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Chemist With Visual Flair Answers Burning Food Science Questions

Courtesy of Compound Interest

Chemistry teachers don't need to go the way of Breaking Bad's Walter White and make methamphetamine if they're looking for a compelling side gig.

Andy Brunning, a high school chemistry teacher in the U.K., makes beautiful infographics on everyday chemistry on his blog, Compound Interest. Thanks in part to the American Chemical Society, which has turned several of his posts into videos, his clever visuals have been going viral.

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Unsurprisingly, his most popular posts are generally about food and drink. They answer such vexing questions as: Why does asparagus make your pee smell? What makes grapefruit interact with prescription drugs?

(We've written up his take on the smell of cooking bacon and why garlic makes your breath stink. We admit we've been crushing on him a little.)

Now Brunning plans to publish a book of infographics focusing on "the weird quirks and effects of certain foods, and the chemistry behind them," he tells The Salt. "I'm hoping the book will be visually engaging and fun to dip in and out of, even for people with just a passing interest in chemistry."

/ Courtesy of Compound Interest
Courtesy of Compound Interest

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Visuals can be the way to engage a broader audience with an otherwise intimidating subject like health care, or in Brunning's case, the periodic table.

"The blog was born out of some posters I made to brighten up my classroom and to get my students interested in the different elements in the periodic table," he says. "From those, I branched out into making posters on other areas of chemistry, and originally started the site as a way to make them available to other chemistry teachers."

Now the blog is attracting a wider audience, thanks to the American Chemical Society videos.

To work, visuals have to be clear, and Brunning's style is to make them simple enough for a high schooler but compelling enough for a chemist.

It seems his efforts may pay off even more. Brunning signed a book deal with Orion to publish his food chemistry visuals book next year.

As for the inevitable Breaking Bad ribbing he gets, Brunning says: "It's great that [the TV series has] given a bit of exposure to chemistry, even if it does seem to have left everyone with the impression that chemists all go home and cook meth in their spare time."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

April Fulton is a former editor with NPR's Science Desk and a contributor to The Salt, NPR's Food Blog.

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