Mastering Chemistry Symposium

So often times in life we are told to learn from the mistakes of others which is a great bit of advice, but there is also much to be said from learning from the success’ of others. Being able to learn from the success of others applies to the recent assignment given to the Chemistry 131 students at Centre College. For the assignment each student selected a different article about real life scenarios that involve the chemistry being studied in class to present to their peers. Listening to my peers present on their subjects allowed me to think critically about how I would change the way I present in the future and what I would keep the same. Being able to see how others engage their audience and apply what was learned in class to their presentation will allow me to become a better presenter.

One of the presentations during the chemistry symposium was on the sciene behind hot peppers by Adam Clark. The reason that peppers seem to be hot and give off a burning sensation is due to something called capsaicin which attaches to neurotransmitters which makes one’s mouth feel hot, even though the mouth is not actually hot. Peppers can have many health benefits such as relieving pain, but can also have negative effects if taken in excess. The reason I enjoyed this presentation was due to how detailed Adam was in covering his topic. I knew nothing about peppers before going into the presentation, but felt I had a solid general understanding of peppers after the presentation was over. In addition, he had good eye contact with the audience with is often something I struggle with and would like to improve on in the future. The presentation given by Adam allowed me not only to learn about subject matter but to learn about what I would change about my own presentation if I were to do it again.


Being a big dog person, another presentation that stood out to me was Allysson’s. Her topic was ‘Sniffing Land Mines’. Since metal detectors are no longer reliable in detecting bombs, dogs are used in their place. Dogs have a much better sense of smell than humans (10^-3 compared to 10^-6 for dogs) meaning that they can smell the deadly landmines that we cannot. Allysson thoroughly described the training these dogs go through, as well as how dogs are able to smell both TNT and DNT (an impurity of TNT). Her presentation stood out to be because she spoke slowly, and confidently. Many times when I am presenting on a topic I tend to get nervous and rush. Hearing Allysson reminded me that I have nothing to be nervous about and reinforced the fact that the audience understands and enjoys the presentation much better when the presenter can be understood fully.


The final presentation that interested me was the one on ‘Stars and Starstuff’ by Luke. Throughout his presentation he discussed naturally occurring elements and man made elements as well as the possibility of many more elements on the periodic table. Luke started and ended his presentation with quotes that tied into his subject. Using the quotes was a great way to hook the audience at the beginning of the presentation and then leave them with something to think about after the presentation ended. In my future presentations I will definitely try to incorporate quotes in the way that Luke did. Another thing that I enjoyed from his presentation was his pure passion he had for the subject he was speaking about. When a speaker comes off as passionate about what they are talking about (whether they truly are passionate or not) they get the audience excited as well. On my next presentation I am going to bring the same enthusiasm Luke brought to his throughout the duration of his presentation.

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Learning from others is one of the best and easiest ways to learn. Most of the time students don’t recognize how resourceful and helpful a peer can be in aiding in the process of learning; so this chemistry symposium was a great way to reinforce how important a lesson from a fellow peer can be in furthering our education.


Are “Chemical Free” Products Truly Chemical Free?

Every time summer rolls around, kids everywhere are guaranteed to hear their mom utter the words ‘don’t forget to put on some sunscreen’. They slather on the stuff (although reluctantly) because of the damage that UV rays can cause to skin; but does anyone ever stop to think about what they are really putting on their bodies? Most sunscreens, such as Burt’s Bees Sunscreen, claim to be ‘chemical free’ so that consumers are put at ease and are more likely to buy the product; though this ‘chemical free label’ can often be misleading to consumers. After looking into the real meaning of the word chemical, seeing what ingredients are in Burt’s Bees Sunscreen, and investigating why producers use the phrase ‘chemical free’ one will be able to understand what really is in the sunscreen thousands put on throughout the summer.

In order to understand why producers, use the words ‘chemical free’, one must first understand what the word chemical means. According to an online dictionary, The Free Dictionary, a chemical is: a substance with a distinct molecular composition that is produced by or used in a chemical process ( By this definition everything is a chemical. Water is a chemical, the glass water is in from is made of chemicals, and even human beings are made up of chemicals. So it could be confusing to a consumer when the label for Burt’s Bees Sunscreen reads:

Inactive Ingredients: Water, cannabis sativa (hemp) seed oil, glycerin, stearic acid, hydrated silica, fragrance, sucrose distearate, helianthus annulus (sunflower) seed oil, beta-carotene, calendula officinalis (calendula) flower extract, crataegus oxyacanthus stem extract, hamamelis virginiana (witch hazel) extract, hydrastis canadensis (golden seal) extract, symphtum offcinale (comfrey) extract, rosmarinus officinalis (rosemary) leaf extract, acacia senegal gum, sucrose stearate, aluminum hydroxide, alginic acid, xanthan gum, sodium borate, glucose, lecithin, sodium chloride, canola oil, glucose oxidase, lactoperoxidase.

Active Ingredient: Titanium dioxide 8.58% (

The very first ingredient on the list is a chemical, in fact every single ingredient on the list is a chemical. Even natural products such as seed oil are chemicals. The list of these ingredients proves that the label chemical free on this sunscreen is misleading since there are in fact multiple chemicals in Burt’s Bees Sunscreen (

So why do producers insist on using the label ‘chemical free’ on their products if the product is not truly chemical free? One of the main reasons the chemical free label is put onto so many products, especially ones that go on our body, is so that the consumer is put more at ease when purchasing a product. Between a product that reads chemical free and one without the chemical free label, a consumer will most likely choose the chemical free product because it seems like the better choice. Even though nothing can be chemical free, consumers are still put at ease by the false label because they are not aware of what it really means to be a chemical, and believe that they are buying a superior product because it reads chemical free.

By using the phrase chemical free, producers and manufactures create a fear of chemicals. A chemical created by a scientist can be beneficial while naturally occurring chemicals can be quite harmful, which is what consumers don’t understand and why producers continue to use the chemical free label. Instead of using this label, the Burt’s Bees Sunscreen company can instead up-play how the sunscreen will protect from UVA and UVB rays. In addition, the ingredients also list hemp seed oil as one of the ingredients in the sunscreen. Hemp seed oil can be very beneficial to one’s skin because it decreases the frequency of dry skin and can also help to avoid irritation if someone were to have sensitive skin ( This demonstrates that there are many other ways to appeal to a customer truthfully rather than putting a false label on a product. Producers and manufactures need to remove the false chemical free label from their products and instead hone in on the real benefits their product(s) have to consumers.

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