Picture it…



Making Of… Photos on the Sugar Posts

As promised, there is (at least) one more story in the pictures included in our two posts on sugars (which you can find here (part 1) and here (part 2). After the saga of the sugar cane photos from Mexico, our two writers Ana McGuinness and Charles O’Brien still needed a main image, and here is how it came about.


Assorted sweets in common laboratory glassware, together with a molecule of sucrose in front.

So, as a quick recap from part 1, our intrepid writers used work contacts of Ana’s Dad in Mexico to source pictures of sugar cane for their competition entry. However, in an editorial quest for visual consistency I suggested that they could combine colourful sweets with laboratory glassware for the main image. Anticipating howls of protest about having to throw away any foods after unwrapping them in the teaching laboratory, I also suggested that I would be prepared to refund their expenses.

I nearly missed the glint in Charles’ eyes when he suggested that, rather than walking across the road to the nearest supermarket, they could travel to the nearby City of Bath, where he knew of an excellent sweetshop. This would not just allow them to select from a broad and colourful range of sweets, but they could further enhance their blog post with photos of sweets in their storage containers. He admitted later that he couldn’t believe his luck when I agreed that I would be willing to cover the additional costs as well.

Different sweets lined up in the Bath sweet shop (important field research).

Different sweets lined up in the Bath sweet shop (important field research).

Sweets were duly procured and additional photos taken in the shop (and the glint is definitely still there in this photo of Charles):

Important fieldwork!

Important fieldwork!

Ana and Charles later told me that seeing those colourful hard sweets shaped in so many ways made them realise that there is a lot of science behind the manufacturing process (even more so after reading the dissertation on glass transition temperatures found at the physics library) and that Professor Smith’s “curly d’s” during the 1M sessions on partial differentiation were relevant to these glossy and diabetes-inducing sweets. In an interesting turn of events, sweets now make them think about partial differentiation and glass transition temperatures… and if you are interested, follow this link to a review paper that they found very useful: R. W. Hartel, R. Ergun, S. Vogel, Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety, 2011, 10, 17-32.

Added to that, they have both found themselves wanting to find out more about other things they see in everyday life. As Ana put it,  “If the shelf life of the sweets at the shop can be explained through 1M maths, then there must be more crazy stuff out there that needs to be understood and explained.” Charles added: “Everything we looked at seemed to be connected to chemistry in some way (no exaggeration) and was invariably underpinned by some aspect of thermodynamics…”

And while we do not do endorsements, we thank the staff of the Bath Sweet Shop for their patience!

At the end of the photoshoot in the lab, there was not a dry eye in the house when Jenny brought out a large bin bag to ensure all sweets were thrown away – I confess to being a little disappointed that nobody had thought to buy spares, but my dentist thanks you… And I did settle my debt with a pre-Christmas lunch, followed by cakes for dessert, in the end.

Contributors: Ana McGuinness and Charles O’Brien (photos and stories), Natalie Fey (writing)