A tasty chemistry engagement project

May 11 / 60

Earlier this month, staff from the School of Chemistry presented a unique engagement program at the Castlemaine Farmers' Market. 

University staff joined scientists from the CSIRO and the Free Scale Network to talk to market visitors about the chemical properties of chocolate. 

The session gave participants a chance to taste, smell and examine different types of chocolate, explore the steps in chocolate-making and learn about the chemical reasons people eat it.

Organiser Mick Moylan said good quality dark chocolate was a very complex food which contained more than 400 different molecules. 

“As chemists, we’re interested in some of these molecules because of the way they affect people, some of the outcomes are pretty obvious (too much fatty chocolate makes people put on weight) but chocolate also contains stimulants, including caffeine, which increase the heart rate and influence our emotions. 

“There are also important antioxidants in chocolate, which can reduce blood pressure and decrease stroke and cancer risks.”

Mr Moylan said because 2011 was the International Year of Chemistry, staff at the school were eager to share their work with as diverse an audience as possible. He decided to use chocolate for his demonstration because he was fascinated by the chocolate-making process. 

“We spoke to hundreds of people, gave away lots of chocolate and talked about some very big scientific (and non-chocolatey) issues with people who came along. 

“The chemical steps in chocolate making are quite complicated, and we wanted to talk with people about some of the intricate science behind such an everyday thing,” he said.  

Mr Moylan said staff who participated were really pleased with the event.  “It was great to be doing food chemistry as part of the Castlemaine Farmers’ Market, because we explained the science to an audience which didn’t often engage with chemistry or scientists. 

“I think it’s important for scientists, and the University generally, to communicate directly with the public. These people might not usually engage with the University, but I think we have a responsibility to share our work with them, because they indirectly fund it. 

“I’ve been pleased that we’ve been able to talk to lots of people who wouldn’t otherwise have been interested in chemistry.”

 

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