Featured project: Pennies instead of petroleum!

Jai Ranganathan

Today’s featured #SciFund Challenge project is Pennies instead of petroleum! by Jeffrey Bodwin.

How do we break our addiction to petroleum? Simple: with uncooked spaghetti and marshmallows.

Wait! it isn’t as crazy as it sounds. Jeffrey Bodwin is an associate professor of chemistry at Minnesota State University Moorhead and he is working on an innovative new way to make ethanol from corn and other crops. Biofuels like corn-based ethanol have taken a big hit in the past few years, partially because they are not nearly as environmentally-friendly as once thought.

But what if we could make the process of turning crops into ethanol more efficient? Right now, the only part of the corn that can be used for ethanol are the kernels on the corncob, wasting almost all of the plant. What if we could use the entire plant? Suddenly the economics and the environmental impact of crop-based ethanol would flip to the extremely positive side of the ledger.

This is, in fact, the point of the good professor’s research. But how do you convey this research in a compelling and understandable way? Organic chemistry isn’t many people’s idea of a fun time, after all.

Stay puft marshmallow man
Who knew marshmallows were the key to breaking our addiction to oil?

That’s where the marshmallows and spaghetti come in. In an absolutely brilliant use of visual analogies, using just marshmallows and uncooked spaghetti, Jeffrey’s SciFund video simply and effectively conveys a lot of information about the organic chemistry behind ethanol production. You absolutely need to watch Jeffrey’s video. It is just a textbook example of how seemingly-impenetrable science can be made interesting and fun

Oh and there is a bonus clip at the end of a marshmallow meeting a grisly end at the fiery hands of a bunsen burner.

What’s not to love here? So do check out Pennies instead of petroleum!