Who says the kids at MIT only learn about quarks, electrons, and semiconductors? Turns out that for the past 6 years, a popular club at the prestigious school has celebrated the science of chocolate! In the spirit of the upcoming holiday, Valentine’s Day, we’re taking a walk on the sweet-side of science to find some decadent facts straight from MIT’s Laboratory for Chocolate Science. Plus – check out the end for a delicious how-to video from the MIT Scientists with all you need to know for tea-infused chocolate truffles!
Chocolate has a rich history. Cultures around the world have enjoyed chocolate in its many forms for millennia. In its earlier days, the Mayans and Aztecs sipped a chocolate beverage during sacred and religious ceremonies. Later, Europeans enjoyed chocolate enhanced by refined sugar and milk as dessert and candies. There are powerful scientific properties and findings that relate to chocolate. From its processing to potential health benefits, here are five fun facts about your favorite treat:
1. Chocolate has no caffeine! Can this be true? Yes! In 1993, biochemists found that processed chocolate, broken down into its chemical elements, showed an undetectable amount of caffeine. Which explains, perhaps, why I can’t handle a single cup of coffee, but can down a LOT of chocolate.
2. Chocolate contains serotonin. We knew chocolate made us feel good, and here’s why. Serotonin, which is the most concentrated of all the neurotransmitters contained in chocolate, according to MIT, and is responsible for feelings of well-being and contentment, as well as curbing anxiety and depression.
3. Chocolate can “bloom.” You know when you open a package of chocolate that’s been sitting on the shelf for awhile and it has some white shmutz on it? This is called “bloom,” and it happens when, over time, fat (cocoa butter) molecules suspended inside the chocolate bar rise to the surface and re-crystallize. “Bloomed” chocolate is not dangerous to eat, but it will be dry and less flavorful than the original product.
4. Chocolate is a “ poly-morph.” No, this doesn’t mean it can take the form of broccoli or 12-grain bread. But it does mean that there are multiple ways – VI, to be precise (they’re given Roman numerals) – to arrange the particles of chocolate in its solid phase. The most desirable is poly-morph V (5), which is stable enough for that pleasant “crack,” but still fluid enough to have that delicious melt-in-your-mouth feeling that we all crave. See this article for more on poly-morphs.
5. Chocolate is cool(er than us). In its optimal form (poly-morph form V), chocolate’s melting point is around 35 degrees Celsius. This is just below the average temperature inside the human body. The slight difference is the scientific reason why chocolate melts in that sloooow, delectable way: it’s warm enough to melt, but not so warm as to liquefy on contact.
February is the month of love, and we see the signs of that everywhere. Heart shapes line supermarket aisles, decorate television ads and fill candy boxes throughout the month. So it’s no surprise that the American Heart Association has named February the American Heart Month.
Matters of the heart have baffled humans since the dawn of time, with sonnets and entire books devoted to the meaning of love. Over the past few decades, scientists have discovered that the incredible pumping muscle, our heart, is as complex as any literary tale. You can’t live or love without it & this month, we’re getting to the heart of the matter! Prepare to be amazed as we share a few fascinating facts about this amazing, pumping muscle — the heart!
Matters of the Heart
This Valentine’s Day, millions of people will exchange heart-shaped gifts of all kinds, from candy to cards. But did you know that the human heart does not actually look like the typical valentine shape? Our body’s pumping machine is actually shaped like a tiny cone. Take a minute to make a fist with each of your hands, now, bring them together – this is the average size of your heart. While an adult heart is the size of two clenched fists, the size of a child’s heart equals the size of one child’s clenched fist.
In the United States, children are taught to place their hands over their hearts when pledging allegiance to the flag. Most people have heard that the heart is on the left side of the chest. In reality, the heart is in the middle of the chest, tucked snugly between our two lungs.
Weighing in at 10 ounces, the blood-filled muscle called the heart has become the universal symbol of love. The Greeks believed the heart was the seat of the spirit, the Chinese associated it with the center for happiness and the Egyptians thought the emotions and intellect arose from the heart. While there are many theories on the origins of the romantic heart shape, the most widespread is that it derived from the Silphium plant found in the ancient Greek city of Cyrene. Now extinct, this medicinal plant grew to be extremely valuable in ancient civilizations providing relief from many ailments including warts, leprosy, fever, indigestion & more.
Alas, a broken heart can cause one to swoon. Whether it’s a result of ending a relationship or losing a loved one – extreme stress or crisis can literally lead to a broken heart. Such trauma can also trigger the release of stress hormones into the bloodstream that temporarily “stun” the heart. The resulting symptoms mimic those of a heart attack – chest pain and shortness of breath – but this type of achy heart can bounce back over time with some TLC and rest.
The average heart beats 72 times per minute. In under a minute, your heart can pump blood to every cell in your body. Over the course of today, your ticker will experience about 100,000 heart beats, shuffling more than 2,000 gallons of oxygen-rich blood through the body.
It takes your blood about ten seconds to get from your heart to your big toe and back. In fact, the average heart has to push blood through about 60,000 miles (96,560 kilometers) of blood vessels—that’s long enough to circle the Earth two and a half times!To give a little perspective on how incredible this is, the force behind the average heartbeat could shoot blood upwards of 30 feet.
We Got The Beat
All that pumping takes a lot of effort. The body has about 5.6 Liters of blood–and all that blood is pumped (and circulated) about 3 times per MINUTE! If you listen closely, you will hear the heart making a ‘lub’ and ‘dub’ sound. This is caused by the heart valves’ opening & closing.
Did you know that the heart even has its own electrical impulse? This means that as long as your heart is supplied with oxygen, it can continue beating even if separated from the body.
LOL: It’s Good for You
A hearty laugh – the kind that sends a stream of tears from your eyes – does more than warm the soul. Research has shown the guffaw can cause the lining of blood vessel walls called endothelium to relax, sending 20% more blood through your entire body. That’s no laughing matter…or maybe it is… Laugh through a funny movie – and your heart will thank you!
A seemingly sheepish look from Fido or that endearing brush-by from your cat can make you wonder if your pet could possibly communicate with you. But science shows that our pets can help eliminate stress which leads to better health overall, including heart health. But is there more to puppy-love than we first thought? A recent study has added our longtime equine friends, horses, to the growing list of emotionally-responsive animals. Research has found that a horse’s heart rate will actually mirror the heart rate of the human that is touching them. Scientists are excited about this discovery & hope that someday it can be used as a way to measure a persons stress hormones.
A love-torn heart can be painful enough to make you wish you could get a new heart or at least a cardio repair kit. Both of the latter options could some day be realities. Scientists are studying the red-spotted newt to help them develop cell therapies for humans with physically damaged hearts. This amphibian can turn its cells back in time, as if they were stem cells, in order to build up new heart muscle.
Protect Your Heart
Each year, organizations like the American Heart Association, the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute and the CDC team up for American Heart Month to remind us that heart disease is both prevalent and deadly in the United States. Because the heart is the most important muscle in the body, it’s important to treat your heart with care so that it can continue to do its job!
In addition to watching what you eat, physical activity each day can help prevent heart disease. Whether you park further away from the entrance to a store or implement a new workout routine, every little bit can help!
During American Heart Month, thousands of volunteers visit their friends and neighbors. The ultimate goal of American Heart Month is to raise funds for research and education and pass along potential life-saving information about heart disease and stroke. Learn more about National Heart Month & how you can get involved with these great resources:
How and why did the universe come into being? What underlying forces shaped the universe as we know it today? These are the questions that have made Professor Stephen Hawking a scientific legend. His life’s work has transformed much of yesteryear’s science fiction into science fact, and presented his findings to the general public in a simple, awe inspiring manner.
Stephen Hawking was born on the 300th anniversary of Galileo’s death. He has come to be thought of as the greatest mind in physics since Albert Einstein. Stephen Hawking’s ideas became more tangible than ever in 2012. The year was filled with astronomical discoveries that have pushed our imagination to the limits, reshaping all that we know about the Universe & how it works. From black holes to planets made of diamonds (yes, diamonds!) – this was no doubt, a groundbreaking year for not only scientists, but anyone with a love of space, astronomy and the vast, mysterious universe we live in. In celebration of Stephen Hawking’s birthday, here is our list of the most extreme and exciting cosmic finds of 2012!
“My goal is simple. It is complete understanding of the universe, why it is as it is and why it exists at all.” – Stephen Hawking
10: Largest Black Hole in History Discovered: (November 28, 2012)
Researchers were mystified by 2 black hole discoveries in 2012. The first was the record-breaking Central Black Hole – coming in at a whopping 17 billion times more massive than the sun! Scientists were in for another mind-boggling discovery as they came across an enormous reservoir of H2O floating in the middle of space. Scientists say the reservoir is literally an ocean several times larger than planet Earth – Incredible! . Read More
9: Milky Way Crammed With 100 Billion Alien Worlds? (October 26, 2012)
The search for life on other planets received a jolt when 2012 brought forth the discovery of the Milky Way galaxy being filled with billions of exoplanets! These alien worlds appear to all be orbiting other stars in the same way that Earth orbits the Sun. Might there even be an Earth 2.0? Fingers crossed. Read more
8: Ancient Galaxy: Most Distant Galaxy ever Seen! (Dec. 12, 2012)
Much like the 100-meter dash world record, the record for farthest known galaxy often changes. The newest potential record-holder was discovered by NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope and is said to have taken shape when the universe was only 380 million years old. Read More
7: The Transit of Venus 2012 (June 5, 2012)
2012 marked the last time that residents of planet Earth will see Venus pass across the sun for over 100 years. This once-in-a-lifetime experience sparked a global celebration of astronomy & celestial mechanics. Read More
6: Neil Armstrong, Apollo Legend, Has Died (Aug. 25, 2012)
This year the world lost one of the most legendary figures in the world of Astronomy when Apollo 11 commander Neil Armstrong passed away. In an eerie coincidence, Armstrong was laid to rest on the same night of the 2012 Blue Moon. Millions of people across the globe stepped out to view the lunar phenomenon in tribute to the man who achieved the impossible & inspired the next generation of space explorers. Read more
5: Super-Earth Discovered in Star’s Habitable Zone (Nov. 7, 2012)
Exoplanet hunters & scientists were awe-struck when they discovered HD40307g within the “habitable zone,” a “super-Earth” at least seven times more massive than the planet we call home. Will 2013 be the year that gives us the need for inter-galactic zip codes? Read More
4. Twinkle, Twinkle Little Planet – A World Made of Diamonds (October 11, 2012)
Move over, Hope Diamond. The most famous gems on Earth have new competition in the form of a planet made largely of diamonds! If this news wasn’t exciting enough, astronomers believe they have honed in on an orbiting companion with the density of platinum! Who knows, jewelers may be offering planetary diamond rings sooner than we think! Read More
3. Particle ‘Consistent’ With Higgs Boson Discovered (July 4, 2012)
After decades of research, physicists announced they had discovered the last remaining puzzle piece for the standard model of physics. Most commonly known as the “God Particle,” the Higgs Boson discovery could, quite possibly, solve the greatest scientific mystery of all time – the meaning of the Universe. Read more
2. Sugar Found in Space (August 29, 2012)
Astronomers made a sweet discovery, opening the door to the real possibility of extraterrestrial life on other planets. Found floating some 400 light-years away, these simple sugar particles are the building blocks of life. Read More
1. Touch Down! Mars Rover Curiosity Lands (Aug. 6, 2012)
On the morning of August 6th, the world was captivated by the landing of NASA’s robotic explorer – Curiosity. The globally televised landing transformed us into planetary explorers as it blazed through the pink skies of Mars – 7 minutes later, a new era of scientific discovery kicked off as it touched down inside one of the red planet’s many giant craters. Over the next 2 years, Curiosity will study the planet – we are excited to learn what lies ahead in this realm of endless possibilities. Read more
As 2012 rolls to a close, we can look back at an incredible 12 months of space exploration – many of which sound like they’ve been taken straight out of a Stephen Hawking lecture. Could this be one of the most profound years in space history? It might just be, but as we throw out our old calendars and replace them with ones marked “2013” we look forward to another groundbreaking year in space that might be even more historic.
Rocks are one of the many things in life that are easily taken for granted—cursing when we hit them with the garden hoe or taking advantage of them to drive in tent pegs on summer camping trips. They are so common and familiar that they are almost invisible to us as we go about our daily lives. Yet the earth itself and most things in it are made of rocks and minerals. Even living things—including we humans — have minerals within them!
We may not always pay them much attention, but rocks and minerals are far more than just a gray, nondescript background for life – rocks and minerals can be colorful and enormously varied in form. They have exciting biographies— born in fire, carried down mountains by rivers, crushed by glaciers and oceans, compressed and twisted and melted again into yet new forms!
People use rocks and minerals for an amazing variety of purposes, whether it be constructing grand buildings and awe-inspiring works of art, to creating the filaments that light up electric bulbs and the insulation in our homes. From the salt on our food to the gas in our car, we use geology in many ways. The fascinating world of rocks and minerals surrounds us each & every day.
The School of Hard Rocks:
The Earth is made of rock, from the tallest mountains to the floor of the deepest ocean. Thousands of different types of rocks and minerals have been found on Earth. Most rocks at the Earth’s surface are formed from only eight elements (oxygen, silicon, aluminum, iron, magnesium, calcium, potassium, and sodium), but these elements are combined in a number of ways to make rocks that are very different.
Rocks are continually changing. Wind and water wear them down and carry bits of rock away; the tiny particles accumulate in a lake or ocean and harden into rock again. The oldest rock that has ever been found is more than 3.9 billion years old. The Earth itself is at least 4.5 billion years old, but rocks from the beginning of Earth’s history have changed so much from their original form that they have become new kinds of rock. By studying how rocks form and change, scientists have built a solid understanding of the Earth we live on and its long history.
We can’t journey back in time or to the center of the earth, but these rocks give us important clues to what’s been happening over the past 4.6 billion years of the earth’s existence, and what’s still going on miles below our feet. The earth’s outer crust is composed of tectonic plates – pieces of crust –which move slowly but constantly over the lower layers. Where two plates collide, the edges are pushed up into mountains. If an opening is created where they collide or where they part, hot molten magma from deep below can be forced out in a volcano. Where stress builds up from the grinding of two plates against each other, earthquakes can result.
Want to see a small-scale example for yourself? Gently crack a hard-boiled egg all over and manipulate the shell without removing it. In some places it will buckle, in others it will part and expose what lies beneath. If this inspires your scientific curiosity, it’s time to get out of your kitchen! Head out to a quarry or nature preserve to look for some real rock samples. If you’re lucky, you may even find some fossils.
Sound like a glorified scavenger hunt? In a way, it is, but what you’re hunting is the answer to the ultimate question: what happened? Why are the rocks you find where they are – were they carried by a moving glacier or deposited by a river? Why have the fossils of oceanic fish been found on mountaintops? Why is there volcanic rock inMassachusetts? The rocks you find are just the tip of the iceberg.
Ready to become the next Indiana Stones?
Geologists are detectives who use rocks to figure out what forces shaped the earth and how the world will change in years to come. Rock collecting is the perfect way to learn about our planet and the way it works: the movement that placed rocks where you find them, the evolution evident in fossil records, the minerals that are the building blocks of our world. It’s a great hobby; it’s cheap, it’s easy to get started, and kids learn about chemistry, physics and biology while doing what they do best – running around outside and digging in the dirt.
There are three types of rocks: igneous (or volcanic) rocks such as obsidian and granite, created when molten magma from below the earth’s surface cools and hardens; sedimentary rocks such as limestone and sandstone, created when bits of other rocks get smushed together over time; and metamorphic rocks like marble or slate, created when igneous or sedimentary rocks are subjected to great heat or pressure, changing the mineral content.
No matter your age, rock collecting is a hobby that sparks curiosity. Rock collections are a great way to introduce geology to children. From there, they can only learn more and more about the fascinating Earth. Besides, what kid doesn’t love to dig? Geology is definitely a hobby that the entire family can enjoy, together! To get started, you’ll need a basic book with color photos of different rock species, good climbing shoes, baggies, a small hammer for prying bits loose and a notebook. Write up each find – where you found it, what you think it is – and bag separately.
Then, rock on!
Dig up some more FUN science with these rockin’ resources:
It’s Isaac Newton’s birthday. At least, it’s the anniversary of his birth – January 4, 1643, according the the Gregorian calendar.
If you’re a purist, you might have already marked the anniversary of his birth, on December 25th. As according to the Julian calendar, in use in England, at the time of his birth, the scientific great was born on Christmas Day, 1642.
We’ve all heard the story. A young Isaac Newton is sitting beneath an apple tree contemplating the mysterious universe. Suddenly – boink! – an apple hits him on the head. “Aha!” he shouts, or perhaps, “Eureka!” In a flash, he experiences a stroke of brilliant insight & discovers the laws of gravity. Is the apple-falling business exactly what happened, or is it simply a mythical tale embellished by generations of story tellers over the course of time? In celebration of Sir Isaac Newton’s birthday, we decided to dig up one of our favorite e-news articles from the High Touch High Tech E-News Archives: “Newton’s Apple…The Real Story!” – We get to the core of the matter & investigate the truth behind the most famous apple in science!
In addition to laying out the Laws of Motion, he also did innovative work on the properties of light, as can be seen in this Lego re-enactment. And of course the logo for Apple, Inc. would only have half the symbolism it does if it weren’t for him.