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May Term Class: A Chemical Analysis of Wine

Chemical Analysis of Wine

Taught by Assistant Professor of Chemistry Paul Hooker

There are at least 5,000 chemical components in a glass of red wine. That's why Assistant Professor of Chemistry Paul Hooker brought a few gallons of Merlot and a still into his chemistry class this May term. Hooker wanted his students to gain experience with the instrumentation used for chemical analysis; students learned their way around the lab through seven experiments analyzing the complex chemical properties of wine.

In one experiment, "Determining the Density of Wine," the students learned how to calibrate Eppendorf pipets and determine the accuracy and precision of their pipets and pipetting technique. In another experiment students learned about atomic absorption spectroscopy while determining the concentration of potassium in wine.

"We found the wine we tested came in well under federal regulation for such things as sulfites," Hooker said. He explained that the complex chemical process of making wine can easily go wrong somewhere along the line. "If you ever have a bottle and you find a solid precipitate floating in there, that's a sign the chemistry is off," he said.

Wine making depends not only on the grapes but on the vineyard, the soil, and the climate at the time. When it all comes together and the chemistry is right in the wine-making process, that is when we get those "coveted vintages," Hooker explained.

"We won't ever be able to create wine in a laboratory. We can analyze it, maybe make it more consistent, but you're not going to find a chemist who says, 'Hey, I know what makes this wine, or what imparts this nice oak flavor.' It won't get to that state--wine is too complex," said Hooker.

May term classes are month-long courses, unique to Westminster. These classes challenge the faculty to find innovative ways to teach.