The chemistry of Christmas baubles, and the good scientist who made them doable


Credit: Apirak Wongpunsing

Were it not for Baron Justus von Liebig, Christmas would possibly look and style fairly completely different. Yet regardless of his contribution to every little thing from the inventory cubes utilized in your gravy to the mirrors in your home, it’s unlikely you may have heard of him.

For a lot of the nineteenth century, Liebig was an enormous of the scientific institution, with fingers in lots of pies. He labored out the core dietary wants of vegetation after which went on to develop the primary fertilizer—for which he’s recognized in scientific circles because the “father of fertilization.” This work eliminated the dependency on animal dung to feed crops and paved the way in which for industrial agriculture—together with piles of Brussels sprouts.

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The German chemist’s pursuits additionally stretched to human diet. He grew to become satisfied the juices that flowed out of cooked meat contained precious dietary compounds and inspired cooks to sear the meat to seal within the juices. This turned out to be complete bunkum, however 150 years later his recommendation remains to be adopted by Christmas dinner cooks throughout the land.

The obsession with meat juices additionally led him to create beef extracts in an try to offer a nutritious meat substitute. The extract turned out to be a quite poor, and never significantly nutritious, different to meat—however the Liebig Extract of Meat Company did morph into Oxo, whose inventory cubes discover their method into so many Christmas gravies.

Mirrors and baubles

Yet Leibig’s most seen contribution to Christmas might be hanging in your Christmas tree. Christmas timber have their roots way back to the Roman saturnalian celebration of the winter solstices—a spiritual pageant involving ingesting, singing and change of items, devoted to the Roman god Saturn. Later, most likely someday within the sixteenth century, embellished timber had been introduced into properties and this German concept was then popularized by Queen Victoria within the mid nineteenth century.

Some of the primary reported glass decorations for timber, courting again to the sixteenth century, had been garlands of beads produced by the Greiner family in Lauscha, Germany. Some 250 years later, the household had been nonetheless making ornaments, and Hans Greiner grew to become well-known for his ornate glass nuts and fruits, embellished with mirrored inside surfaces.

At the time, mirrors had been prohibitively costly for many and had been made by adhering a skinny tin movie to glass utilizing mercury. The course of was extraordinarily hazardous because it generated extremely poisonous mercury vapor, which might additionally leach off the mirror for many years to come back. In truth, vintage mercury mirrors could also be recognized by droplets of mercury pooling at their base.

At roughly the identical time as Hans Greiner was creating his baubles, Liebig was creating a lot safer methods to silver glassware to be used in his laboratories. His methodology utilized silver nitrate, ammonia and easy sugars. And it resulted in a fabulously uniform, crystal-clear movie of silver metallic deposited on the glass. This was quickly tailored to be used in different areas of science, together with telescope mirrors, and shortly Greiner caught wind of the event and integrated it into his ornaments. Eventually the method additionally led to mass-produced mirrors which had been low-cost sufficient to make them commonplace.

Shortly after Liebig developed his silvering methodology the method was tweaked by one other German chemist, Bernhard Tollen, who turned the method into an analytical method for figuring out explicit chemical teams called aldehydes. Tollen’s method has the quite lovely aspect impact of rapidly silvering the vessel it’s carried in. Seeing a mirrored floor form in your hands is an actual delight, making it a favourite of chemistry classes the world over.

Discovering sources of Roman silver coinage from the Iberian Peninsula

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The chemistry of Christmas baubles, and the good scientist who made them doable (2021, December 21)
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