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Introduction to Brewing

Introducing the underlying chemistry in brewing beer, tea and coffee

Brewing is both an art and a science. For a pleasing brew, whether it be a pint of bitter, or a cup of filter coffee, there are various devices to aid the process.

For example, “a beer-making kit” typically includes a fermenter, a valve, tubing, a funnel, thermometer, hydrometer (that measures the specific gravity (relative density) of liquids), a spoon, bottles, and caps. Those of you who make drip or filter coffee will need filter paper, a kettle, a balance, a grinder, and a spoon as part of your essential kit.

So, the kitchens of connoisseurs of a good brew can sometimes resemble an organic chemistry laboratory (indeed, there are some products that are a hybrid between laboratory glassware and modern drinkware). A modern organic chemistry laboratory, like our professional standard teaching laboratories at York, will have standard kits ranging from mechanical stirrers to balances, thermometers, and lots of glassware. This includes Quickfit glassware, required, for example, when carrying out a distillation.

Then there are the more specialized pieces of equipment, such as a rotary evaporator (for evaporation of solvents from samples), a Büchner funnel (used infiltration), and glassware, such as Kipp’s apparatus (for making small volumes of gases) and a Kjeldahl flask (round-bottomed and long-necked to trap splashes from the material being boiled for analysis). Indeed, some pieces of laboratory glassware are so intricate and beautifully designed that they may not be out of place in an art gallery! (At York, we are fortunate to have our own chemistry glassblower.)
Scientific equipment is constantly being refined and nature is a constant source of inspiration, even for pipettes. The sex organs of liverworts have inspired a design for a plastic pipette that can pick up and transfer precise amounts of water – the shape of a ‘dipper’ is designed so that the water is gripped by surface tension!

So what is your favourite piece of chemistry-related equipment or glassware, and why? This may be something in your home, perhaps a test tube spice rack or a mortar and pestle, or for those of you doing a course or job involving practical chemistry, something from your laboratory. Alternatively, it may be something you remember from your school days, perhaps the Bunsen burner, so popular it has its own celebration day!

This is an additional video, hosted on YouTube.

Also, as a beginning-of-the-week teaser, see if you can identify the 6 pieces of scientific equipment in the collage in the downloads section below and post your answers.

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Exploring Everyday Chemistry

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