A few decades ago, the only people who completed marathons were the most serious runners. Today, endurance events are increasingly popular among everyday athletes. Weekend warriors who once stuck to road 5Ks and leisurely bike rides are now tackling half-marathons, marathons, triathlons and cycling tours. Many of these athletes fuel […]

Considering food through the lens of materials science might initially seem strange, but if you imagine food items as collections of gels, emulsions and foams, you can begin to see how the concepts of materials science could change how we prepare, store and improve our foods. Moreover, there are numerous structuring processes that go into the creation of foods and most companies desire that these processes will result in food that is standardized, safe and appealing for consumers. But food can be so much more than standard and appealing.

While we like to imagine research facilities as being centers of cutting edge technology and streamlined efficiency, sometimes the reality couldn’t be further from the truth. In many laboratories, researchers still rely on paper notebooks to hold all information pertaining to current experiments: protocols, calculations, assay parameters, and any deviations. […]

I don’t know about other people but growing up, I thought yogurt was a weird, healthy version of ice cream. I eventually realized that’s not even remotely what yogurt is, but the association stuck with me for a long time, even after I’d incorporated it into my regular diet during high school. But isn’t it amazing how times have changed? Now, yogurt isn’t something that only people trying to lose weight or following a physical fitness program eat. It’s become one of the most dynamic food categories in recent years, evidenced by the marked growth in the yogurt market—in no small part thanks to the trendiness of Greek yogurt. Just imagine: in 2007, Greek yogurt made up only a tiny fraction of the yogurt market. Today, Greek yogurt makes up more than 50% of sales. Part of this has to do with the fact that yogurt has moved beyond a breakfast food.

In May 2015, Brazilian authorities first noticed that a virus native to Africa, the Zika virus, was spreading in their country. What happened next, however, could not be predicted: the Zika virus was linked to thousands of children being born with microcephaly. What has authorities especially worried is many believe the outbreak will spread throughout the Americas and some countries have advised women to avoid pregnancy until 2017. The Zika virus provides an example of a virus-induced developmental toxicity, defined as any alteration in child development due to an environmental insult. However, manmade specialty chemicals and pollutants can similarly affect child development. Because specialty chemicals used in common items such as water bottles or chairs are not often tested in pregnant and breastfeeding women to determine their ability to cross the placenta, specialty chemical companies can still do more to determine the extent to which their chemicals may expose women and their fetuses to negative side effects. In order to make such progress, new laboratories and research efforts must be undertaken by specialty chemical companies, while new technologies and software can assist in the organization of this information.

The hazards of plastic pollution are well-known to many, including the potential to poison and entangle animals, and even to resurface in the human food supply where the chemical additives can prove especially harmful for the most vulnerable among us. In this milieu, CPG companies have taken an interest in biodegradable plastic—plastic that can decompose due to the action of living organisms, usually bacteria. Though biodegradable plastics are not necessarily made from biomaterials such as plants, CPG companies have more seriously considered biodegradability as a positive functionality of plastic (along with durability, strength, etc.) and its use often appeals to an increasingly environmentally conscious consumer base.

Last month saw oil prices dip below the $30 per barrel threshold for the first time in 10 years. If we still had any doubts about the current volatility in the global oil market, I imagine they’re long gone by now. In fact, many people claim that the situation is the worst we’ve seen in 45 years. And if plummeting prices weren’t enough to worry about, the oil industry will soon have to contend with the Great Crew Change, when approximately half of its workforce will be entering retirement age—and taking large swaths of institutional knowledge with them. Despite the difficulties facing the industry, however, the petrochemical sector still remains a source of potential growth. While fracking persists as a point of contention among environmental advocacy groups in the United States, shale gas development has brought two benefits to the industry. First, it offers another source of energy. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly in today’s economic climate, it provides key raw materials to make plastics and other products. These two things are driving petrochemical companies to expand their existing plants in anticipation of this growing sector.