Category Archives: Holidays

Foamed Saccharides with Protein Inclusions

Time for a Christmas tradition and science mashup. Try this “experiment” in your kitchen with your kids.

Foamed Saccharides with Protein Inclusions


In this experiment you will produce a solid mixture composed mainly of various monosaccharides, disaccharides and polypeptide compounds. Since a great deal of heating is necessary to bring about the desired chemical and physical processes, care must be taken to avoid extensive thermal degradation (pyrolysis) of the product. Also cleanliness is necessary, since the product will be subjected to analysis by mastication. During the analysis you are to make observations regarding the production of the neural transmitter acetyl choline in the synaptic junctions.


  • saucepan with a capacity of one or two liters
  • 62 grams of a saturated monosaccharide solution containing D-glucopyranose and D-fructofuranose (about 1/4 cup)
  • 75 grams of the disaccharide a-D-glucopyranosyl-b-D-fructofuranoside (about 1/2 cup)
  • 20 mL of hydroxic acid
  • 20 grams of partially hydrogenated vegetable fat esters (about 1.5 tablespoons)

  • thermal insulating material
  • 50 to 60 grams of arachin, conarchin, oleic-linoleic glyceride protein pellets (about 1/4 to 1/3 cup)
  • 4 grams of sodium bicarbonate (about 1 teaspoon)
  • 5 mL of either 4-hydroxy 3-methoxy benzaldehyde or 4-hydroxy 3-ethoxy benzaldehyde (about 1 teaspoon)
  • thermometer (capable of reaching a temperature of at least 150 degrees Celsius)
  • 1000 square centimeters of aluminum foil
  • a large insulated manual stirring device


  1. Mass out 62 grams of the saturated monosaccharide solution and place it into the saucepan along with 20 mL of hydroxic acid.
  2. Into a clean 250 mL beaker, mass out 75 grams of a-D-glucopyranosyl-b-D-fructofuranoside (sucrose) and transfer it to the monosaccharide solution in the saucepan.
  3. Heat the mixture slowly, stir constantly, and bring to a boil. Use as cool a flame as will maintain boiling. You must avoid thermal degradation of the saccharides.
  4. Mass out 10 grams of partially hydrogenated vegetable fat esters and add to the saccharide mixture in the saucepan. Continue to heat and stir using some kind of thermal insulating material to prevent overheating your epidermis.
  5. Mass out 50 grams of protein pellets and add to the saccharide mixture in the saucepan when the temperature of the mixture reaches 138 degrees Celsius (280 ¡F). Continue to stir and heat the mixture.
  6. Mass out 4 grams of sodium bicarbonate and obtain 2 mL of 4-hydroxy 3-methoxy benzaldehyde or its substitute. Lightly lubricate a square piece of aluminum foil which measures about 30 centimeters on a side with partially hydrogenated vegetable fat esters. Note: You are only getting these substances ready to add they are not to be added until step 8!
  7. When the temperature of the solution reaches 154 ¡C remove the saucepan from the heat and place near the piece of aluminum foil. Also, remove the thermometer at this time and check to make sure that the mercury bulb is still attached to the base of the thermometer. If the bulb is not attached THROW THE PRODUCT AWAY.
  8. While one partner holds the sauce pan and is prepared to stir the mixture the other partner adds first the 4-hydroxy, 3-methoxy benzaldehyde and then adds the sodium bicarbonate. STIR VIGOROUSLY. When the mixture foams pour it on the aluminum foil and spread to a depth of O.5 cm.
  9. When cool break up the product and subject it to analysis by mastication.

This particular version of this common December experiment was found here.

Hubble Telescope Advent Calendar

I always feel a special connection to the Hubble telescope. And not just because I taught astronomy in an Earth science class. It is because I know one of the astronauts, Kathryn Thornton, who was a mission specialist EVA crew member aboard the Space Shuttle Endeavour on the STS-61 Hubble Space Telescope (HST) servicing and repair mission 1993 (this was the third of her four shuttle missions). Her stories about space travel made me yearn to be an astronaut. Alas, it was not to be (yet!).

James McGrath via Phil Plait first pointed out the Hubble Space Telescope Advent Calendar for 2009, which began today at The Big Picture. Below is today’s image (check the site every day for more amazing images). James has a nice montage of a few of last year’s photos here.

Hubble Advent Calendar

You can view the 2008 calendar here.

I never get tired of looking at these images.

Immanuel ‏עִמָּנוּ ‏אֵל

First semester Hebrew students usually have enough background to understand this Hebrew:

עִמָּנוּ ‏אֵל

Here we find the preposition עם with a 1cp suffix נוּ so we translate “with us.” This is followed by אֵל , which we translate “God.” So in context (Is. 7:14; 8:8), we are told that the child to be born will be named “Immanuel” meaning “God with us.” In the ESV, NET, and NRSV we find the spelling to begin with “I” but in many carols we read “Emmanuel.” Why is this? Because, when Matthew quotes the OT passage (Matt. 1:23), the Greek reads:
ἰδοὺ ἡ παρθένος ἐν γαστρὶ ἕξει καὶ τέξεται υἱόν,
καὶ καλέσουσιν τὸ ὄνομα αὐτοῦ Ἐμμανουήλ,
ὅ ἐστιν μεθερμηνευόμενον μεθ᾿ ἡμῶν ὁ θεός.

Thus, the English spelling renders the NT Greek as “Emmanuel.”

I still prefer to write the “I” in Immanuel, because my students can then remember that even the prepositions and suffixes that they learn are alive with meaning.


From the online Merriam-Webster dictionary:

Pronunciation: trə-ˈdi-shən
Function: noun
Etymology: Middle English tradicioun, from Middle French & Latin; Middle French tradicion, from Latin tradition-, traditio action of handing over, tradition — more at treason
Date: 14th century

1 a : an inherited, established, or customary pattern of thought, action, or behavior (as a religious practice or a social custom) b : a belief or story or a body of beliefs or stories relating to the past that are commonly accepted as historical though not verifiable
2 : the handing down of information, beliefs, and customs by word of mouth or by example from one generation to another without written instruction
3 : cultural continuity in social attitudes, customs, and institutions
4 : characteristic manner, method, or style

Advent is a tradition that my family has participated in since I was a child. It connects me to the river of other believers through history who have likewise used four candles (five, if you include the Christ candle of Christmas Eve) to retell the story of the coming of the Christ. It is a continuity. It is not really personal (except for my individual memories), it is more about community. And as Tevye, in “Fidder on the Roof,” came to understand, the traditions that I cling to as the “right” way to remember and live must be seen as something dynamic and living and changing. It is not so much about the details (e.g., colors of the candles, which candle to light first, what words are used to “name” each of the four advent candles) but more about the opportunity to share in community the anticipation and the retelling of the story.

For me, Advent is all about becoming hungry. Hungry for the rest of the story. Each week is an appetizer. By the time we get to the end of the month, I want to be aching for the celebration of Christmas! When I was a child the church was not decorated (save for the colors of the advent candles) until Christmas Eve. But oh, what delight when we entered at midnight on Christmas Eve! The whole sanctuary was full of the heady smell of greenery. Flowers filled the front (in memory of those who taught us our own traditions). And candles were everywhere. I can still feel and smell those memories in my mind’s eye. This is how the story was recounted for me.

As we begin this Advent season, anticipating Christmas (and that holiday’s own set of traditions!), I will look for ways to “hand down” my own “inherited” “beliefs” and “customs” to the younger generation of my family. And I’m sure they will teach me new ways of celebrating and participating in this time of retelling of the story.

Next Holiday

Thanksgiving is over, and our eyes are turning toward the next big family holiday. Our Sundays will be filled with Advent traditions, and the countdown to December 25th has begun. But don’t miss celebrating one more wonderful holiday that commemorates another miraculous provision of the Lord. Chanukah is just around the corner! You may already know some things about this 8-day celebration, the Feast of Lights, but over the next two weeks I’ll recount more of the history and traditions (and a little bit of Hebrew!) as we count down to the first night of Chanukah in 2009–Friday evening, December 11th!
Zebra Menorah: Chanukah!!