Thursday, August 20, 2009

Fermentation: Break it DOWN

I love beer! I love beer so much I am on a committee for beer. But how many of you out there know about the chemistry behind making beer? I mean the itty-bitty, teeny-weenie changes that take place on a molecular level. To know about fermentation, you need to know something about oxidation and reduction. To know about oxidation and reduction, you have to know how electrons move between reducers and oxidizers. It’s like a Russian Doll, you see. One thing fits inside a smaller one, then a smaller one, then smaller, until you get down to the teeeeeeny tiny world of the electron. Really, fermentation (thus beer brewing) is about how electrons move around.

Think of oxidation/reduction this way: You’re at a cocktail party. You’re having a good time, drinkin’ drinks, chatty chatty when THAT couple walks in. You all know the couple I’m talking about. The couple who live to shuffle their emotional baggage between one other. Collective sigh. Don’t make eye contact. Uh oh. Here they come to talk to you. For the purposes of this analogy, one partner will play Iron (Fe), the other will be Copper (Cu), and their emotional baggage is Sulfate (SO4). Sulfate has a molecular charge of negative 2, meaning it has two extra electrons.

Copper: Blah, blah, blah, oh yeah? Well at least your oxidizer helps you in the kitchen. Mine thinks I’m a maid.

Iron: Ha! HA! Let me ask you, Copper, who has been paying your car insurance for the last 6 months?

Copper: I’ve been looking on Craigslist to find a job for a YEAR! Cut me some slack.

Iron: *scoff* And you’ve been on 2 interviews in the last 3 months. What do you do all day when I’m at work?

Copper: I do lots of things!

Iron: Like what? You wake up at 11.

Copper: Seriously, fuck you. I didn’t even want to come to this party. These are all your friends.

Iron: You know what? We’re not doing this here. Not now…

(Both exit in sulky huff)

Aaaand scene. What a bummer, these two are. What you’ve just been privy to is the oxidation/reduction reaction which is written symbolically as:

Fe + CuSO4 --> FeSO4 + Cu

Copper starts off connected to Sulfate, the negative baggage. Iron actually WANTS that baggage because Iron (and Iron will never admit this if you ask it) actually derives satisfaction from taking Copper’s sulfate. The exchange reduces Copper and oxidizes Iron.

Copper is now in a reduced state because it has a less positive charge. This is only one example of oxidation and reduction. These types of reactions happen ALL the time in nature. This is what takes place in the process of fermentation to make beer. Not with Iron and Copper because then you would be poisoned and die, but you get the gist. Little yeast oxidize organic material and in turn give off carbon dioxide and alcohol to get you buzzed. Now if you’ll excuse me, I must get back to being chemically awesome! Toodle-ooo.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Guess who has two thumbs and a new job?


Thank goodness. I've been searching high and low for the past 3 months. Job hunting is a drag. I'm happy it's over.

To read a fun piece I wrote for a friend of mine, go to:

Somebody DID give me a job! Yay new job!!

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Gypsummmm, ummmm, ummmmm, uhhhh.....

My apartment is now messy. Parts of it are messy anyways. I’ve moved out of my office at USC and now have several stacks of books and folders and binders and boxes filling my rumpus room. Yes, I have a rumpus room. It is for rumpusing purposes – instrument playing, record listening, personal dance parties, canoodling, and my very loud paper shredder used to annoy my neighbors. Don’t you wish you had a rumpus room too?

On top of one of the piles in my rumpus room is a small book labeled “Brines and Evaporites” by Peter Sonnenfeld and P.P. Perthuisot. I thought that today we might talk about one popular Evaporite: Gypsum. Would you guess that Gypsum is?

a.) A mineral
b.) A rock
c.) A Gypsy plagued by vocalized pauses
d.) A valuable construction material
e.) a, b, and d.
If you answered e., pat yourself on the back! Let’s learn more about this versatile substance!

Gypsum’s chemical makeup is calcium + sulfate. If you want to get technical about it (and I know you do), it’s really calcium sulfate dihydrate meaning that a few water molecules are thrown into the mix (CaSO4 2H20*). Gypsum is very, very soft with a hardness of 2 on the Moh’s scale, which the scale for geologists who poke and scratch minerals as part of their jobs. You can scratch Gypsum and leave a mark with your fingernail. Gypsum can grow in pretty patches of crystals. See:

What's confusing is that sometimes gypsum is a mineral and sometimes gypsum it is a rock. From my knowledge gypsum the mineral has grown crystals as seen above, and gypsum the rock is a sedimentary rock that precipitated out of a solution during evaportation. Don't forget, there’s also alabaster to continue confusing the picture. Alabaster is another name for gypsum which is often used to create vases, bowls, and priceless naked sculptures!

Calcium (Ca) and sulfate (SO4*) are elements present in seawater and tend to get together when mineral laden bodies of water evaporate. These two really like each other since calcium has a +2 charge, and sulfate has a -2 charge. Evaporation of seawater or some mineral-laden body of water can leave behind Evaporites (evaporate, Evaporite, easy to remember, yes?). Halite, also known as rock salt, is an evaporite too. If and when a large body of water evaporates, vast deposits of gypsum can be left behind. Just look at the White Sands National Monument in New Mexico, USA.

Wow wee. Look at all that gypsum. All that scorching-hot, throat-parching, stinging-the-eyes-when-the-wind-picks-up gypsum. Glorious.

Gypsum is really quite fantastic. I didn’t even get to Plaster of Paris or drywall, but that means we’ll have something to talk about next time. See you then!!


* I can’t figure out how to have blogger give me subscript numbers, so just pretend the 4 in sulfate and the 2 in water are little.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Thesis is to job as Map is to _________.

Is all I want to say to you

They're meaningless and all that's true

Oh hello! Holy Sweet Potatoes, guess what? I finished my Masters Thesis! YAY! I've been waiting for it to show up on USC's digital archive site because I'm so super proud of it I want to share it with you. It's not there yet. Ho, boy. It's a doozy.I done wrote a purdy thesis. Iron-Clad, serious science stuff from a professional. Here's my favorite figure from it - it's a map I made of my research area:

Doesn't it look great? Can I tell you about how much of an enormous pain it was to make? First, I scanned an old Ocean Drilling Project map into Photoshop (which I barely knew at the time. Now me and Photoshop are like that [fingers crossed]). Then I digitally erased a whole bunch of stuff on that scanned map and overlayed a *hand-drawn* map I made myself with the dark contour lines you see. That's right, hand-drawn oldschool style contour map. Finally, I copied and pasted the stations icons out of powerpoint (bless that powerpoint) and labeled everything and voila! My beautiful map is just how I wanted it.

I'm sure there are zillions of easier ways to do this *cough*hire-someone-else*cough*, but I made it from start to finish and that's pretty darn satisfying to me. Job. Well. Done!

And on the subject of hiring someone else, now I need a job. What happened to the Phd, you ask? I'm not sure if I want a PhD right now. The research at that level just gets so specific and I'm concerned about painting myself in a corner as far as a career goes. And academia...well, I'm just not sold on the idea that it will make me happy down the road. Call it wishy-washy or quitter or whatever. I call it my decision and I'm sticking to it. Here's to new beginnings!

Thursday, April 24, 2008


Hi friends!! Want to know more about aquifers!? Good, I thought so.
An aquifer is typically some layer of permeable rock or unconsolidated material like gravel or sand wherein water that trickles down from the earth’s surface tends to hang out for a while. We like aquifers because by tapping into an aquifer via a well we get fresh water to drink, irrigate crops, cook, clean, fill water balloons, etc.

Aquifers can come in a couple of different flavors, two of which are confined and unconfined. A confined aquifer typically has a layer of finer grained sediments on top if it called an aquitard. This aquitard layer serves as almost a cap on the aquifer below it. Water can still permeate an aquitard, but it does so very…very…slowly. If water isn’t let through at all, the layer is called an aquiclude. Aquitards can be layers of clay or silt or whatever fine grained sediment you fancy.

Unconfined aquifers are just like what they sound: an aquifer that isn’t confined by an aquitard. These aquifers seem so footloose and fancy free. No, but they do contain water that is still a viable source for wells and such. Unconfined aquifers can sometimes be found living above confined aquifers, but below the water table. Think of unconfined aquifers as the confined aquifer’s noisy upstairs neighbor who’s always tromping around in high heels at all hours of the night. I have one of those neighbors. Man, I hate those jerks.
There's your quick and dirty look at aquifers. Ta-Da!

image ref:

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Heeeyyyy, I know you

It's so good to see you! You look great, have you lost weight? Hmm? What's that? What have I been up to, you ask? Well, I've been really busy. I finished my thesis, helped write a funding proposal, went to a conference, got my PhD comittee squared away, went on some dates with some gentlemen, played some roller derby, ate some cheeseburgers, redecorated the apartment, bought a moped...oh, but enough about me. What have you been up to? Uh huh. Uh huh. Oh, my. In your head? The size of a walnut? That's terrible. Oh, ok. You've got to run. I understand. I'll see you again soon and I'll have more stuff to tell you. Right now I have to get to work on my thesis edits. Awww, I missed you too. I'll see you soon. Love, Paris.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Rock Haikus

They come from inside
They were molten, now they aren’t
They are igneous

Phaneritic rocks
Large crystals live in this kind
Visible crystals

Aphanitic rocks
Small crystals you cannot see
Small, like the aphid

Silica, felsic
Light color, low density
Continental Crust

Iron rich, mafic
Darker, higher density
Oceanic Crust

Igneous rocks have
many different names we learn
Vocab is a pain