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This has been another fun week. In case you didn’t know Lefteris asks science has a youtube page now! CRAZY! (it might not seem to you but damn I’m excited). I am working with a very talented artist that helps me with the animations and I’ll be posting short videos and explanations to accompany the podcast. If you haven’t subscribed click here and do that already! Patreon is helping me more comfortably afford this. But the more Patreons the easier it will be so click below. Also today, it’s been 30 years since the death of Freddy Mercury. I will be listening to a lot of Queen today so I thought it would be nice if you did too.
This week for the newsletter I wanted to discuss soaps a little bit. It’s not connected to any new discoveries or something like that but some weeks I get these questions that I THINK I know the answers to but then after researching I learn more. So our main story for today deals with soaps and their chemistry.
When it comes to science news, we have maybe the first good indication for human pheromones, some hopeful results about helping people with spinal cord injuries, and some reports that deal with improved sexual well-being. I hope you learn something new today.
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How does soap work?
The last few years (yes it has been yearS, plural) we’ve been talking a lot about the importance of sanitizing our hands. We should clean our hands often using soap and hand sanitizers and be mindful whenever we come in contact with others. Now all of that is true and in the spirit of providing evidence to you about why these things work and why they are important, I decided to look into and describe in clear terms why and how soaps work and keep your hands clean. And who knows maybe you’ll think of cleaning your hands after reading this…
First of all, what is soap? Soap is a salt. Yes just like the salt you use for your food although I believe the result in taste would not be as good. In chemistry, salts are compounds that have an assembly of equally positively and negatively charged ions. In the case of table salt for example we have sodium (+) and chloride(-). Now, soap is not just any type of salt, but it is a salt of a fatty acid. Now, a fatty acid is a type of… well acid that has a chain of carbon and hydrogen bonds.
Now you vaguely know what are the things that make up a soap but the important part is the role that these compounds play. Every molecule of soap has a head and a tail. The tail is hydrophobic (in Greek it means afraid of water, like my cat) and the head is hydrophilic (it’s a friend of the water, like your goldfish). As you might imagine the salt part of the soap is at the end of the molecule and it can dissolve in water while the carbon chain is the tail and it doesn’t. If you try to mix grease or an oil with a soap water solution, then the soap can act as a link between the water and the oil. The water-loving parts will go in the water and the water-fearing parts will go with the oil and this means that soap can be an emulsifier. An emulsifier does exactly what we described, it can mix liquids that wouldn’t otherwise mix with eachother
Now oil attracts dirt, when you wash your hands the soap molecules will form small balls (called micelles) with the water-fearing oils in the middle and the water-loving salts being at the edges of the balls protecting the oils that are soaked in the dirt. So with the dirt in the middle of the micelles, you can now throw more water and the dirt will flow off your hand. You can see a great illustration of how the micelles and the chemical compounds look like in this wonderful website called World of Molecules.
A pheromone from a human baby can make moms angry?
Now you would be surprised to know that pheromones are not 100% confirmed to exist in humans. Pheromones are similar to hormones but instead, they work outside the body. It has been found, that some compounds in mouse urine can make male mice fight each other. A rabbit mother will even attack her own baby if she smells another female in the area. While, scientists still don’t have strong evidence for human pheromones, a multinational research team led by researchers in the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot Israel identified a compound called hexadecanal that seems to increase aggression in women that smell it, and at the same time it reduces the aggression in men. Read more about the research and the way they tested the compound in the article from The Scientist here.
– ‘Dancing molecules’ successfully repair severe spinal cord injuries, by Northwestern
– Mindfulness during sex linked to improved sexual well-being and orgasm consistency in married couples, by PsyPost
|I hope you enjoyed my favorite science news articles from last week. I am Lefteris, host of Lefteris asks science. A biweekly podcast where I discuss with academics and researchers and I ask them annoying questions until I understand what, how, and why they do what they do. Listen to the trailer here and go to www.lefteriasks.com to find all the episodes.If you like what you hear go ahead and click the button below to subscribe|