Ingenious Video Series
10 Classroom Resources
Video | Catalysts, Molecular Structure | High School
The compound ozone, a known respiratory irritant, exists in high concentrations at flight altitudes, making the “fresh air” sucked in by air conditioners at those heights, well, not so fresh. In fact ozone exposure may be responsible for many of the short-term discomforts we associate with air travel. What’s more, ozone can react with other compounds in the air -- even the oils of our skin -- to produce other toxic compounds, like aldehydes and ketones. Some planes have catalytic converters, like the ones in cars, which use transition metals to turn ozone into breathable oxygen. But not every plane has one!
Video | Chemical Bond, Electromagnetic Spectrum, Molecular Structure, Molecular Structure | High School
We’ve been using pigments and dyes for thousands of years, but they’re not the whole story when it comes to making color. “Structural” color occurs when tiny nanostructures interact with light waves, amplifying certain colors and canceling others. From brilliant bird feathers to butterfly wings, mole hairs to octopus skin, structural color is everywhere in the natural world. Researchers have tried for years to harness this incredible natural phenomenon in a useful way. Because these colors are so small and complex, and therefore hard to copy, their efforts have met with little success. But novel research using a computer model based in repeated random sampling — a so-called “Monte Carlo” model — is showing promise. Using this approach, scientists have been able to mimic the gorgeous blue of the mountain bluebird in a thin film of reflective beads, leapfrogging millennia of evolution.
Video | Chemical Properties, Heat, Interdisciplinary, Lab Safety, Molecular Structure , Physical Properties, Polymers, Temperature | High School
It’s never fun when your clothes catch on fire. And while “stop, drop, and roll” may be a good idea sometimes, in more extreme cases, you need a better plan. Every day, industrial workers, firefighters, and soldiers risk fiery situations that might seem hard to imagine. In an arc flash event, for one, temperatures can jump to metal-melting levels in milliseconds. How can anyone possibly survive that? Well, take a tip from a club sandwich, because it’s all about the layers. The composite fabrics that protect life and limb in these situations rely on some incredible, multilayered chemistry, including the ability to quickly form a protective carbonaceous crust around the wearer.
Video | Molecular Structure, Molecular Structure , Polymers, Polymers, Solubility | High School
Polypropylene recycling has a problem: It stinks. Food and other residues are almost impossible to remove entirely from polypropylene, a.k.a the number “5” plastic of grocery-store fame. Those residues – anything from yogurt to garlic, from fish oil to baby food – not only stick to polypropylene, they degrade there and start to smell even worse! Current polypropylene recycling techniques are more down-cycling than re-cycling. Unless you break down its molecules through a highly energy-intensive refining process, the material can only get a second life as a black trash can or an underground pipe – wherever its smell doesn’t matter. But a new technique, called dissolution recycling, is changing all that. Dissolution recycling uses a special hydrocarbon polymer solvent under finely controlled conditions of temperature and pressure to eliminate ALL of the contaminants embedded in the plastic.
Video | Combustion, Intermolecular Forces, Molecular Structure, Molecular Structure , Polarity | High School
The “fouling” of boats — when aquatic animals like barnacles and tubeworms attach to hulls — has been a nuisance for as long as we’ve been sailing the seas. Fouling messes up a vessel’s streamlined shape, decreasing its speed, maneuverability, and in modern times, its fuel-efficiency. Fouling spikes the carbon footprint of the shipping industry, already greater than that of most countries. For centuries, people used copper coatings to prevent fouling. Modern solutions use toxic chemical paints that pollute the water, kill marine life, and contribute to the degradation of our oceans when they wear off. A new approach is trying to work with nature instead of against it. Taking inspiration from the Salvinia plant, which is covered in tiny hair-like structures that make it basically waterproof, scientists are developing a stick-on silicone coating for ships that prevents animal hitchhikers from getting a foothold.
Video | Functional Groups, Intermolecular Forces, Molecular Structure, Molecular Structure , Polarity, Polymers, Polymers | High School
There’s clean, and then there’s CLEAN. Even if something looks clean, it might still be harboring microbes – many of them harmless, some of them definitely not. With most of the ways that we clean and disinfect — that is, kill germs — the clean doesn’t last as long as you might think. Disinfectants work by attacking bacterial membranes and viral protein coats, breaking them down so that those germs fall apart and die. But the germaphobes were always right: As soon as a disinfectant dries, and a surface is re-exposed, like if someone touches or (worse) sneezes on it, it needs be disinfected all over again. The next generation of cleaning products, however, add a trick: they lay down an incredibly thin polymer layer that keeps the germ-killing ingredients in place and effective for 24 hours at a time.
Video | Heat, Molecular Structure, Monomer, Physical Change, Physical Properties, Polymers | High School
The receipts you take home from the store – or stuff in your bag, or lose in your car -- employ a printing method that’s been around since the 1970s. Thermal printing involves heat-sensitive inks called leuco dyes that show up when they react with an acid developer embedded in the paper. Not only do these inks fade easily, but receipts that use them aren’t recyclable, and could even be dangerous to your health. Taking a cue from a failed experiment, scientists are developing a new kind of receipt paper that will use the same thermal printers without leuco dyes. Instead of acid developers, this paper is coated in reflective microspheres that collapse under heat, allowing regular ink underneath to show through.
Video | Functional Groups, Interdisciplinary, Molecular Structure | High School
Omega-3s are an essential nutrient that humans have to get from fish. But many of the world’s wild fish species are in crisis because we’ve taken too many of them from the ocean. So the answer is to farm more of our fish, right? While fish-farming relieves some pressure on the ocean’s wild species, it also contributes to that pressure, since farmed fish are fed fishmeal made from wild-caught fish. That’s because fish don’t make their own Omega-3s either. Like us, they get them from their diet. Using technology that came out of the space program, scientists have developed a way to cut out the middle-fish from the food chain and harvest Omega-3s for fishmeal directly from the source: algae.
Video | Mixtures, Physical Properties, Separating Mixtures
About 800,000,000 people worldwide – that’s almost one in ten, more than the population of the U.S. – don’t have reliable access to clean water. Using a technology first developed to reuse dirty laundry water, scientists have developed a water treatment plant the size of a teabag. Inside, a potent chemical triple-threat removes microbes, heavy metals, silt and dirt to produce clean, safe water one bucket at a time.
Video | Chemical Properties, Interdisciplinary, Molecular Structure , Polymers
Codling moths may look harmless, but their larvae wreak havoc in orchards, burrowing into fruit and eating them from the inside out. Pesticides have always been the solution to the old “worm in the apple” problem, but pesticides kill all the insects in the field, even the good ones. Instead of pesticides, farmers may soon use pheromones, those scented chemical messages animals release at mating time. Spreading synthetic, species-specific pheromones keeps male codling moths from finding females to mate with. No mating means no eggs, no larvae, and no more bad apples. Scaling up agricultural pheromones has proved difficult, but innovative approaches to pheromone production (using yeast cells) and distribution (with the help of customized weather stations) are starting to make it happen.