Q: How can we destroy Peeps?

When I was an undergraduate, I took a class called “Scientific Writing.”  One of our assignments was to run a research project from start to finish.  We had to write a grant proposal, run an experiment, and publish a paper.  Of course, this was an undergraduate project, so we weren’t really asking for grants and publishing papers.  We were encouraged to be creative.

I wrote a proposal claiming Peeps were taking over the world and we needed to find a way to destroy them.  And yes, I mean the marshmallow fluffs shaped like chicks.

The proposal was about the Easter Invasion, when the Peeps would descend upon humans and fill our stores, kitchens, and snack drawers, taking up valuable space needed by humans.  While the Peeps were natural prey for human predators, the balance was heavily shifted in favor of Peeps.  Thus, the Peep Eradication Committee (aka me) wanted to find a way to control the Peep population.

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The ingredients for Peeps include sugar, corn syrup, and gelatin.  Gelatin is a protein substance formed from collagen, a compound found in animal skin and bones.

I planned to build off the work of another “researcher” who had attempted to dissolve the Peeps in a variety of solutions.  They had tried dissolving Peeps in water (a polar substance in which molecules have partially charged positive and negative areas), acetone (an organic substance), sulfuric acid (H2SO4, a strong acid), sodium hydroxide (NaOH, a strong base), and phenol (which is used to dissolve proteins).  The previous researcher thought the water would dissolve the Peep, but they were unable to show that.  The only substance they found that was successful at dissolving Peeps was the phenol, and even that couldn’t destroy the Peeps’ “eyes.”

I choose to replicate the experiment using water, acetone, sodium hydroxide, and sulfuric acid.  The previous experiment had tried both hot and cold water.  I planned on using room temperature water and boiling water.  I also decided to try using hydrochloric acid (HCl), a major component of gastric acid used for digesting food.

I had initially planned on using phenol, but my professor shot that down.  I was limited to chemicals used in the general chemistry lab, and phenol was considered too corrosive and toxic for such a simple lab experiment.

To run the experiment, I made 150 milliliter samples of each solvent.  The room temperature water and acetone were taken directly from storage.  A second sample of water was brought to the boiling point.  I took concentrated amounts of each acid and base and diluted them (adding water) to create of 1.0 M of each acid and base.  (M stands for molar, a unit of concentration defined as moles per liter.  A mole is a unit for the amount of substance.  One mole contains 6.022 x 1023 molecules or atoms.)  I also created a diluted hydrochloric acid sample meant to replicate the concentration in gastric acid, 0.16 M.

line-of-peeps

The Peeps were separated and weighed before being dropped into beakers with the solvents.  Because the Peeps floated to the tops of every solvent, they were periodically pushed down in the solvents using a spatula.  Bubbles formed on the surface of the Peeps, probably due to trapped air escaping from the marshmallow as the outer covering was dissolved.  All solvents except the acetone took on a pink hue due to the pink sugar coating dissolving.  The acetone did not dissolve much, if any, of the pink sugar.

The Peeps sat in their solutions for two hours.  After this, the remaining parts of the Peeps were taken out and left to dry.  Once dry, the Peeps were weighed again to find how much mass of the Peeps had gone into solution.

The resulting mass measurements are listed in the table below.

peep-table

Room temperature water, sodium hydroxide, sulfuric acid, and both concentrations of hydrochloric acid destroyed about 40% of the original masses of the Peeps.  Acetone only destroyed about 10% of the Peep.  Boiling water completely destroyed the Peep, including its eyes, within eight minutes.

dead-peep

Why is that?

Sugar and corn syrup are polar and able to dissolve in polar solutions such as water because of hydrogen bonds that form between the water and the sugar and corn syrup molecules.  This pushes the sugar and corn syrup molecules away from each other.  Gelatin contains polar and non-polar parts, so it is less able to dissolve quickly.  Hot water is at a higher temperature and has extra kinetic energy, allowing the gelatin to dissolve more quickly.  That’s probably why the previous “researcher” wasn’t able to dissolve the Peep in water- the water wasn’t hot enough.

There you have it.  We can destroy Peeps in boiling water, and claim back our kitchen space.

Or you could eat them.  Or blow them up in the microwave.  Whatever you choose.

peep-jousting

Keep calm and science on.

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