I Am the One Who Compounds …

SEPTEMBER 11, 2013
Exit summer. Enter fall! I hope my faithful readers enjoyed their summer (what there was of it this year, anyway). I realize that most of you out there prefer the heat to the cool breezes of autumn, but, personally, I am ready to turn the page and move on to fall and that decidedly American holiday of … Halloween.
 
As retail pharmacists, we are on the front lines of the Halloween season. Although most people start thinking Halloween in mid-October, as a pharmacist, you cannot help but notice the store aisles beginning to fill with a steadily increasing volume of Halloween candy as early as September. This friendly reminder of fall never fails to make me smile. As the mini Twix and Snickers begin to line the aisles, I know that brightly colored leaves, autumn breezes, and pumpkin spice lattes are right around the corner.
 
This fall also brings with it the final season of my favorite chemistry-related show, AMC's “Breaking Bad.” Now, I'm not condoning the version of “compounding in the kitchen [lab]” carried out by its anti-hero, the high school chemistry teacher turned meth kingpin Walter White, but I can’t help appreciating a show that manages to blend science, storytelling, and action into such a pleasing combination. For those of you who have not seen “Breaking Bad,” I highly encourage you to start watching from the beginning and find out how, um, “interesting” science can be. As White’s former student and partner in crime, Jesse Pinkman, would say, “Yeah, science!” Just a warning—don't get addicted.
 
And with that warning, I bring to you this Halloween's recipe: Rock Candy. (All ingredients are legal in all 50 states and the District of Columbia).
 
Rock Candy (single serving)
 
Ingredients
1 wooden skewer (or clean wooden chopstick left over from a takeout night)
1 clothespin
1 cup water
2-3 cups sugar
1 canning jar (left over from summer)
 
rock_candyDirections
1. Clip the wooden skewer into the clothespin so that it hangs down inside the glass and is about 1 inch (2.5 cm) from the bottom of the glass.
2. Remove the skewer and clothespin and put them aside.
3. Pour the water into a pan and bring it to boil.
4. Pour about 1/4 cup of sugar into the boiling water, stirring until it dissolves.
5. Keep adding more and more sugar, continuing to stir until it dissolves, until no more will dissolve. This will take time and patience and it will take longer for the sugar to dissolve as you proceed. Be sure not to give up too soon.
6. Once no more sugar will dissolve, remove the sugar solution from the heat and allow it to cool for at least 20 minutes. (While the solution is cooling, some people like to dip half of the skewer in the sugar solution and then roll it in some sugar to help jump start the crystal growth. If you do this, be sure to let the skewer cool completely so that sugar crystals do not fall off when you place it back in the glass.)
7. Carefully pour the sugar solution into the jar almost to the top. Then submerge the skewer back into the jar, making sure that it is hanging straight down the middle without touching the sides.
8. Put the jar someplace where it will not be disturbed and allow it to fully cool.
9. The hardest part comes next: waiting for the sugar crystals to slowly grow around the skewer over the next 3 to 7 days.
 
How does this work?!
When you mix the water and sugar together, you are making a super-saturated solution. This means that the water can only hold the amount of sugar it contains as long as it is very hot. As the water cools, the sugar “comes out” of the solution, forming sugar crystals and collecting on your skewer. The skewer (and sometimes the glass itself) acts as a “seed” that the sugar crystals start to grow on.
 
Alternation: Want colored rock candy? Add food coloring to your sugar water, making sure the color is fairly dark to ensure the best result.

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