Everyday Teratogens – Another Video Project

Remember this Nitric Oxide video I made for Toxicology I class in Fall term? I made another one for my Toxicology II class! This time it covers “Everyday Teratogens,” a topic about chemicals in products normal  folks like us come into contact with on a daily basis, but may not realize have the potential to cause birth defects in future generations. Please enjoy!


Dangers of Canned Tuna


I’d like to preface this entry with my strong recommendation to read “Slow Death by Rubber Duck” by Rick Smith & Bruce Lourie. I talked about reading this book for my Toxicology I class back at the end of October. I had finally gotten the chance to finish it before the term ended in December, and I really loved what I learned about the classes of common chemicals in consumer products. It also really emphasizes the point that while we cannot avoid completely the dangerous chemicals we have synthesized and incorporated into our daily life, it does not mean that we should not be aware and attempt to limit the amount of contact we have. A large amount of control can be done by checking the contents of what products we are buying.


Figure 1. “Slow Death by Rubber Duck: How the Toxic Chemistry of Everyday Life Affects Our Health” book cover.

Chapter 5: The Tuna Feast Experiment

Chapter 5 entitled “Quicksilver, Slow Death,” examines the dangers of mercury and how easily its levels are increased. The author who took this challenge, Bruce, monitored his mercury blood levels for several weeks while eating a diet consisting heavily on fish. This means a lot of sushi, sashimi, tuna steaks, tuna salads, tuna sandwiches, ect.


Figure 2. A nice, wholesome tuna sandwich.

During the tuna feasting experiment, the author was surprised to find how easily tuna levels had doubled after just 24 hours of his meals. What is even more alarming is that as the experiment went on, mercury levels continued to increase rapidly at an exponential rate, far above the “safe” level of mercury in the blood. It seemed as though mercury is easily accumulated in the body fat, but is not easily cleared out of body via metabolizing factors or excrement.  This results in a chemical build up, which consequently changed Bruce’s normal personality and mood.

Relating to My Own Life

This chapter is  is a prime example of how awareness can help prevent getting sick.  The chapter starts by quoting an actress who went on a Mediterranean diet, which was built around eating tons of fish, including tuna. She started having fits of dizziness and fainting, and later she  realized it was linked to the high mercury content due to her diet.


Figure 3. Cans of tuna…yuck.

Firstly, I think that this brings up a good point of why diets that emphasize eating only one type of food is bad. A key to a healthy life is a balance of many types of foods, and a diet could lead to a build-up of something that can harm you. In this case, it was mercury. In fact, I have had a first-hand experience with this. During my internship over my summer, I had eaten tuna with cucumbers and crackers every single day for lunch for a quick meal between lab experiments. I would attribute my headaches and ill feelings to the humid and hot weather, but when I had gotten so bad that I was going back and forth to the doctor constantly for a recurring UTI (something that has never, ever hit me before). After taking Tox I class, I now know that metals in high concentrations can act as an immuno-repressant, leaving your body highly susceptible to foreign or “bad” bacteria invasions.

Solution & Conclusion

A point they bring up in this chapter is about bioaccumulation. Larger fish live longer and eat smaller fish that also contain mercury. Because of this, large fish accumulate a lot of mercy. Being on the top of the food chain, human beings consume this large fish and get the highest dosage of the deadly mercury. Especially in a society where bigger is always better, we need to be aware of the build-up of these harmful substances in our food or else it will immediately make a large impact on our health.

Because of the biomagnification of mercury in larger fish, the authors suggest to try to eat smaller fish as suppose to larger fish as a possible preventative action.


Figure 4. Infographic of a mercury cycle

Hope you enjoyed this! If you do not have time or are not interested in reading all of “Slow Death by Rubber Duck” below is a link to chapter summaries. Perhaps they will intrigue you to pick up the book or download the eReader version.

LINK: “Slow Death by Rubber Duck” Chapter summaries

All About Nitric Oxide – Video Project

Comp broken. Spilled coffee on it during early morning interview. UGH. Typing painful. Takes forever. Meanwhile, here’s my final Toxicology class project if you are interested.

Burger Science: Cooking with Nitrogen

I’ve been talking a lot about baking & food lately on the blog, and I wanted to bring it back to science (yay!). However, this article seemed to prove a happy medium  between two of my favorite interests. At the World Science Festival being held in NY, it seems scientific techniques are being called upon to develop the tastiest burger ever.

What fascinated me most about the article is that it really get down and dirty with how the physics and chemistry affect the overall quality of a hamburger meal.

From a physics perspective, you need your meat tender enough to be pulled away from the center when you take a bite without having the entire patty collapse.

My favorite point, from a biological point of view is how patties are held together without a casing, like what sausages need. In any (or most) animal muscle, a protein called myosin is found. Typically discussion with myosin involve muscle movement powered by ATP, but in this case, when the protein is heated as the meat is cooked, a thin gel is created keeping the patty together.

The chemistry of browning meats and food was founded by a Frenchman named Maillard in the 20th centure. The “Maillard zone” can be found right by the gel formed by the heated myosin. There browning occurs because of reactions between sugars and proteins which produce a result you can taste.

Evolutionarily, cooked food is better because it takes less energy to process it versus raw intake.

Dr. Myhrvold’s approach to maximizing the Maillard reactions is to warm the meat, dip it in Nitrogen, then fry the result. This allows the meat to be cooked quickly on the outside without ruining the inside.

The whole thing just makes me want a midnight snack and appreciate a non-practical, yet fun science experiment.

Source: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/07/science/07tier.html?ref=science

EXTREME Banana Walnut Bread!

So, yet again I was not able to take photos because the 3 loaves were  gobbled up before I could remember to get out my camera. The first time I tried the recipe it turned out kind of “eww” because I tried to substitute regular sugar with confectionary sugar.

  • Baking Science Fun Fact #1:
    Not everything is the same sweet. Confectionary sugar is actually part cornstarch part granulated sugar. If you want to sub confectionary sugar for regular granulated sugar in a recipe, make sure to add at least 1.5 times the amount the recipe calls for or else it will not be sweet enough.

http://www.foodsubs.com/Sweeten.html#powdered sugar

Anyways, lesson learned. I bought a huge thing of granulated sugar so I wouldn’t run out for a while, and the banana walnut bread was pretty delish! It’s a dense slice of heaven and is complimented well with a dallop of ice cream (though I only tried a slice once or twice ;D).

  • Baking Science Fun Fact #2:
    I also used baking powder instead of baking soda like the recipe called for, and it worked out in my favor because baking powder contains baking soda. I wouldn’t recommend mixing the two up though. You can usually sub baking soda with baking powder but NOT vice versa. Both are rising agents, but with slight differences.

Chemistry behind the risers?

    • Baking soda: once this sucker comes in contact with the rest of the moist ingredients, throw it into the oven! Carbon dioxide is produced instantaneously and is needed to  make your baked good delicioius and fluffy!
    • Baking powder: Again, part baking soda and part starch to produce gas and dry dough. Activated at either room temp or room temp & baking temp.

Point of the story: HIGHLY recommended recipe ;D

Extreme banana walnut recipe:

Philadelphia Science Fest 2011 – Recap

So the glorious 2 week gala that was the Philadelphia Science Festival of April 2011 has finally come to an end! I am so sad that I’m working full time at GSK during this fest’s premiere and could not go to many events, but I did my best. Not many photos, but quite a few memories 🙂

Friday – April 15, 2011 – The Big Jump

Granted I am officially a 21 year old, and this event was created for probably gradeschool and middleschool science classes (if high schools and colleges were cool, they would have participated, too), I thought this was a really fun idea. On Friday, April 16 the PhillySciFest website at 11am did a seismograph reading for 1 minute. In that time, classrooms of children, teachers, and people across Philadelphia were invited to jump to see if we could get an elevated reading, sort of like a mini earthquake with a joint effort.

Lesson learned, it would take hundreds of thousands of people to make even a small impact on the seismograph, but it was a good exercise to bring awareness to the magnitude of the Richter scale as well as be an inquisitive scientist! Temple University’s recordings from The Big Jump are seen below:

You can bet on that day, at that very strike of 11am, I ran to the bathroom before my meeting and jumped for 60 seconds. Judge me.

Saturday – April 16, 2011 – The Carnival on the Parkway!

This event actually broke my heart in half. It was so WONDERFUL. So much preparation and dedication by the people setting up the events at each tents and decoration. Truly a conglomeration of knowledge and fun for kids. It was like the world’s largest and free science experiment, ranging from DNA extractions, “body cavity” examinations, chemical art, free plants for environmental awareness, and more!Sadly, it literally rained on this parade. Naomi was nice enough to go with me to the event after her ridiculous MCATs, even though it was raining cats and dogs and the streets began flooding. It was located by all the grand museums in Logan’s Circle.

Despite the crap weather, the two of us still had fun.

We were able to make a painting together using shaving cream and food coloring at the American Chemical Society table. Inspired by the Japanese art style sumi nagashi, hydrophobic and hydrophilic reactions were the basis of this beautiful abstract image.

I was also able to grab a free plant before the Horicultural people left for the day. I lovingly clenched to my plant in a cup and stuck my hand out of the umbrella the entire time we were walking so that the rain could water it. I appropriately named the plant “Tempest.”

Unfortunately we never found the photobooth or the DNA building blocks keychains, but we left soaking wet and with nutella banana cupcakes :)To commemorate my 21 birthday and the start of the Sci Fest, we later partied and took shots from colorful test tubes. Scientists love their ethanol.

Sunday – April 17 – Academy/Anatomy

I am soooo glad we were able to make this event!! It was the last day of the Academy/Anatomy exhibit at the Penn. Fine Arts. Again, photos were not allowed, but it was a great day. Sunny and beautiful, what lovely weather for girls in dresses!As for the actual exhibit, it was fantastic. Truly gives you an appreciation of educators and medical doctors before our time.

It was so behumbling to see the pioneers of the medical world. Their findings and contributions that are the foundations of science now. And to see their notes and drawings are so similar to mine, but hundreds of years older sends chills down my spine! As aspiring scientists and contributors to medicine, we truly stand on the shoulders of giants as my cell bio prof once said.

All it in all I think it was a really good idea. I hope Philadelphia supports this to become an annual festival because I would love to participate more next year! It’s already announced a 2012 reappearance and it’s own official beer: E=MC BEERED by Yards, Aniket’s favorite beer brand from a Philadelphia brewery.

A good way to wrap this fest wrap-up is Kirsten’s post card from the Brain Exhibit from the Museum of Natural History!

Philadelphia Science Fest

No words can describe how excited I am for the Philadelphia Science Festival.


It’s a two week celebration in various locations around the city of Philly, exploring science with the community through a variety of activities, exhibits, debates, lectures, and informational goodness throughout April15 – 28. It’s open to all ages and it’s FREE.

Scientists, engineers, museums, universities, and schools — everyone is participating to put this thing together! It’s really targeted for kids in school from Kindergarten to 12th grade high school, but as a lover of science education, I cannot wait to at least observe or volunteer in one of the many events. I had found out about the Philly Sci Fest via one of my current volunteer institutes, the Academy of Natural Sciences.

This weekend is the kickoff of this 14 day long crazy science party. On April 16th, the festival’s first big event is: the first ever Science Carnival on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway is being held! There are a TON of great booths to participate in, some of which I think are cool include:

  • American Chemical Society: Painting with shaving cream also known in Japan as “sumi nagashi,”  uses principles of hydrophobic and hydrophilic reactions.
  • Association of Women in Forensic Science – Crime scene to solve!
  • Chemical Heritage Foundation: The Chemistry of J-E-L-L-O!
  • Chestnut Hill Academy: Building Your Own Robot
  • Coriell Institute for Medical Research: DNA Detectives- Discover your Building Blocks!
    • I can build my name for a keychain using DNA block AND learn about the human genome? *Geekout*
  • Drexel University Society of Physics Students: Hollywood Physics
    • Drexel is doing somethign cool?
  • Mad Science: Slime Making!
  • Penn Museum: The Science of Mummification
  • University of Pennsylvania Genetics and Gene Regulation: Discover DNA!
    • “Take your genome home! Extract DNA from your cheek cells using household items” → I just died of happiness
  • The list goes on!


Coincidentally, it’s also the same day as Naomi’s MCATS. I take it as a good omen. I hope to wake up early to wish her luck on her exam, then maybe sleep a bit, and go the Parkway with any friends who want to accompany me later in the morning. The event is rain or shine, so even though it’s probably going to be a wet Saturday, the show shall go on!

I want to blog and update throughout the 15 – 28, reporting events I am able to attend from the Philly Sci Fest. I predict a jolly good time with my fellow scientists, young and old 🙂

So what are you waiting for? Drag your parents along or if you are old enough come on down with some friends and join in this fun. It’s an opportunity of pure awesome & science.

Location: Logan Circle
19th and Benjamin Franklin Parkway
Philadelphia, PA 19103