Are We Running Out of Vanilla?


Surely, there’s no greater sign that a child has matured to adulthood than the realization that vanilla is not a waste of an ice cream flavor, but rather the best flavoring in the universe.

Although I have no data backing that up, I feel comfortable saying it. For substantiated claims that feel unsettling, look no further than Melody Bomgardner’s C&EN story about the looming vanilla crisis that inspired our latest video.

But Melody published her story in September and Sarah filmed her video in October. So we decided afterward to get in touch with Josephine Lochhead at Cook Flavoring Company for an update on the vanilla situation. Cook’s has been keeping its finger on the vanilla pulse by visiting plantations in Madagascar—be sure to check out the firm’s blog for more info. We started exchanging emails with Josephine at the beginning of December, after she returned from Madagascar’s Sambava region with some mixed news.

“The farmers I spoke with all reported heavy blossoming and expectations of a large, healthy crop for 2017,” she writes. “However, the large Madagascar exporters are reporting poor flowering and expectations of a light crop.” She adds that she saw loads of beans and abundant flowering in Sambava. It’s possible that vanilla is simply growing better in Sambava than elsewhere, but exporters could be trying to keep bean prices high with their pessimistic reports, Josephine says.

She adds that each village she visited had between 2 and 6 metric tons of cured vanilla on hand and that some farmers were willing to sell it at rates below $200 per kg. Major vanilla exporters are currently quoting prices around twice that, according to data shared by Cook’s.

Looking at the data, you might see another reason Josephine believes vanilla prices could soon drop: The current trend in vanilla prices closely mirrors a surge from about 15 years ago. “I clearly remember the crash of the last crisis,” she writes. “In one day, we saw prices drop from $425 to $200. By the end of the week, prices were under $20/kilo.”

Josephine also points out that countries other than Madagascar have ramped up their vanilla production, notably India, Indonesia, and New Guinea. Vanilla production in Madagascar has been off its peak for several of the past years, which factors into the current shortage, but has also given other regions time to increase their production significantly (vanilla vines take 3-4 years to produce quality beans, Josephine says).

Still, this is just a forecast, Josephine reminds us: “Reports from bean brokers are that prices will double and that it will be 2018 before we see relief. However, my opinion is that prices are poised to go down in 2017,” she explains. “No one can know for sure where the price will be in the coming months.”

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Did Comets Kickstart Life on Earth?

That’s right. Comets may have helped seed life on Earth. Far out, right? Sarah Everts has the chemical clues that back up this out-of-this-world hypothesis.

Comet collisions may have helped seed life on Earth | C&EN

Philae Probe Sniffs Out Comet’s Chemistry | C&EN

Amino acids from ultraviolet irradiation of interstellar ice analogues | Nature

Apologies to Paul Wild, who discovered the comet Wild 2 along with several others. His last name is pronounced Vilt.

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How Bacteria Make It Rain (with Kim Prather) – Speaking of Chemistry Road Trip

Did you know that the ocean launches bacteria and other goo into the atmosphere? And that those particles can seed clouds? In our last stop of the Speaking of Chemistry Road Trip, atmospheric chemist Kimberly Prather of UCSD and the Scripps Institution of Oceanography drops some serious knowledge on us.

Dissecting California Precipitation | C&EN

Observing Earth | C&EN

Does Cloud Seeding Really Work? | C&EN

From Dust To Snow | C&EN

Sea Spray Aerosol Chemistry Clarified | C&EN

For more on aerosols and climate, check out the State of the Science Fact Sheet from NOAA

CAICE is a National Science Foundation Center for Chemical Innovation. For more information about CAICE, visit caice.ucsd.edu/index.php/about-caice/

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Music is Funk For Free by Bruce Zimmerman

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The Scent of Death (and Why It’s Important)

Studying odors from corpses may sound macabre, but it’s actually a virtuous vocation. Researchers in this field are helping find missing bodies lost in natural disasters or hidden by murderers.

Huge thanks to Mary Cablk for her help with this episode and for sharing her amazing photos and videos of Inca. Learn more about Mary’s work here.

If this episode leaves you wanting more macabre chemistry, check out the featured resources below.

Scientists search for death’s aroma | C&EN

Stiff | A New York Times bestseller by Mary Roach

Forensic Anthropology Center | University of Tennessee

And did you know you can buy putrescine and cadaverine online? It’s true. Google it.

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The Nobel Prize in Chemistry: Molecular Machines, Explained – Speaking of Chemistry

The 2016 Nobel Prize in Chemistry goes to Jean-Pierre Sauvage, Sir Fraser Stoddart, and Ben Feringa. Read all about it.

In this episode of Speaking of Chemistry, we look at how three molecular machinists earned this year’s Nobel Prize in Chemistry. Apologies to our international posse: All times referenced in this video are based on us being in the Eastern Time Zone.

For more information on the prize check out:
1.) C&EN’s coverage

2.) Nobelprize.org’s announcement

Videos of the 4-wheeled molecule were used with permission from Macmillan Publishers Ltd. Kudernac, T. et al. 2011, Nature 479, 208–211

Want even more molecular-mechanical goodness? You are in luck, my friend. Here are some more great references.

Rethinking Molecular Machines | C&EN

Nanomachinery Gets A Lift | C&EN

Nanocar Research Rolling Along | C&EN

A Nanocar With Four-Wheel Drive | C&EN

Molecular Pump Mimics Natural Carrier Proteins | C&EN

Transition Metal-Containing Rotaxanes and Catenanes in Motion | Accounts of Chemical Research

A molecular shuttle | JACS

Light-driven monodirectional molecular rotor | Nature

A [3]Rotaxane with Two Porphyrinic Plates Acting as an Adaptable Receptor | JACS

A Three-Compartment Chemically-Driven Molecular Information Ratchet | JACS

Speaking of Chemistry is brought to you by Chemical & Engineering News, the news magazine of the American Chemical Society.

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The Quest To Make Any Molecule: Total Synthesis with Hosea Nelson


Speaking of Chemistry caught up with UCLA’s Hosea Nelson to learn about how chemists are trying to copy nature for a brighter future. Don’t forget to subscribe: http://bit.ly/ACSReactions

Check out the Talented 12 website for everything you need to know about the T12, including a form to nominate next year’s distinguished dozen

Don’t forget to read our full story on Hosea

And yes. People really do call them deadly carrots

Additional resources

Chemists Find More Efficient Total Synthesis Route To Ingenol | C&EN

Multi C–H Functionalizations | C&EN

Natural Products as Sources of New Drugs from 1981 to 2014 | Journal of Natural Products

Speaking of Chemistry is brought to you by Chemical & Engineering News, the news magazine of the American Chemical Society.

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How Sniffing Priceless Art and Artifacts Could Save Them

Art and cultural heritage conservators are getting an assist from some smelly chemistry. Don’t forget to subscribe for all the latest Speaking of Chemistry videos: http://bit.ly/ACSReactions

Come closer, lean in, and… inhale deeply. Some of our most valuable heritage objects—think old books, early film, and vintage plastic jewelry—have their own personal pong. But there’s more to their musk than nostalgia alone. Sarah Everts explains why conservators are starting to sniff out the compounds emitted by museum art and artifacts.

If this episode leaves you wishing for a stronger whiff of smelly museum masterpieces, check out these great resources.

Preserving Plastic Art | C&EN

Deteriorating Plastic Art Threatens Museum Treasures | C&EN

Old chemistry books and the chemistry of old books | C&EN

Heritage Smells | The Science & Heritage Programme

We’d also like to thank Yvonne Shashoua of the National Museum of Denmark for the crash test dummy and corroded knife images.

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The Science of Spotting Fake Foods

Food fraud often boils down to politics or semantics. Something labeled parmesan cheese may not come from Parma, for instance. But sometimes food producers try to feed us cheap fillers and other lies. In this episode of Speaking of Chemistry, Sophia Cai explains how scientists, regulators, and food makers are relying on chemistry to make sure consumers get what they pay for.

Want to learn even more about fighting food fraud? Check out these great resources.

Parmesan test can detect cheesy imposters | C&EN

Authenticating Food | C&EN

Food Safety Gambit | C&EN

The Parmesan Cheese You Sprinkle on Your Penne Could Be Wood |Bloomberg

Guilty pleas filed in federal criminal fake cheese cases | Food Safety News

FDA warning letter to Castle Cheese, Inc. | FDA

The EU tries to grab all the cheese | Politico

Parmesan and Gouda May Shred a New US Trade Agreement With Europe | Vice News

Testing for Food Contamination | Biocompare

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Music credits (in order of audibility):
1. Triage by bhzimmy
2. join us by aricorder
3.Libiamo Ne’ Lieti Calici- Verdi by cssmusic
4.Chill Babe by FullScore

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These tiny satellites could take on NASA’s riskiest missions—Speaking of Chemistry Road Trip

Speaking of Chemistry set a course for JPL to learn about NASA’s plans for cubesats, little satellites with interplanetary aspirations. Not a subscriber? Make it so: http://bit.ly/ACSReactions

Andy Klesh of the Jet Propulsion Lab welcomes us to the cleanroom to talk about how satellites smaller than a briefcase could one day explore the chemistry of alien moons and planets. But first, Andy and his team have to show that cubesats can make it to other planets like NASA’s more conventional, more expensive, and much larger satellites. That’s where Mars Cube One, or MarCO, comes in. Watch to learn more

Check out even more on NASA’s cubesat missions here.

For even more info, check out these references and sources:

A New Dawn For CubeSats | C&EN

Juno set to explore Jupiter | C&EN

CubeSat Propulsion Systems | VACCO

MarCO: First Interplanetary CubeSat Mission | JPL

Crazy Engineering: CubeSats | JPL

MarCO: First Interplanetary CubeSat Mission | JPL (source of MarCO deployment animation)

Crazy Engineering: CubeSats | JPL (source of other cubesat clips)

CubeSat Propulsion Systems | VACCO (source of thruster image)

Curiosity’s Seven Minutes of Terror | JPL (source of Curiosity landing animation)

Scientists to Io: Your Volcanoes Are in the Wrong Place | NASA (source of Io volcano clip)

NASA Targets May 2018 Launch of Mars InSight Mission | NASA

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Speaking of Chemistry is brought to you by Chemical & Engineering News, the news magazine of the American Chemical Society.

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The Truth About Wasabi

Oh, you love that spicy wasabi kick…except you’ve probably never tasted real wasabi. Sarah Everts explains. Don’t forget to subscribe! http://bit.ly/ACSReactions

Unless you’ve had a sushi chef grate a $50 wasabi stem right onto your plate, you’ve probably not had the real thing. Find out what that green paste next to your tuna roll really is and how compounds in authentic wasabi may one-day treat a variety of medical ailments.

If this episode leaves you wanting more, check out this article that inspired the episode.

What That Stuff? Wasabi
http://cen.acs.org/articles/88/i12/Wa…

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Music:
lay-it-down by Keith Anthony Holden, courtesy of Audioblocks.com

Producers:
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Writer/Host:
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Executive Producers:
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How to make electronic skin with Stanford’s Zhenan Bao—Speaking of Chemistry Road Trip


The Speaking of Chemistry California road trip continues as we scope out some cutting-edge, flexible electronics at Stanford University. Don’t forget to subscribe! http://bit.ly/ACSReactions

Stanford’s Zhenan Bao and her research team are developing electronics that could revolutionize wearables and prosthetics. In this episode, Matt Davenport and Noel Waghorn get a glimpse behind the scenes at Stanford and learn how Zhenan’s past at the historic Bell Labs is helping her create futuristic materials.

Artificial Skin Transmits Signals To Neurons | C&EN

Touch Sensors Power Themselves | C&EN

Self-Healing Plastic ‘Skin’ Points Way to New Prosthetics | Science

Arthur C. Cope Scholar Awards: Zhenan Bao | C&EN

The list of allegations against Schön that we show is from: http://yclept.ucdavis.edu/course/280/Schoen.Yin.pdf
The full report from Lucent can be found here: http://w.astro.berkeley.edu/~kalas/ethics/documents/schoen.pdf

And a quick note for anyone keeping score at home: Work at Bell Labs has earned a total of eight Nobel Prizes, shared amongst 14 Laureates, according to https://www.bell-labs.com/our-people/recognition/
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The guitar track is Gloryhound by MCGuitar

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What makes blue-green algae dangerous?


Pond scum is usually just a nuisance, but it can become dangerous. Check out the chemistry behind these harmful algal blooms. And don’t forget to subscribe! http://bit.ly/ACSReactions

When the environmental conditions are right, blue-green algae (which are actually blue-green bacteria) can blossom into harmful algal blooms. These blooms can release all sorts of deadly poisons into the environment. In this episode, SOC’s Sophia Cai explains how human health could be at risk, with help from SOC’s structure-drawing extraordinaire, Lauren Wolf.

Check out the story behind this video: http://cen.acs.org/articles/94/i12/Sc…

Want more chemistry goodness? Check out these resources:

CyanoMap

Scientists debate the best way to tame toxic algal blooms | C&EN

Monitoring uncovers mysterious phosphorus pollution | C&EN

Blue-Green Algae: Iridescent but Deadly | The Atlantic

Cyanobacteria and Algae Blooms | CDC

Harmful Algal Blooms | EPA

A review on cylindrospermopsin | Environmental Science: Processes & Impacts

The Algae Is Coming, But Its Impact Is Felt Far From Water | NPR

Drinking Water Health Advisory for the Cyanobacterial Microcystin Toxins | EPA

Unauthorized Storage of Toxic Agents | Assassination Archives & Research Center

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Whisky Versus Coffee: Dueling Droplets


Check out the story behind this video.

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Photographer Ernie Button showed us that dried whiskey droplets are a captivating and unusual sight to behold, especially compared with the more familiar coffee ring. Speaking of Chemistry caught up with Ernie and the Princeton researchers who investigated whisky’s unique drying behavior to learn about the chemistry that controls it and how that information could help the paint and coatings industry.

Microscopic videography provided by Hyoungsoo Kim et al. from Phys. Rev. Lett. 2016, DOI: 10.1103/PhysRevLett.116.124501

And be sure to check out Ernie Button’s website.
He’s also on Instagram

If this episode leaves you wanting more, check out these great resources.

Why whiskey doesn’t have a ring to it | C&EN

What’s That Stuff: Whisky | C&EN

Scotch Ring Art & Science | C&EN

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Experiment: Whiskey Versus Coffee


For the scientific background for this experiment, check out this video.

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After we learned why whiskey and coffee dry so differently, we wondered how mixtures of the two would dry. Join us with our (opened) 40-year-old bottle of chipmunk whiskey as we find out.

If this video leaves you wanting more whiskey chemistry, check out these great resources.

Why whiskey doesn’t have a ring to it | C&EN

What’s That Stuff: Whisky | C&EN

Scotch Ring Art & Science | C&EN

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Why does your hair turn gray?


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It’s an inevitable side effect of longevity: your hair will turn gray. In this episode, Sophia Cai chats about the chemistry of your natural hair color, why it eventually turns white, and how scientists may be able to slow that graying down.

If this episode leaves you wanting more, check out these great resources.

First hair-graying gene identified

A genome-wide association scan in admixed Latin Americans identifies loci influencing facial and scalp hair features

Gray hair and vitiligo reversed at the root

Post-Traumatic Tress Disorder

Everyday Mysteries: Why does hair turn gray?

Why Does Hair Turn Gray?

The structure we show for the tyrosinase enzyme is a prediction. Researchers haven’t yet experimentally verified what it looks like. For more info, check out this paper from Enzyme Research.

And again, thanks to Gerald Weissman for talking to us for this video.

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