Chemist With Visual Flair Answers Burning Food Science Questions

| June 27, 2014 | 0 Comments
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Chemistry of a grapefruit. Image: Courtesy of Compound Interest

Chemistry of a grapefruit. Image: Courtesy of Compound Interest

by April Fulton, The Salt at NPR Food (6/27/14)

Not every chemistry teacher needs go the way of Breaking Bad’s Walter White and make methamphetamine if they’re looking for a compelling side gig.

Andy Brunning, a high school chemistry teacher in the UK, makes beautiful infographics on everyday chemistry on his blog, called Compound Interest. Thanks in part to the American Chemical Society, which has turned several of his posts into videos, his clever visuals have been going viral.

The chemistry of asparagus. Image: Courtesy of Compound Interest

The chemistry of asparagus. Image: Courtesy of Compound Interest

Unsurprisingly, his most popular posts are generally about food and drink. They answer such vexing question as: Why does asparagus make your pee smell? What makes grapefruit interact with prescription drugs?

(We’ve written up his take on the smell of cooking bacon and why garlic make your breath stink. We admit we’ve been crushing on him a little.)

Now Brunning plans to publish a book of infographics focusing on “the weird quirks and effects of certain foods, and the chemistry behind them,” he tells The Salt. “I’m hoping the book will be visually engaging and fun to dip in and out of, even for people with just a passing interest in chemistry.”

The chemistry of chocolate. Image: Courtesy of Compound Interest

The chemistry of chocolate. Image: Courtesy of Compound Interest

Visuals can be the way to engage a broader audience with an otherwise intimidating subject like health reform, or in Brunning’s case, the periodic table.

“The blog was born out of some posters I made to brighten up my classroom and to get my students interested in the different elements in the periodic table,” ,” he says. “From those, I branched out into making posters on other areas of chemistry, and originally started the site as a way to make them available to other chemistry teachers.”

Now the blog is attracting a wider audience, thanks the American Chemical Society videos.

To work, visuals have to be clear, and Brunning’s style is to make them simple enough for a high schooler but compelling enough for a chemist.

It seems his efforts may pay off even more. Brunning signed a book deal with Orion to publish his food chemistry visuals book next year.

As for the inevitable Breaking Bad ribbing he gets, Brunning says: “It’s great that [the TV series has] given a bit of exposure to chemistry, even if it does seem to have left everyone with the impression that chemists all go home and cook meth in their spare time.”

The Chemistry of various foods. Image: Courtesy of Compound Interest

The Chemistry of various foods. Image: Courtesy of Compound Interest

Copyright 2014 NPR.

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Food and Health-related stories from NPR including NPR Radio; NPR's food blog, "The Salt"; NPR's Health News blog, "Shots"; NPR's Breaking News blog "The Two-Way"; NPR's economy explainer "Planet Money"; food-related technology news from NPR's "All Tech Considered"; and food series "Kitchen Window."