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Luis Romero via Flickr Creative Commons // CC BY 2.0

Why Science Labs Use Cone-Shaped Flasks

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Luis Romero via Flickr Creative Commons // CC BY 2.0

Let’s wish a happy birthday to the father of the mad scientist’s favorite prop. Richard August Carl Emil Erlenmeyer (who went by Emil) was born in Taunusstein, Germany on June 28, 1825. 

Over the course of his career as a chemist, Erlenmeyer made numerous important discoveries and advances, including the Erlenmeyer rule, which describes the behavior of alcohol molecules. Yet he’s best remembered for the now-iconic shape of a piece of glassware. The Erlenmeyer flask, also known as the conical flask or beuta, is still a fixture in laboratories today. Check out the infographic below from Compound Chemistry for more on what makes this flask so useful. 

Image Credit: Compound Interest // CC BY-ND

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Researchers Pinpoint the Genes Behind the Durian's Foul Stench
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iStock

Durian is a popular fruit in parts of southeast Asia. It's also known for having the most putrid, off-putting odor of any item sold in the produce section. Even fans of durian know why the fruit gets a bad rap, but what exactly causes its divisive scent is less obvious. Determined to find the answer, a team of researchers funded by "a group of anonymous durian lovers" mapped the fruit's genome, as reported by the BBC.

The study, published in the journal Nature Genetics [PDF], contains data from the first-ever complete genetic mapping of a durian fruit. It confirms that durian's excess stinkiness comes from sulfur, a chemical element whose scent is often compared to that of rotten eggs.

Analysis of the fruit's chemical makeup has been done in the past, so the idea that sulfur is a major contributor to its signature smell is nothing new. What is new is the identification of the specific class of sulfur-producing genes. These genes pump out sulfur at a "turbocharged" rate, which explains why the stench is powerful enough to have durian banned in some public areas. It may seem like the smell is a defense mechanism to ward off predators, but the study authors write that it's meant to have the opposite effect. According to the paper, "it is possible that linking odor and ripening may provide an evolutionary advantage for durian in facilitating fruit dispersal." In other words, the scent attracts hungry primates that help spread the seeds of ripe durian fruits by consuming them.

The revelation opens the door to genetically modified durian that are tweaked to produce less sulfur and therefore have a milder taste and smell. But such a product would likely inspire outrage from the food's passionate fans. While the flavor profile has been compared to rotten garbage and dead animal meat, it's also been praised for its "overtones of hazelnut, apricot, caramelized banana, and egg custard" by those who appreciate its unique character.

[h/t BBC]

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BEAUTY OF SCIENCE, Vimeo
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Eye-Catching Videos Show the Beauty of Chemical Reactions
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BEAUTY OF SCIENCE, Vimeo

For those of us with only a passing high-school knowledge of chemistry, the scientific discipline can feel pretty abstract. But new online film series Envisioning Chemistry brings chemical reactions to life as works of art, visualizing chemistry in high resolution.

Created through a collaboration between the science visualization studio Beauty of Science and the Chinese Chemical Society, the series is a follow-up to Beautiful Chemistry, a 2014 project that included video of chemical reactions, animations, illustrations, and diagrams to visualize the history and practice of chemistry.

The images in Envisioning Chemistry were made using “high-resolution microscopes, infrared thermal imaging cameras, high-speed cameras, and 4K Ultra HD cameras, to reveal beauty of chemical reactions like never before,” according to the project’s website.

Envisioning Chemistry is designed as a teaching tool, so each of the films also has an associated worksheet so that teachers can use them in the classroom. There are 15 films total, and the creators hope to add more in the future.

The films explore chemistry topics like precipitation reactions, metal displacement, and electrodeposition, using elemental metals like copper, tin, lead, and zinc. “If you think you know what metals look like, well, think again!” as one video warns. By the end of the films, you may even know what words like electrodeposition mean.

Envisioning Chemistry Collection I: Beauty of Chemistry from Beauty of Science on Vimeo.

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