The science of alcohol
The science of alcohol

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The science of alcohol

Week 1: What is alcohol?

Introduction

Welcome to this free course, The science of alcohol. Have you ever wondered why there are so many varieties of gin? Or how beer is produced? Do you want to know what a hangover really is? This course will answer these and other questions regarding the science which is responsible for the creation of alcoholic drinks and the effects alcohol has on the human body.

Before you start, watch the following short video in which Louise MacBrayne, the course author, gives a flavour of what is covered in the course.

Download this video clip.Video player: soa_1_w1_s1_vid_authorintro.mp4
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Transcript

LOUISE MACBRAYNE
If you're like me, you might well enjoy the odd drink now and then. But have you ever wondered what goes into making your favourite tipple? How do the basic ingredients turn into this? What gives it that flavour, and what are the effects on your body? If you have wondered, then this course is for you. You will learn about different types of beer and discover why gin has become so much more popular in the last few years. Brewing and distilling bring together the sciences of chemistry and biology along with engineering in a unique way that's developed over thousands of years. You'll also find out what a hangover really is, and there's even an option to have a go at brewing yourself. So crack open this lovely bit of learning now, and enjoy discovering the science in every sip. Cheers.
End transcript
 
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In this first week you will read about topics that will set the scene for this course.

You will first be introduced to the simple chemistry of the ethanol molecule and its physical properties. Next you will learn about yeast, the fungal microorganism that is used to convert carbohydrates, such as sugars and starches, into carbon dioxide and ethanol through the fermentation reaction. You will look at a homebrew kit and you can take part in an optional home experiment that will run alongside this course. Furthermore, you will learn about the distant history of alcohol production and how it has shaped our culture.

No prior knowledge of chemistry or science in general is assumed in this course and you will be guided through the basic scientific principles which underlie the topic materials. If you feel inspired to explore science further following this course, you might enjoy another free course on OpenLearn, Discovering chemistry [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] .

By the end of this week, you will be able to:

  • describe the ethanol molecule and distinguish it from other alcohols
  • explain why ethanol is easily absorbed into the body
  • describe some of the basic chemical reactions that ethanol can undergo
  • discuss the fermentation reaction and the conditions that affect it
  • depict how early human civilisations used alcohol and its effect on their culture.

So, to start, what exactly is alcohol?

The Open University would really appreciate a few minutes of your time to tell us about yourself and your expectations for the course before you begin, in our optional start-of-course survey. Participation will be completely confidential and we will not pass on your details to others.

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