What’s That in Your Coffee?

Additives in your coffee can range from wheat… to soybeans… to dirt

Additives in your coffee can range from wheat… to soybeans… to dirt

As you drink your morning cup of coffee, consider this…

There is currently a worldwide shortage of coffee beans.  Brazil (the world’s No. 1 coffee producer) is experiencing a drought.  Peru and Central America face a scourge of leaf rust.  Wholesale coffee prices have increased more than 60 percent since the beginning of the year.

Some makers of ground coffee have increased the amount of “fillers” they add to their products.  Non-harmful fillers include corn, barley, wheat, soybeans, rice and brown sugar.  Unfortunately, there are also harmful fillers such as wood, twigs, husk and even dirt.  These fillers can be virtually impossible for consumers to detect once the coffee beans have been roasted and ground.

Agilent analytical solutions are used extensively by the food industry to test the quality of coffee products.  An Agilent high-performance liquid chromatograph can detect contaminants such as chlorogenic acid, a byproduct of roasting that can upset sensitive stomachs.  The HPLC can also determine whether caffeine levels are acceptable for decaffeinated coffees.

Recently, researchers successfully used an Agilent 2100 Bioanalyzer to differentiate and authenticate different types of coffee beans through genetic sequencing.

Agilent equipment has even been used to make a better cup of coffee.  The correct balance of coffee aroma, taste and mouthfeel is dependent on how the coffee is extracted, roasted, brewed and stored.  Researchers in the UK and Switzerland recently used an Agilent GC/MSD System to optimize 20 key compounds that affect coffee’s in-cup aroma.

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The Father of Modern Chemistry

Lavoisier helped change chemistry from a superstition into a science

Lavoisier helped change chemistry from a superstition into a science

Antoine-Laurent de Lavoisier was born on August 26, 1743.  He studied law to please his wealthy family, but his passion was chemistry.  As a student during the Enlightenment, he declared, “I am young and eager for glory.”

At the time, chemistry was more of a superstition than a science.  People still believed in Aristotle’s classical elements of earth, water, air and fire.  Evaporation could convert water into earth.  And combustion and rust were caused by a fire-like element called phlogiston (Greek for “burning flame”).

Lavoisier applied very precise measurements to his experiments.  He discovered that the sediment from evaporation actually came from the inside of the container.  He discovered that combustion is caused by oxygen (which he named after the Greek for “acid former”).  He established the law of conservation of mass.  His 13-year-old wife learned English just so she could translate research for him, and art just so she could illustrate his works.

Lavoisier invented the chemical nomenclature still used today, identifying 55 substances as true “elements” (substances that could not be broke down further), including hydrogen, carbon and phosphorus.  He wrote, “I have tried to suppress the use of reasoning, which is often an unreliable instrument, in order to follow the torch of observation and of experiment.”  Overall, he changed chemistry from a qualitative science to a quantitative one, elevating it to the level of physics and mathematics.

Lavoisier also had his faults.  He tried to take credit for the work of other scientists, including Joseph Priestly.  His list of elements included light and caloric.  And he believed that the existence of atoms was philosophically impossible.

But Lavoisier’s greatest fault was his status as a nobleman and a tax collector.  He was executed by guillotine in 1794 at the height of the French Revolution, despite appeals in the name of science.  Joseph Legrange declared, “It took them only an instant to cut off that head, and a hundred years may not produce another like it.”

Agilent first entered the analytical instrumentation field in 1965 when HP acquired F&M Scientific Corporation.  Founders Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard believed that HP’s expertise in measuring electrical signals could be applied to measuring chemicals and molecules.

Today, Agilent is a global industry leader in providing laboratory solutions for applied chemical markets, including chemical, energy, the environment, food safety and forensics.  For the past three years, Agilent chemical analysis instruments have won the prestigious R&D 100 Award for the year’s most technologically significant products.

“In the nearly 50 years that Agilent has been serving the applied chemical markets, we have helped customers improve the world’s quality of life through safe food, clean air and water, and efficient energy use,” says Mike McMullen, president of Agilent’s Chemical Analysis business. “What I’m most proud of is our team’s constant exploration and discovery of what’s possible – much like Lavoisier himself.”

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The Man Who Invented Drug Testing

Agilent equipment has been used at major sports events for 40+ years

Agilent equipment has been used at major sports events for 40+ years

This week we salute Manfred Donike, who was born on August 23, 1933.  In 1966, the German biochemist demonstrated that an Agilent (then Hewlett-Packard) gas chromatograph could be used to detect anabolic steroids and other prohibited substances in athletes’ urine samples.

Donike began the first full-scale testing of athletes at the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich, using eight HP gas chromatographs linked to an HP computer.  His method reduced the screening process from 15 steps to three, and was considered so scientifically accurate that no outside challenges to his findings were allowed.

At the 1983 Pan American Games, Donike’s laboratory disqualified 19 athletes and caused numerous others to withdraw before they were due to be tested.  At the 1988 Summer Olympics, his testimony led to the suspension of Canadian sprinter Ben Johnson.  (When Johnson’s defenders claimed that unknown parties had somehow spiked the athlete’s drink, Donike declared, “How can anyone seriously state such nonsense?”)

Donike died of a heart attack on August 21, 1995 at the age of 61.  Ironically, he was en route to the All-African Games to set up a drug testing laboratory.  “His contributions over the past 25 years have been innumerable,” said UCLA’s Dr. Don Caitlin at the time.  “He devised all the chemical methods of identifying prohibited substances.”

Donike was also an athlete, earning 14 national titles in cycling.

In 1997, HP established the Manfred Donike Award to recognize “scientists who exemplify the spirit and scientific leadership of doping control pioneer Manfred Donike, and whose contributions significantly increase fairness in sports competition.”  The award continues to be given annually by Agilent.

Today, Agilent is a leader in gas chromatography, liquid chromatography and mass spectrometry.  Ever since the 1972 Olympic Games, the company has been the major supplier of drug-testing equipment for elite sports competitions worldwide, including the World Cup and the Tour de France.  Agilent also provides drug-testing solutions to law enforcement and forensics laboratories around the world.

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