the Earth's atmosphere; and how changing levels of CO2 can affect the temperature on the Earth's surface, including the oceans.

 View video (4:58 min.)

Episode 6. Chance Discoveries: Kevlar

Part of a series on "Chance Discoveries" in chemistry, this video tells the story of lab work done in 1965 by DuPont chemist Stephanie Kwolek that unexpectedly produced Kevlar, a lightweight fiber five times stronger than steel. Kevlar fibers can be spun into anti-ballistic, shrapnel-resistant material for protective body armor worn by police forces, military troops and those in combat zones.

 View video (4:07 min.)

Episode 7. Chemistry of Fear and Fright

Are you arachnophobic? Acrophobic? Ophidiophobic? This video explains how two hormones, adrenaline and cortisol, work to trigger a cascade of "fight or flight" fear responses when you're confronted by a spider, a great height or a snake.

 View video (4:58 min.)

Episode 8. Chance Discoveries: Polyethylene

This video, part of a series on "Chance Discoveries" in chemistry, tells how three different chemists in two countries over more than 30 years happened to make a white, waxy substance during lab experiments that, once recognized as potentially useful and developed, became polyethylene -- the most common plastic in the world.

 View video (4:38 min.)

Episode 9. Chemistry of Changing Leaves

Why do tree leaves turn gold, orange and scarlet in the fall? This video explains the role of pigment molecules, including chlorophyll, carotenoids and anthocyanin, in the changing leaves of autumn.

 View video (4:22 min.)

Episode 10. Diamonds, Pencils and Buckyballs: A Look at Buckminsterfullerene

This video focuses on the structure and properties of buckminsterfullerene molecules--carbon allotropes along with diamonds and graphite--that are usually referred to as buckyballs. They have a hollow spherical shape, like the geodesic spheres designed by American inventor and architect R. Buckminster Fuller.

 View video (5:59 min.)

Episode 11. Chance Discoveries: Graphene

This video, part of a series on "Chance Discoveries" in chemistry, tells the story of two scientists who used their curiosity--and Scotch tape--to isolate single-layer sheets of graphite one atom thick: graphene, one of the thinnest, strongest materials known. The two won the 2010 Nobel Prize in Physics for their discovery.

 View video (4:35 min.)

Episode 12. Chance Discoveries: Safety Glass

This video, part of a series on "Chance Discoveries" in chemistry, tells of the lab accident in 1903 that led to the development of the first safety glass -- just as the first automobiles were being produced. Safety glass revolutionized the manufacturing of car windshields, preventing countless injuries and fatalities in automobile accidents.

 View video (3:52 min.)

Episode 13. 21st Century Scientist: "Green" NC State Chemist Looks for Cleaner, Safer Fuel Process

In this 21st Century Chemist profile, North Carolina State University chemist Dr. Elon Ison explains his research on catalysts that could be used to make alternative fuels--for example, efficiently converting methane gas into methanol as an alternative to gasoline.

 View video (4:40 min.)

Episode 14. 21st Century Scientist: Origami Chemistry: NYU Chemist Folds Molecules

21st Century chemist Kent Kirshenbaum of New York University engineers and folds synthetic peptoids in hopes of creating "hunter-killer" molecules that can target and destroy deadly bacteria like staph (MRSA).

 View video (5:32 min.)

Episode 15. 21st Century Scientist: Facundo Fernandez

In this 21st Century Chemist profile, Georgia Tech University chemist Facundo Fernandez explains his efforts to detect worthless or harmful counterfeit medications--eventually using a hand-held device, he hopes. Worldwide, an estimated 700,000 people a year die from counterfeit malaria and TB drugs.

 View video (4:23 min.)

Episode 16. 21st Century Scientist: Seeing Tiny Cancer "Markers" Sooner: Purdue Chemist Works on 'Nano' Scale

In this 21st Century Chemist profile, Purdue University analytical chemist Mary Wirth works with "nanomaterials" to improve the clarity and accuracy of tests for tiny "biomarker" proteins that indicate disease--specifically, levels of PSAs, or Prostate Specific Antigens, that signal prostate cancer.

 View video (6:31 min.)

Episode 17. It's a Wash: The Chemistry of Soap

This video explains how soaps and detergents--surfactants--work to break up grease and dirt on soiled surfaces, by breaking water's surface tension and suspending dirt and oil particles in water so everything can be wiped away.

 View video (5:47 min.)

Episode 18. How to Wash an Ocean: Testing Chemical Dispersants on Oil Spill Cleanup

Responding to the months-long oil spill from a BP well in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, a team of polymer chemists in Mississippi set to inventing a non-toxic chemical dispersant that could break up oily deposits without harming marine or wetlands wildlife.

 View video (5:54 min.)

Episode 19. Chemistry of Water: H20

It might just be the most universally known fact in chemistry: the chemical formula for water--H2O. This video "profiles" the H2O molecule--its structure, polarity, cohesive and adhesive properties, and water's properties as a "universal" solvent.

 View video (4:46 min.)

Episode 20. Chemistry of Chocolate

The chemical reactions that make chocolate: heat, temperature, melting point. This video uses the process of chocolate making to explain chemical reactions related to heat and temperature, including melting point and the formation of crystalline structures.

 View video (5:02 min.)

Episode 21. Cheeseburger Chemistry: The Bun

The chemistry of bread: gas and sugar reactions. This video, one in a six-part "Cheeseburger Chemistry" series, uses bread making to illustrate and explain how yeast works to convert starches and sugars in flour to CO2 gas (fermentation); effects of heat on gas; and gluten protein structures.

 View video (4:53 min.)

Episode 22. Cheeseburger Chemistry: Cooking Burgers

The chemistry in cooking meat: protein reactions, Maillard reaction. This video, one in a six-part "Cheeseburger Chemistry" series, uses the cooking of hamburgers to explain the structure of myoglobin, its role in making red meat red, the effects of heat on myoglobin's structure and meat's color; and the Maillard--or browning--reaction.

 View video (6:00 min.)

Episode 23. Cheeseburger Chemistry: Cheese

How chemistry transforms liquid milk into solid cheese: coagulation. This episode uses cheese-making to explain protein denaturing, coagulation and the difference between chemical and physical change.

 View video (5:32 min.)

Episode 24. Cheeseburger Chemistry: Tomatoes

How chemistry ripens and reddens tomatoes: ethylene, lycopene, gases, diffusion. This video, one in a six-part "Cheeseburger Chemistry" series, examines the role of the plant hormone ethylene, or C2H4, in ripening tomatoes (and other fruits); lycopene's connection to tomatoes' red color; and how ethylene gas diffuses.

 View video (5:46 min.)

Episode 25. Cheeseburger Chemistry: Pickles

The chemistry of preservatives: fermentation, acid and pH. This video, one in a six-part "Cheeseburger Chemistry" series, examines the role of salty brine, fermentation, lactic acid and pH in the process of pickling food to preserve it.

 View video (6:12 min.)

Episode 26. Cheeseburger Chemistry: Condiments

The chemistry of ketchup, mustard and mayo: suspensions, emulsions. This video, one in a six-part "Cheeseburger Chemistry" series, uses ketchup, mustard and mayonnaise to explain two different types of mixtures: suspensions and colloidal dispersions (emulsions).

 View video (8:02 min.)

Episode 27. Chemical Bonds: Single, Double, Bond Placement

Single bonds, double bonds, bond placement. Molecules profiled: eugenol, isoeugenol. This video focuses on chemical bonds by profiling eugenol and isoeugenol, two molecules with identical molecular structures except for the placement of one double bond--a difference that makes eugenol responsible for the flavor and aroma of cloves, and isoeugenol responsible for the taste and smell of nutmeg.

 View video (4:07 min.)

Episode 28. Chiral Molecules: Molecule Structure, Properties

The links between molecule structure and physical properties. This video "profiles" a chiral or mirror-image molecule, carvone, and explains how the "handedness" of a molecule can change its properties--resulting, in the example of carvone, in the distinctly different flavors and aromas we perceive as spearmint, caraway and dill.

 View video (4:14 min.)

Episode 29. Chemistry of Green: Chlorophyll

The chemistry of photosynthesis, pigments, visible light spectrum. This video explains the basic role of the pigment molecule chlorophyll in photosynthesis, and explains why plants are--or appear to be--green: because chlorophyll molecules absorb visible light in all color wavelengths except green, which is reflected back, into our eyes.

 View video (5:35 min.)

Episode 30. Chemistry of Color: Flowers

This video explains the basic role of pigment molecules--carotenoids and anthocyanins--in producing what humans see as color in flowers, as the pigment molecules absorb visible light of various color wavelengths.

 View video (5:57 min.)

Episode 31. Chemistry of Smell

Smell that? Our sense of smell is a complex set of chemical reactions. In this 21st Century Chemist profile, California Institute of Technology chemist Nate Lewis explains his work developing an artificial, electronic "nose" that can read odor patterns to detect and distinguish odors.

 View video (6:15 min.)

Episode 32. Chemistry of Nylon: Polymers, Polyamides

This video explains the history of nylon, the first synthetic fiber developed for mass production, and explains polymers, polymerization, amide links and polyamides. It includes a demonstration of the Nylon Rope Trick: making nylon fiber in a lab beaker. (Beta-sheet protein courtesy Markus Buehler, MIT)

 View video (6:48 min.)

Episode 33. Chance Discoveries: Synthetic Dye

This video, part of a series on "Chance Discoveries" in chemistry, tells the story of the discovery of the first synthetic dye, mauvine (or mauve) in 1856, by a teenaged British chemist trying to make a synthetic quinine to treat malaria in the expanding British colonies.

 View video (4:05 min.)

Episode 34. Chemistry of Household Cleaners: Ammonia

The dirt on ammonia as a cleaning agent. This video explains how ammonia works with water to dissolve fatty acids, like stearic acid. It includes an animation illustrating deprotonation and explaining the Brøønsted-Lowry definition of acids and bases.

 View video (6:15 min.)

Episode 35. 21st Century Scientist: Using Venom From Deadly Snails to Kill Pain

In this 21st Century Chemist profile, City University of New York chemist Mandë Holford explains her research on the toxins produced by venomous sea snails, and her work to synthesize these long-peptide toxins for eventual use in treating chronic pain in humans.

 View video (4:41 min.)

Episode 36. Chance Discoveries: Artificial Sweeteners

This video, part of a series on "Chance Discoveries" in chemistry, tells the story of three artificial sweeteners--saccharin, cyclamate and aspartame--all discovered by lab researchers who failed to completely wash their hands.

 View video (5:09 min.)