Chemistry Matters Symposium

Chemistry Matters Symposium

Rui Ma

Why chemistry matters? Because it is the foundation of life and development. We witness thousands of chemical reactions every day, from a small cup of coffee to the components of the atmosphere. However, while a few of people can truly appreciate the importance of each molecular interaction and how it affects our lives, most of us just ignore it. The Chemistry Matters Symposium was a great opportunity for us to learn some facts about chemistry, beyond the textbooks. During the symposium, I was impressed by the information and insightfulness of each presentation, and I chose three of them as my personal top presentations.

In my opinion, the top presentation was Chocolate—the New Health Food, or Is It?, presented by Catherine U.

This presentation was primarily about the reasons why chocolate is simultaneously considered to be both beneficial and harmful. It is healthy because it contains anandamide, a chemical produced by the brain which blocks out depression. Also, chocolate contains polyphenols, which belong to a group of antioxidants that could protect cells against free radical molecules. Flavanols, a group of chemicals present in cocoa, could increase nitric oxide levels in blood and thus improve heart health. At the same time, however, chocolate can be harmful because of it contains saturated fats, which result in high caloric content. Also, the chocolate-making process, especially roasting and fermenting, can significantly  decrease the amount of antioxidants found in the product.

Catherine’s presentation was very organized. She presented the beneficial and harmful aspects separately and gave her own suggestions about how we should consume chocolate. She provided the audience with many details about the chemicals present in chocolate and how they affect the human body. By using this information, she successfully made a connection between chemistry and our lives. Catherine was also familiar with her topic and this familiarity lead to confidence. She had good eye contact and appropriate body language, so her presentation was relaxing and engaging. Overall, Catherine’s professional and well-organized information made her one of the best presenters in the symposium.

My second choice for top presentation was The Sweet Science of Candy Making, presented by Hannah H.

This presentation was about how intermolecular forces affect the textures of candies. Hannah divided her presentation into three parts: rock candy, small crystals of fudge, and candy with no crystals. The crystallization process of rock candy can be explained by Le Chatelier’s principle: as the temperature increases, the energy decreases. Since the breakup of the bond absorbs energy, the sucrose molecules dissolve in the solution and form crystals. Candy with small crystals, like fudge, requires stirring to push sucrose molecules into each other, thus forming small crystal seeds. For candy without crystals, the cooling process must be rapid so that crystals have no time to form.

Hannah’s presentation was as well-organized as Catherine’s. She divided her presentation into three smaller sections, which helped the audience gain a better understanding of each of the subtopics. Her language was at an appropriate level so even people who were not familiar with chemistry could understand her presentation; this is something that most of the presenters failed to do. Moreover, she successfully related chemistry to the candy-making industry.

My third place presentation was Natural, Braided, Bleached, Colored, Straight, and Curly Hair, presented by Tyler D.

Tyler’s presentation was focused on hair products and how they affect our hair, especially hair dyes. He divided hair dyes into three subcategories: temporary, semi-permanent, and permanent. In temporary hair dyes, the color pigments are large so they do not penetrate the hair’s cuticle layer. The semi-permanent hair dyes affect the hair shaft but do not remove the hair pigments, whereas permanent hair dyes remove the hair pigments by using hydrogen peroxide, and then introduce the new color pigment into the hair through the use of p-aminophenol.

Tyler’s presentation had many subunits, so he could only focus on a few of them. I think he did a great job balancing each topic. He did not give too many details about all of the available hair products; instead, he mainly focused on hair dyes so the audience could follow along more easily. Since his topic was not an easy one, he used visual aids (pictures) to make his information more straightforward and interesting. He had good eye contact and clear language, and although sometimes he seemed to be nervous, his overall presentation was professional and impressive.

All of these presenters not only shared with me so many interesting facts about chemistry, they  also taught me how to become a better presenter. Proper eye contact and body language can make the presentation relaxing and engaging; but the most important skill is to use an appropriate level of language: that is what defines a good presentation. These presenters successfully simplified the information they had and gave clear explanations about each of the unfamiliar concepts, instead of overwhelming the audience with difficult chemicals and reactions. Even someone who does not know chemistry could follow their presentations, so everyone can truly understand that chemistry does matter in our lives.