Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Time to brew

I am very busy this time of year, but the yeast starter bubbling on my kitchen counter will force me to brew tomorrow.

Yesterday, I made a yeast starter using some Wyeast 1056 (American Ale) that I had harvested from a different starter 2 months prior. I had it stored in a capped bottle in the back of my fridge. It woke up rather nicely. The bubbling is consistent. A swirl every now and then rouses the yeast and keeps everything moving. I should have a very nice stock of yeast to pitch into my wort.

I am going to brew my standard Metathesis Ale. It is a simple American Pale Ale made with an excessive amount of cascade hops. Cascade hops are currently hard to find. I have about 8 ounces in my freezer. I have had them for a while, so they need to be used.

The last time I made this beer, the product had a distinct grapefruit aftertaste to it. Since I'm a fan of grapefruit, I enjoyed this. I assume this was the result of some esters formed during fermentation. Over time, this flavor faded and became less noticeable.

Monday, April 28, 2008


Friends and others,

Do you like stuff?

Do you like stuff that is cool?

Do you like stuff that really lets you express your love of chemistry?

If you said 'yes' to any of these questions, then allow me to introduce to you:
This is bingo for chemists. Sure, there are other element bingo games out there, but none of them are called "LMNTO."

Some students and I developed this little game. Everything you need is available here. It is a great way to learn the names and symbols of all of the elements or just to pass some time with other people who appreciate chemistry.

It's simple.

1) print out the randomly generated cards
2) click on the other link to play the game.

This game is only for entertainment purposes. Please no betting. I'm kidding, go ahead and wager you paycheck away.

You may notice there is no "free space" in the middle of the card. That's because (with the same tone Tom Hanks uses when he says 'there's no crying in baseball' in A League of Their Own) there's no free space in LMNTO!!!!


Sunday, April 27, 2008

Impending announcement

OK, it's not as cool or as important as Matt's announcement, but I am going to announce something cool soon.

I will tell you this, only cool chemistry nerds need to pay attention to this! Both of you!!!!

Stay tuned...................

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Kölsch in the bag

I bottled my Kölsch tonight. I really needed to do it. It has been in the secondary for almost 3 weeks now.

The kölsch yeast I used from Wyeast needs more time to settle out, so the extra time was not wasted. I also put the carboy in my garage. With a temp range of 40-55°F, the beer clarified quite nicely. In addition to letting the yeast settle, I also added some gelatin to aid in the clarification.

I boil about 2 cups of water and allow it to cool to about 150°F. After dissolving one pack of gelatin, I dump this solution into the carboy using a sanitized funnel to disperse the liquid onto the top of the beer. After a few days, the result is a ring of yeast jello around the top of the beer.

I'm not sure if this actually helps. I've done it twice and the beer has always been very clear. So, based on my non-controlled experiment it seems to work.

Now, this leaves me in a terrible situation. Just like Big Pharma, my pipeline is empty. I have plenty in bottles, but nothing at any other stage.

Hopefully, I will be able to carve out some time to brew.

Word of the day


Tuesday, April 22, 2008

No time to brew

I am having one of the busiest semesters of my teaching career. As we approach the end of the semester, things only get busier.

The race analogy is overused and cliché, but....

Teaching is like running a race.

Back in my high school days, I was on the field and track team. I know, it's supposed to be "track and field," but my forte was in jumping events, and I have a greater love for the field events.[1] While jumping was what interested me most, I was also a pretty decent long distance runner. The only problem is that I hated[2] running long distances. I could do it, but I didn't like it. Through incremental apathy I eventually worked my way down from running the mile to the 400 meter "dash."

The 400 meters is an interesting race. It is essentially a sprint. There is no time to coast. Once around the track as fast as you can go. The first 300 meters is tolerable, but the last 100 meters is torture. There is something about rounding that corner, seeing the finish line and feeling the lactic acid[3] in your legs screaming to be oxidized back to pyruvate. It is something that only feels good when you've reached the 402 meter mark.

That's how teaching college feels to me. It starts at a sprint and does not slow down. For most of the semester, the pace is tolerable. But, the last 3 weeks are frenzied with activity and laced with lactate burn. The end is in sight, but to reach it will require some pain.

What I really mean to say is: I want to brew some beer but time and energy are lacking. Maybe I'll just have to carve out a chunk of time to brew and screw the rest.[4]

[1] I still hold my high school's high jump record. Of course, that was about 25 pounds ago.
[2] and hate
[3] actually, lactate.
[4] that is one of the weirdest sentences I have ever written "brew and screw?" What the hell is that?

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The DNA of what???

I didn't even read the article after I read the title. The title is "The DNA of Antioxidants." Since when do organic molecules have DNA? That's stupid

I suspect an editor with no scientific background came up with that gem.

Monday, April 14, 2008


I spent this last weekend in Chicago at an accreditation conference. My school is up for accreditation review during the next year. I somehow accepted the request to co-chair our self-study review. I have not regretted the decision to accept the responsibility, but I sure would love to have this time for other things.

The conference was very informative. I learned a lot of things I needed to know. I'm glad I went.

However, I sadly was unable to enjoy Chicago. I went with 3 colleagues. We spent all of our time going to conference sessions or working on our self-study (usually over a drink in the hotel bar). We had no time to explore Chi-town. This really sucked because one of my colleagues lived in Chicago for 5 years and knows everything. He would have been a great guide.

That is my only regret. I wanted to essentially explore Chicago, but never got to.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Yeast from a starter

Recently, a reader named "papa" left a comment on an old post about recovering yeast from a bottle. He asked if one could split the yeast from a starter smack pack.

The answer is yes. I have done this, sort of. Instead of taking yeast from a smack pack, I take it from the starter. I make a yeast starter and pitch about 80% of it into the beer. I pour the rest into a completely sanitized beer bottle, cap it and store it in the refrigerator until it is time to make another starter.

Some people can their mini starter solutions in mason jars. I think it is easier to put about 6 ounces of starter solution into a beer bottle.

This can survive for a few weeks (maybe months) in the fridge as long as it doesn't freeze. There are spots in my fridge that get too cold. I'm not sure if the yeast are still viable after being frozen. I've elected to not bother with those.

I've been able to stretch a smack pack to 4-5 batches.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Coverage on FinalGravity

Marcus at FinalGravity was nice enough to do a profile on me as part of a series he is doing. Go check it out and read some of the good stuff he has on his website.

Thanks for the coverage Marcus!!!

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

I'm smart

OK, maybe I shouldn't claim to be smart, but I do know I'm not dumb.

As a way of assessing how well I have been teaching and how well my students have been learning in Organic Chemistry, I am going to administer the ACS Standardized Exam for Organic Chemistry. This way, I can measure my students to their peers around the country.

What I want to know is whether my teaching is effective or not. Are my students learning?

I received the exams a week ago and as they sat on my desk I became more and more curious. I wondered what I would score if I took the exam.

Well, I took the exam. There are 70 questions and I didn't have a 2 hour block to devote to it. So, I took the exam 15-20 questions at a time when I had some free time.

Of the 70, I got 69 correct. The one I got wrong was a result of me being stupid. I should have gotten it right. I can't and won't divulge what was on the exam or what I got wrong. That would violate something, I'm sure. But, the one I got wrong was me thinking a nucleophile was going to act as a base when it was just a nucleophile...I was stupid for screwing that up.

The good news is that I am in the top 100%ile for organic chemistry students. All I can say is that I better damn well be in that bracket or I have no business teaching organic chemistry.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Moron...I mean: more on textbooks

Ask any Organic Chemistry teacher and they are sure to have an opinion on textbooks. I would guess that 98% of those asked would say that there is no perfect text out there. The 2% would include those who have written texts or work with those who have.

We teachers are all different, but I suspect what we have in common is that we tend to teach the way we learned. This may not be true all of the time, but my anecdotal evidence[1] suggests it is true more often than not.

The text I used when I was learning Organic back way back in the olden days was written by Stanley Pine. This book can't even be found on

My ideal (and evolving) approach to teaching Organic is this:
1) Review bonding, orbitals and hybridization.
2) Teach functional groups and nomenclature of almost EVERYTHING.
3) Teach physical properties of almost EVERYTHING.

The reason is that Organic is like going to a different country. If you can't speak the language, you can't communicate. So, basically the first two weeks are spent learning the language and basic "customs" of Organic Chemistry.

After learning the basic language, we can talk about mechanism. I emphasis the fact that everything in organic comes down to Coulombs law: opposites attract. If you can tell where the electrons are most likely to be, you can tell a lot about how the molecule will react.

Basically, I've adopted the philosophy of a grad school prof I once had. He said[2] "If you want to understand organic synthesis, you must fully understand physical organic chemistry first." I think he was right.

Now, to find the perfect text that presents the material how I want to teach it.....stay tuned....

[1] I regularly remind my students that "anecdotal evidence" is NOT evidence. It only suggests a trend that is worth investigating scientifically.
[2] I'm paraphrasing.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Decisions, decisions.

I need to choose a new Organic text for next year.

Any suggestions?