Limescale and Fancy Cheese: How It All Relates

The first article I am going to take a look at is “The Chemistry of Camembert.”  Camembert is a type of surface-ripened cheese.  Unlike many other cheeses that ripen from the inside out, camembert ripens from the outside in, forming a layer of mold on the outside.  This surface-ripened process is specific to soft cheeses like brie, cambozola, and man goat cheeses.  In order to give camembert its unique taste and texture, it is sprayed with the mold, Penicillium camemberti and Geotrichum candidum, and left to sit for about 3 weeks. These bacteria break down the lactic acid from the cow’s milk into water and CO2.  This reduces the acidity of the cheese and draws more lactic acid to the surface, where it is again consumed by the bacteria.  The pH levels rise from about 4.7 to about 7.0 during this process.  The rise in pH also causes calcium phosphate to precipitate out of the cheese at the surface.  This causes the cheese to become very soft.

The second article I will cover is “The Chemistry of Limescale.”  To start off, water hardness is the presence of large amounts of calcium and magnesium ions in water either in the form of bicarbonates or sulfates. If bicarbonates are present, the problem can be fixed by boiling the water.  If sulfates are present =, there needs to be a more complicated solution.  Much like the calcium phosphate precipitating due to a lower solubility in high pH, heating the water causes the bicarbonates to become more soluble and therefore decomposing the limescale.  However, this does not work with sulfates, because they do not dissolve as well when heated.  There are several methods to treat this type of hard water.  The first is using ion exchange resin.  This replaces the calcium and magnesium ions with harmless sodium ions.  This is used in appliances like dishwashers.  The second method is the use of acids, sometimes strong acids, to break up the limescale.  For example, HCl is used in toilets to break up limescale.  You may also use citric acid in kitchen appliances.

Both of these articles relate to the solutions, but more specifically the changing of what is in a solution via chemical reaction.  You can change the contents of a solution by adding substances that react with the ions present.  This results in a precipitation or pH change.  The lactic acid in camembert cheese is consumed by the bacteria causing the pH levels to rise, which in turn causes the precipitation of the calcium phosphate.   This gives the cheese its soft texture.  Limescale is removed by adding acids, which lower the pH levels and break up the hard compound.


2016 Chemistry Matters Symposium, London

The Chemistry Matters Symposium was quite lovely indeed, I mean, for my parents.  I really wish that I might be able to make my own decisions, being a British sixteen-year-old!  At least we are spending the weekend in London so I can enjoy the city a little. Anyway, my parents dragged my along to this symposium – and by the way, what on Earth is a “symposium” anyway, really.  At first, I didn’t want to be there, but when it came time to leave I was kind of disappointed that there wasn’t more. There were a few presentation that caught my limited attention: the presentations on chocolate, recycling of tires, and homemade rock  candy.

First came the Chocolate presentation about chocolate.  Mates, I kid you not, this is the reason why I started listening to the presentations.  First off, I was interested because she was talking about CHOCOLATE mate!! But, even more importantly, Mother promised to spend the weekend in London if I stayed awake for the rest of the presentations (which I did do, no problem). The presentation on chocolate was very informative: it taught me about how chocolate could be “healthy” if it was processed less.  One thing that was not so brilliant was that she dragged on about the antioxidants in chocolate. I know that thorough explanation is good and all, but I’m no dummy.  A brief summary of antioxidants would have been sufficient.

Another presentation I enjoyed was the one about the recycling of tires.  This presentation caught my attention simply because I now have my license to drive (even though it is terrible to drive in England because it is raining all the time).  In this presentation, he focuses on the negative aspects of not recycling, such as slow decomposition and hot fires.  Since tires are made of tough rubber, they do not break down easily.  Also, when lit on fire, they can burn extremely hot, causing them to melt.  This melting causes oil to build up inside the tire, causing an even more intense flame.  One area where he could improve is that he could focus on how tries are recycled.  However, the presentation overall was very good.

A third presentation I really quite enjoyed was the homemade rock candy.  I like how she took chemistry and turned it into a DIY type opportunity instead of your average presentation. She was very knowledgeable about how the whole process making rock candy.  I was very impressed with her confidence in her knowledge too.  She not only knew her stuff, but she was confident in her knowledge.  This was by far, the best presentation of the night (well of the ones I was awake for – please don’t tell Mother, she’ll kill me twice over).

Well after a long evening at the symposium, I decided it wasn’t as rubbish as I thought it would be.  It actually turned out well good! I enjoyed most of the presentations I was awake for, however I did not enjoy the presentation of the engineer’s layout of the Tube.  I have no interest in that at all, especially because Mother never lets me come to London, which I remind her of constantly.  I love the feel of the city! Anyway, I am just rambling. The symposium was very enjoyable and educational at the same time – Definitely a pleasant surprise!

-Nigel Henry

Not So Chemical-Free

“Chemical-free” products have become a huge topic of discussion among producers and consumers.  The label yells “hey look at me! I’m not harmful (like those other guys over their).”  Such labels come with expensive versions of makeup, shampoo, or other beauty products.  Since, a large majority of beauty products use chemicals, companies have sought a chemical free solution that will not negatively affect customers.  One company, for example, is Myra-Bio, which claims to be a “chemical-free” hair dye company. But, this is “chemical-free” label is very over-hyped.  Your “chemical-free” products are not chemical-free, other products are not “bad” for you, and misleading advertisement is to blame.

First, believe it or not, “chemical-free” products have chemicals in them.  Myra-Bio was kind enough to provide a list sample ingredients that were used in their hair dyes.  This list of ingredients include plants and herbs that are well known for their healing abilities such as, Coffee Arabica, Henna, and Eclipta Alba.  But, one must think “how do these plants help the hair become healthier?”  And one could say to oneself “well self, the things that make up the cells of the plant soak into the hair and scalp and make them work better.” And to this I say, those things are called chemicals.  The things that make up a cell include, cytoplasm, proteins, and organelles made up of proteins and other things.  All these things are all chemicals.  Chemicals are not all that bad, sometimes.

Second, not every chemical out there is bad.  Chemicals like Vitamin C are very helpful even if it produced in a lab.  On the other hand, even some naturally occurring chemicals can be very harmful, like the poison in poison ivy.  On the list of ingredients, there are a couple plants that do not check out as completely harmless.  Wild Indigo is on the list of sample ingredients and does not turn out to be the nicest of plants.  According to WebMD, Wild Indigo should never be consumed or applied to the skin in large quantities or over an extended period of time.  Taking large doses can cause vomiting, diarrhea, or intestinal problems.  Second up to bat is Acacia Catechu.  This herb is commonly used to treat a wide variety of common ailment including hemorrhoids, diarrhea, swelling of the throat, and skin diseases, but it does not come without a price.  Taking Catechu can lead to a drop in blood pressure, or hypotension – according to WebMD.  As you can see, not all naturally occurring chemicals are helpful.

I think it is safe to come to the conclusion that “chemical-free” products are not actually chemical free.  But, giving products such a label makes them stand out as safe products. So, I have developed my own label that can replace the very incorrect “chemical-free” label.  I believe Myra-Bio products should be labeled as “we-still-have-chemicals-but-not-any-that-will-purposefully-dry-or-irritate-your-skin-or-damage-your-hair Hair Dyes.”  I know, it is a bit long, so I am working on shortening it, but that is probably the most accurate label.  Maybe a better label would be “made from natural ingredients.”  Yeah, I think that rolls off the tongue a bit better.  It is still not as catchy as “chemical-free.”