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Safety in Science

Outlines the hazards of scientific research and how scientists stay safe.

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Sweeter than Sugar

Sweeter than Sugar

License: CC BY-NC 3.0

Do you drink diet soft drinks like this one? Did you ever wonder how diet drinks are sweetened? They don’t contain sugar, so what makes them taste sweet?

The Back Story

  • Sugars are simple carbohydrate molecules. The smallest sugar molecules are absorbed directly into the bloodstream. They include glucose and fructose. Table sugar, which you might add to ice tea or spoon onto your cereal, is called sucrose. Each sucrose molecule consists of one glucose molecule and one fructose molecule bonded together.
  • Making and selling artificial sweeteners like those used in diet drinks is a multi-billion dollar industry. People with diabetes, who can’t safely consume sugary foods, are one market for the industry. An even bigger market for artificial sweeteners consists of people who want to lose weight by consuming fewer calories.
  • Credit: Bill & Vicki T
    Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/iluvcocacola/5316378684/
    License: CC BY-NC 3.0

    Sweeteners are commonly used to sweeten coffees or teas [Figure2]

  • Why are artificial sweeteners low in calories? They are much sweeter than real sugar so you can use far less of them. Some artificial sweeteners have no calories at all because the digestive system doesn’t break them down. They just pass right through the body.
  • You might think that many researchers would actively look for new and better artificial sweeteners, given how profitable they are. Surprisingly, several of the most popular artificial sweeteners were discovered by accident. Accidental discoveries are actually fairly common in science. Watch this video to learn how three well-known artificial sweeteners were discovered by chemists who broke lab safety rules: http://www.nbclearn.com/chemistrynow/cuecard/52731

Show What You Know

Learn more about artificial sweeteners at the link below. Then answer the questions that follow.

  1. Which three artificial sweeteners were discovered by accident? What lab safety rules were violated in their discovery?
  2. When and how was saccharin discovered? How much sweeter is it than sugar?
  3. When and how was cyclamate discovered? Why is cyclamate no longer used in the U.S.?
  4. When and how was aspartame discovered? How widely is it used today
  5. What are pros of artificial sweeteners compared with real sugar?
  6. Artificial sweeteners can be hundreds or even thousands of times sweeter than real sugar. How can artificial sweeteners be so much sweeter than real sugar?

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Image Attributions

  1. [1]^ License: CC BY-NC 3.0
  2. [2]^ Credit: Bill & Vicki T; Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/iluvcocacola/5316378684/; License: CC BY-NC 3.0

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