Science: So good, you can taste it

One of the best parts about working at PSI is that we are always surprised and intrigued by the conversations we have, the projects we work on, and the things people bring in to work. For example, Jenny, our Senior Gas Chromatography Technician, brought in a tasty treat for everyone at the office – Lego shaped Jell-O! Can you say awesome? (It’s okay to say it out loud.)Jello

These Lego molds bring back most of our fondest childhood memories or even our worst – have you ever stepped on a Lego? They are painful, but don’t worry, it takes 953 pounds to actually break a Lego. Luckily for us, these Jell-O shaped Lego’s are far less painful to step on than the originals, not to mention quite delicious.

“There is always room for Jell-O”, was the slogan for the first campaign launched to the entire world  in 1964. It may come to no surprise that Jell-O became a hit the moment it was released on the market. When originally launched the flavors were orange, lemon, strawberry and raspberry. Over the years more complex flavors like island pineapple, melon fusion, and cherry lemonade have been added to the Jell-O offerings.

What is it that makes Jell-O wiggly, jiggly and flexible? You guessed it- it’s a polymer! Just like many of our favorite things, Jell-O is made using a polymer called gelatin that has been boiled and dissolved in water. Gelatin is a protein substance that is obtained from collagen, part of the protein found in the connective tissue of animals. This connective tissue includes skin, ligaments, tendons, bones and more, yummy right? The animal bones and connective tissue are boiled in water, which causes gelatin to form. Gelatin contains over 18 different amino acids that form into a chain to produce a triple helix shape that gives this distinctive polymer the capability of “gelling” things together.

Although gelatin is used in the food industry for other things like gummy bears, marshmallows and Caesar dressing, it can be found in other non-edible products as well such as photographic film, medicine, vitamins and cosmetics. These products may not create the ideal image when dining on a Jell-O treat but they do demonstrate the amazing versatility of gelatin and polymers collectively.

Gelatin is just one of the many polymers found in food, consumer products, and the world around us. We are reminded every day that polymers have such a tremendous impact on everything we see and use from melted party trash to the lastest innovations in medical devices. So the next time you are noshing on a bowl of Jell-O, whether it is shaped like Lego blocks or not, consider how polymers are to thank for this unique and delectable snack. And while you’re at it, be curious, be creative, and always share the science.