Reflections on Exam #2

Another late post.  I had a big exam on Monday so last week I was pretty swamped.  Although I was used to heavy workloads from undergrad, medical school is quite different from what Harvey Mudd College trained me for.  No calculus?  No mathematical proofs?  No mass-on-a-spring-model-applied-to-every-other-problem?  What happened to 10-hr problem sets?  Now it’s all about gazillions of PowerPoint slides to study and understand on your own time.  Also, at Harvey Mudd, no matter how hard I studied some questions I couldn’t solve because I just wasn’t clever enough.  Here at Rosalind Franklin University, I think I can master everything … if I had about two or three times the amount of time.  Different kind of education, different kind of variables in play.  The only constant is the immense amount of pressure.

For those of you who know me, I’m one of the calmest people I know.  However, once in a while even I get anxious.  Sunday morning was one of those moments.  I was a bit behind in studying and I guess my slow brain finally processed through that fact on Sunday morning.  I was pretty anxious and didn’t have an appetite.

Thank God for Sundays though.  Of course, the pastor’s sermon that day had nothing to do with what I was going through (still a good message though, pastor), but God was already doing work in me before I even arrived at church.

The strange thing about it was the dissonance between my head and heart.  The first 2 years of med school here is graded Pass/Fail, exactly to prevent neurotic (and even non-neurotic, like me) medical students from exploding under pressure.  Also, even if I failed the biochemistry part of the exam (which was the subject I was most anxious about), as long as I don’t fail the overall class, I would be fine.  My brain knew all this plus more reasons why I shouldn’t be anxious, and I kept telling it to myself, expecting my rationale to triumph over my emotions, as per usual.  Then why was my heart still so anxious?

I realized that the stress wasn’t really about the exam or about bio-freaking-chemistry.  It was actually the fear of sucking.  What if my sub-excellent performance in school prevents me from getting into a good residency program?  What if my suckage in biochem leads me down the road to serious big-time suckage in providing adequate care for patients?  What if I disappoint my family and friends, who think I’m smart?  What if my peers start to pity me for my terrible study habits?  Most importantly, what if I can’t ever be good enough for my own standards?

But what Christianity makes it clear is that God’s love and mercy is independent of our performances.  That’s a central message that’s taught in churches everywhere all the time, but something that I need to come to terms with again and again.  It’s difficult because I don’t have that kind of love and grace on myself.  I totes judge myself on being cool and awesome at thing I do; and I totes pride myself in my usual calm and peaceful nature.  So when those things start to fall away just as the cookie crumbles, I don’t like it.

That’s my pride talking, though: the need to feel good about myself for not only winning at life, but also looking pretty while doing it.  God has a different narrative though: my value as a human being is independent of my victories and usefulness to the world.  Despite society being what it is, I know God’s narrative is true because nobody who’s ever loved me has said “I like you because you’re good at [fill in the blank].”

Only halfway through church service, I was already done being anxious.  Bio-freaking-chemistry was to have no pressure on me anymore.  This is not to say God miraculously taught me biochemistry (that would have been nice though),  or that I flipped the table and said, “To Mordor with med school!”  I still had to study hard that afternoon and get help from my friends.  God would have known that I wasn’t actually stressed about the exam.  He always knows the true diagnosis that’s not apparent from the surface.  Instead he helped me be brave in the face of possible/probable(?) suckage.

Simeon Koh

P.S.  I think biochemistry actually went alright.  But Clinical Molecular Cell Biology though…

Why I need to be sick

The past couple days I had come down with some light cold.  Phlegm, tingling throat, chills, malaise, etc.  Ah but I needed to study (oh when will it end?)!  At least I wasn’t pouring out fluids from my nostrils and sneezing every 10 seconds like I normally do with sicknesses.  This time I could at least read biochemistry notes while snuggled up in my bed.

While this was really mild and I was going to be totally fine, I hated it.  I didn’t like how it inhibited my rate of study and lowered my energy levels.  I also passed it on to one of my friends, and who knows how many enemies?  So much potential productivity lost from just a random microbe invasion that inevitably would disappear in a few days anyways.

But every time I’m sick, I’m reminded of why I’m here studying my life away in medical school.  A few years ago, I was at a week-long Christian conference (Urbana 09) where I had the misfortune of being sick for about half of it.  One particularly bad evening the speaker was talking something about the sick and the suffering in the world or something- I don’t remember much of her talk.  I left in the middle of her talk because I was so sick, and as I was leaving I thought of how much it sucks to be sick; how much it would suck to be sicker than I was; and how much more it would suck to be that sick every single day and know that you’re never going to get better. 

I think a teeny tiny bit of compassion was born that night somewhere very very deep inside of me.  I began to actually care about the fact that sickness and pain exist in our world.  And from that day onward, every time I am sick, I am reminded of the sick and the suffering, and my compassion grows just a teeny tiny bit.

Simeon Koh

Cheesecake and Cheesesteak

I forgot to post last week.  I’ll make it up I promise.  But I can’t promise very good quality writing.  Things are quite busy again, and most of my life isn’t very adventurous right now.

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Last week friends and I went to eat at this place named – I kid you not – Create Your Own Cheesecake & Cheesesteak.  On the outside it looks like an uninteresting real hole-in-the-wall kind of place, but with a name like that, how could we not try it?  Plus Yelp had really good reviews (although small n).

It was actually incredible.  You know how you walk into an ice cream shop and you sample different flavors and you buy whatever scoops you want?  This was like that, except with cheesecake not ice cream.  And these were really amazing cheesecakes.

The cheesesteak was also good.  Plus the staff were really nice.  The owner (I think he’s the owner) gave us all 50% off coupons for next time (it’s just copies of the menu that says “50% off” endorsed with his signature) for no reason!  Also, as we were about to leave, he just gave us free cheesefries!  I don’t know why he was so gracious to us (must have been heaven’s grace overflowing within his spirit or something) but I’m definitely returning to this place.

Also, a special shoutout to that Indian friend in the picture (he’s trying to eat the other guy’s head).  He bought me the cheesesteak because he apparently “felt bad for saying mean things” when we were joking around the other day.  I don’t know what he has to be sorry about, so I think he’s just another generous guy in my life.  Cool.  I love being loved.

This blog post has been a random story about great food, without much deep thought, but that’s okay.  Deep thoughts will come as several shallow thoughts assemble themselves.

Simeon Koh

Deep Dish Pizza

I should be studying.  I have my first exam on Monday and there are still much I haven’t reviewed.  However, I made a promise to blog at least once per week (not necessarily meaning every 7 days, but just once within that Sun-Sat period), and promises are more important than getting that 1 additional point on an exam.

One of the things that nearly everyone tells me about here is the Chicago winter (look up “Chiberia”) and Chicago-style pizza also known as deep dish pizza. For reasons unknown to most people, this species of pizza seems to exist primarily in Chicago-related area (defined pretty broadly here).  Why has it not made its way to the numerous pizzerias in California (even though we Californians all know/hear about it)?  How come other species of pizza (commonly belonging to genus Pizza Hut, Dominoes, etc.) can somehow even make it overseas to Korea, but deep dish hasn’t proliferated?  No one I’ve met has been able to provide a satisfactory answer.

Anyways, one of the good friends I made here is hungry pretty constantly, and was craving deep dish pizza.  I also had to try it out for myself, so a group of us went out to eat deep dish pizza for the very special occasion of celebrating the completion of the second week of school.  As we know, the second week of school comes around only once per year, so we HAD to celebrate.  Had no choice.

The pizza was huge, and I was pretty stuffed with 2 slices (as opposed to like 4 slices of normal pizza), which everyone had also forewarned me about.  It was indeed delicious, and worth all the hype.  I think I liked it better than normal pizza, but I’ll hold off on an official statement until I’ve had more experience with deep dish.

Here are some pictures:

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I also want to mention these new friends I made in school here.  Sometime during first week of school I was studying in the library, at the opposite end of the table where these guys were sitting.  But my laptop battery eventually ran out and I had to move closer to them to plug into the electrical outlet.  And thus we became friends.  In fact, the 4 of us are in sort of accelerated friendship mode, where we now see each other for at least 8 hrs pretty much everyday.  I can’t explain why, but I feel extremely happy when I’m with them.  Much thanks goes to God for friends with whom I can already foresee myself making unforgettable memories.  My first deep dish pizza was already one of them.

Simeon Koh

Coming back from the hiatus

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It is actually hard to believe that it has been over 2 months since I last blogged.  Thing have been going crazy the past couple months (still is) and blogging has been on my to-do list everyday, but it just never got crossed off.  However, in case anybody was wondering whether I was going to return, the answer is yes I haven’t left yet.  Remember how I hate leaving unfinished business?  I hate the thought of this blog becoming another of numerous blogs that are left abandoned without good bye.  Prior to starting a blog, I thought very hard about this and decided the I wouldn’t just let it die, at least not without a proper closure.

I recently started medical school at Rosalind Franklin University in North Chicago, IL.  Things are already really busy (I should really be studying right now) and will continue to be for years to come.  Would I be able to keep having interesting adventures for this blog?  If yes, would I have time to blog about them?  After all, during the past 2 months, I was trying so hard and going on so many adventures that I kind of didn’t have time to blog about them.  I considered properly closing down the blog in pursuit of a bigger season in my life, but I decided against it.  I still have lots of ideas and many adventures are still out there.  I promise to write at least 1 post per week, no matter how short.  I suspect the quality of my writing or my stories might depreciate as I get busier with school, and I apologize for that in advance.  But hopefully in the midst of many lackluster posts you might find a small gem once in a while.

***

Right now I don’t have the time to tell you about all the adventures I’ve had in the past 2 months, so I’ll list a few bullet points here.  Perhaps later I’ll get around to some of these stories.

  • 6/25/2014 – I went to The Piano Guys concert at Pantages Theater.  It is quite unlike me to spend lots of money on concerts, but the Tookish side of me took me there.
  • 6/26/2014 – Unfinished business.  I took a couple of 후배s (Korean word to describe people who were your underclassmen in school) to dinner.  It had been ~1 year since I had promised them dinner.
  • 7/11/2014 – I went deep sea fishing again.  This time overnight on a full moon.  I caught a fish.
  • 7/19/2014 – Saw Shakespeare at the park at Griffith Park with friends.  Twelfth Night.
  • 7/20/2014 – Fun DIY project of painting my old keyboard.  Lesson of grace somehow learned in the process.
  • 7/25~7/30/2014 – Drove to Portland, Seattle, Palo Alto, and back.  A couple thousand miles driven, 1 wedding attended, a dozen wild blackberries picked, 2.5 audiobooks of The Hunger Games listened to, and 16 old friends met.
  • 8/2/2014 – Friend’s birthday party at Huntington Beach.  Lots of shenanigans.
  • 8/5/2014 – Last day of work (teaching test prep).
  • 8/6~now – Driving to Illinois, getting my first speeding ticket, living by myself, settling into an apartment, spending much money, meeting old friends in this foreign land, finding a church, white coat ceremony, starting med school, and already making new friends.
  • 8/17/2014 – New record broken: 2 months without being late.  Punishment still to be bestowed.

Simeon Koh

 

 

Laguna Coast Wilderness Park

I am running out of time for adventures.  I am starting medical school in August, which will be an adventure of course, but it will mean less time to do some of the random things I have had time to do for the last 2 years.  So I’m trying to have as many adventures as I can in the next 2 months or so.

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Last last Friday I went to Laguna Coast Wilderness Park to hike.  It was a bit far from my house (~1 hr drive) but I was getting somewhat bored of the trails near home.  About 4 years ago, I went to Laguna Coast Wilderness Park for research field work (looking for lichens), and I couldn’t forget about that place because it was so awesome.  This time, I went with my friend Aaron, and we started from Nix Nature Center (see map).  We started up Mary’s Trail, up Little Sycamore, turned left to come down by Serrano Ridge, Camarillo Cyn Rd., and up Stagecoach South Trail.  I can’t say how many miles it was, but it took us about 3 hrs and 45 minutes.  I probably could have done it a bit faster, but we stopped for lunch, and took lots of breaks.

It was a really enjoyable hike.  Lots of shrubs, some trees, and sometimes birds and animals were seen throughout the hike.  The weather was really nice too, since it’s near the sea.  Towards the end it got pretty difficult because we were pretty tired and the weather was getting warm.  We eventually made it and expressed our happiness in a very tiresome manner.

An interesting thing about this park was that the facilities are really nice.  You could tell that good money went into building the Nix Nature Center.  Also, the restrooms were nice and the water fountains worked!  Most amazingly, the park had little tubes of sunblock for free!  I’ve never been to a place that gives away free sunblock.

***

Afterwards, we drove down to the beach to cool down.  When we got there the tide was coming in so the waves were pretty strong, which was fun.  However, the waves knocked my glasses away and I lost them.  Sad panda.  Plus the tide was coming in, so there was no way the glasses would wind up on the shore.  Thankfully in my car I had my prescriptioned sunglasses, so I drove back home without dying in a car crash.

***

After we got home and washing up, we decided we burned too many calories that day, and thus needed to reverse our exercise.  So we went to Slater’s burger, and I got the Hawaiian burger PLUS a mint-chocolate Guinness milkshake.  The food and milkshake were really good, so YOLO swag, right?  Actually, that was way too much food and I actually didn’t feel very good afterwards.  I guess this is America.

***

All in all, an adventurous day it was indeed.

Simeon Koh

 

Not Being Late #7: Relapse

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In my Not Being Late post #5, I boasted of my 1-month streak of not being late.  Those were splendid days indeed.

I think the streak went on up to 5 weeks, and then I was late to something (Not Being Late post #6).  And everything kind of went downhill from there.  Throughout April and some of May, I kind of relapsed into my old self.  I was late to all sorts of things that should have been really easy to be on time for.  There were a couple of situations where being late was worth it (like staying 15 min late to tutor a student studying right before for his AP calc exam), but mostly I was just irresponsible.

I won’t say being tardy is like an addiction.  It’s not like I can’t live without being late (and need to be more and more late to feel a sense of euphoria).  It’s more like being in shape.  It feels good to keep in discipline consistently, but it does take very deliberate effort, which makes it very easy to relapse back into an un-prompt lifestyle.

While I am surprised that it’s the end of May yet I’m still working on my New Year’s Resolution (I assume very small percentage of people make it past 1 month), I do need to reboot myself.  I’m currently on a 2-week streak again (yay gummy bears!), so hopefully I’ll make this streak into a personal record.  Wish me luck.

Besides, this year I’ve so far made 19 tardies.  This means the next one will get me to 20.  Hitting 20 is very very bad, because it gets me to a “Milestone Punishment.”  (If you have forgotten what that means, review my rules from my first post.)  Keep in mind that Milestone Punishments are accumulative, so I’ll have to do both 10th-tardy Milestone and the 20th-tardy Milestone Punishments.  That is scary.

Here’s hoping that I’ll never reach my 20th tardy.

Simeon Koh

P.S.  I made an edit to Punishment #5, which was “Donate $30 to an organization I oppose.”  Many people thought I should reconsider that, and I finally had a chance(?) to really think about that one when I got that punishment twice in a row.  In the end I ended up donating to an organization I would support, party due to a timely email from my friend about THIS.  My friend’s friends are the ones putting their business skills to invest in the future of Southwest LA.  If like me you have a soft spot in your heart for the urban poor in LA, please check it out.  Thanks.

Unfinished Business: Picma

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An email I received on 6/12/2012 from a friend of mine said, “you have been warned,” with a link to the game Picma.

Picma is an online puzzle game where you use clues to deduce which grids should be colored, and if you solve it right, you get a picture at the end.  The easiest ones took me as little time as 8 seconds, whereas the hardest ones took several hours.  Back in summer of 2012 I started playing Picma thanks to my good friend who emailed me the link.  I played it through pretty well… until the puzzles started getting frustrating.  I got stuck on a couple and it got discouraging to play, so I paused for a while.  Then somehow I lost my browser cookies and thus lost all my progress.  That was super discouraging and I stopped playing after that.  Since then I had revisited Picma a couple times, but never bothered to make significant progress.  However, Picma was always discreetly in the back of my mind…  So in the spirit of this unfinished business series, I decided to go for it once more.

Not surprisingly, the easy ones were fun, and the difficult ones were frustrating.  The feeling you get after completing a nice puzzle is incredible; the feeling of finding a mistake 75% of the way through a hard puzzle (and thus having to scrap most of your progress (but not exactly knowing how much you need to scrap)) is so devastating to a man’s spirit.  However, as Rudyard Kipling wrote in the poem “If,” a man should be able to “lose, and start again at [his] beginnings.”  As Picma taught me, it is a very very difficult thing to be a man (or woman).

Why not forget about Picma?  Why not just enjoy the easy fun puzzles and pretend the hard ones don’t exist?  Life is too short (yolo) to waste on internet games, let alone a frustratingly difficult one!  I believe that life is like a meal.  There are umami-ful meat and satisfying rice, but there are the tough vegetables and other nasty things…  However we need both the delicious and the undelicious for good health.  Likewise playing only the easy fun puzzles would limit my life to the basics, whereas the frustrating puzzles would challenge me and force me to think differently.  Life lessons from Picma (who knew?)!

Anyways, it took me 2 years but I did it in the end.  No flash game shall bring me to my knees!

Simeon Koh

 

 

Math is Useful – Cell Phone Game “Wind Runner”

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I.  BACKGROUND

Wind Runner is/was a popular Korean cell phone game that I recently got re-addicted to (now that I’ve abandoned Candy Crush).  It’s a simple running game where you tap the screen to jump over obstacles and collect stars.  You earn money (aka Gold) after each run, and you can use the gold to summon little pets, which help increase your score.  Pets come in D, C, B, A, and S grades; D grade pets are the least powerful, and S grade pets have the best benefits.

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To get higher grade pets, you combine 2 low-grade pets.  You combine 2 of the D-grade pets for a chance to get a C-grade pet; you combine 2 C-grade pets for a B-grade pet, etc.  There is a fee for each combination attempt.

  • D + D ⇒ C  (you pay a fee of 200G to combine)
  • C + C ⇒ B  (fee is 1000G)
  • B + B ⇒ A  (fee is 2000G)
  • A + A ⇒ S  (fee is 5000G)

The tricky thing is that combining pets don’t always succeed.  If it fails, then you lose 1 of the pets you offered up for sacrifice.  You also don’t get a refund on the fee you paid for the failed combination.

To buy pets with in the first place, there are 2 options:  You pay 2500G for 1 pet in the D~B grade.  Or you pay 10,000G for 1 pet in the C~A grade.  The first option is cheap but gets you lower grade pets, which means later you pay more to combine them for higher grade pets.  The second option is 4 times as expensive, but you get higher grade pets to begin with.  Then the question is, which option is the more cost effective choice?

 

II.  DATA COLLECTION

The first thing I had to do was to figure out the probabilities of getting a certain grade pet, as well as the success rate for each combination.

Probabilities of Summoning a Certain Grade Pet – Option 1 (2500G/pet)

  • D:  84/100 = 84%
  • C:  14/100 = 14%
  • B:  2/100 = 2%

Probabilities of Summoning a Certain Grade Pet – Option 2 (10,000G/pet)

  • C:  77/100 = 77%
  • B:  15/100 = 15%
  • A:  8/100 = 8%

Combination Success Probabilities (p) & Fees (f)

  • D + D ⇒ C:  75/99 ≈ 76% = pc     (fc = 200G)
  • C + C ⇒ B:  57/124 ≈ 46% = pb   (fb = 1000G)
  • B + B ⇒ A:  9/65 ≈ 14% = pa       (fa = 2000G)
  • A + A ⇒ S:  1/19 ≈ 5% = ps        (fs = 5000G)

 

III.  ANALYSIS

Expected Costs

Let’s define some things:

  • D = expected cost of a D-grade pet
  • C = expected cost of a C-grade pet
  • B = expected cost of a B-grade pet
  • A = expected cost of an A-grade pet
  • S = expected cost of an S-grade pet.

We don’t know D yet (we’ll calculate it later), but if we did, we can use it to calculate C.

Say we succeed combining two D pets in our 1st attempt.  Then

C1 = 2D + fc

because we spent two D pets and paid the fee fc.  This has a probability of succeeding equal to pc.

Say we fail the 1st attempt and succeed in our 2nd attempt.  Then

C2 = (2D + fc) + (D + fc).

The (2D + fc) is for the successful attempt and (D + fc) is for the failed attempt, since we lose only 1 of the D pets and pay the fee nonetheless.  This has a success probability of pc(1-pc), since we must first fail (probability 1-pc) and then succeed (probability pc).

Say we fail 2 times and succeed in our 3rd attempt.  Then

C3 = (2D + fc) + 2(D + fc)

at probability pc(1-pc)2.

Now let’s combine all of these to find the “average” or expected cost of a C-grade pet:

C = (prob of success at 1st attempt)(cost1) + (prob of success at 2nd attempt)(cost2) + (prob of success at 3rd attempt)(cost3) + … forever and ever and ever and ever…

C = pc(2D+fc) + pc(1-pc)[2D+fc+(D+fc)] + pc(1-pc)2[2D+fc+2(D+fc)] + …

…which simplifies to…

C = [D(pc+1)+fc]/pc.

I add infinitely many numbers and somehow it equals this relatively simple thing?!  How is this possible?!  By beautiful magic of mathematics!  I didn’t write out the work in case math scares you, but if you’re curious check out the magic right here.

Similarly, we can find that

  • B = [C(pb+1)+fb]/pb
  • A = [B(pa+1)+fa]/pa
  • S = [A(ps+1)+fs]/ps.

This means that if I know D, I can solve for C, then solve for B, A, & S.

 

Calculating D – Option 1 (2500G/pet)

Recall from the DATA COLLECTION section that if I spend 2500G on a pet, I have 84% chance of getting a D-grade pet, 14% for a C-grade pet, and 2% for a B-grade pet.  In other words,

2500 = 0.48D + 0.14C + 0.02B.

I have 3 variables, so I need 3 equations to solve this.  I already know that

C = [D(pc+1)+fc]/pc, and

B = [C(pb+1)+fb]/pb.

I now have 3 equations, so I can solve this system of equation to get D, C, and B.  Then I can easily solve for A and S as well (A = [B(pa+1)+fa]/pa and S = [A(ps+1)+fs]/ps).

You can find the math here, and the answers are (rounded to the nearest gold):

  • D = 1,831G
  • C = 4,512G
  • B = 16,505G
  • A = 150,148G
  • S = 3,097,963G

 

Calculating C – Option 2 (10,000G/pet)

I solve this part in the exact same way, except I use these 3 equations:

10000 = 0.77C + 0.15B + 0.08A,

B = [C(pb+1)+fb]/pb, and

A = [B(pa+1)+fa]/pa.

You can find the math here, and the answers are (rounded to the nearest gold):

  • D2 = undefined
  • C2 = 2,125G
  • B2 = 8,924G
  • A2 = 87,816G
  • S2 = 1,851,314G

 

Checking Answers with a Computer

To confirm my math, I wrote a simple python code that you can download here.  It basically uses the eternally long version of C equation but only adds up the first n=1000 terms.  The accuracy of the code depends on parameter values and values of D and C2 I found earlier.  Hopefully I didn’t make any mistakes.

If you run the code, it gives me the exact same numbers as my math did.  Check!

 

IV.  CONCLUSION AND REMARKS

Comparing the expected costs for each grade of pets, it is clear that Option 2 (10,000G/pet) is the more cost-efficient choice.  On average, Option 2 should be almost half as costly as Option 1.  Although there are rooms for error in my data so that my parameter values are slightly off, the cost difference between Option 1 and 2 are so big that most likely Option 2 will be the winner.

This post has been cool in many ways.  First, it demonstrated that math can be used to describe all sorts of things around us (like cell phone games), and that it can help solve problems that lead to efficient choices.  Additionally, it was fun to find a solution when I wasn’t exactly sure how to go about doing it in the beginning.  It was an unexpected surprise to use converging series (and somehow find on Wikipedia the formula that I needed).  Lastly, having a computer program to confirm your answer is also pretty nice.

Ah such feeling of nerdy fulfillment!

 

Simeon Koh

P.S.  This was a long post.  Congratulations if you read it through.  Even more congratulations if you at least looked at the math too.

Fun Experiments – Do Marshmellows Dissolve in Water?

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INTRODUCTION:

I was making rice krispie treats when I was suddenly struck with a desire to investigate the weird qualities of marshmallows.  They’re soft, squishy, stretchy, and sweet (which all coincidentally start with “s”).  They are also made of sugar, which I know dissolves in water.  So would marshmallows dissolve in water or would other stuff in the marshmallow change its solubility?  It was a question with absolutely no practical scientific merit, but I was curious, and exploring such silly questions is the purpose of the fun experiments series.  And if not in water, then what else would dissolve it?

 

MATERIALS:

  1. Kraft Jet-Puffed Miniature Marshmallows  (x20)
  2. Tap water  (~100 ml)
  3. Sake (16% ethanol)  (~100 ml)
  4. Cooking oil  (~100 ml)

 

METHODS:

I made 4 cups for this experiment: control (no solvent), water, sake, and oil.  I added 5 mini marshmallows to each cup and covered the cups with plastic wrap (to avoid spillage and to minimize evaporation of solvent like the alcohol).  I left them for about 3 days to see whether marshmallows dissolved.  The samples were removed from solvent and dried over another 3 days.

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RESULTS:

At t=0 day, this is how everything looked.  The Water sample and Sake sample turned a bit foggy relatively quickly (within minutes).

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Control (t=0)

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Water (t=0)

Sake (t=0)

Sake (t=0)

Oil (t=0)

Oil (t=0)

 

At t=3 days, the Control sample looked normal as expected; Water sample looked significantly squishier; Sake sample looked similarly squishier; and Oil sample looked unchanged.  Water sample also had a little black speck growing… either I am growing microbes or I discovered spontaneous generation of life.

Control (t=36)

Control (t=3)

Water (t=72)

Water (t=3)

Sake (t=72)

Sake (t=3)

Oil (t=72)

Oil (t=3)

 

I also realized that marshmallows in Water and Sake have increased in volume.

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From top left corner, clockwise: Control, Water, Sake, and Oil.

 

Next I removed them (using chopsticks) onto sheets of paper towel to dry.  The Water sample was really weird.  It was so soft that the sample split itself on my chopstick.  It was also more transparent-colored, except for the top part that wasn’t submerged in water.  The Sake sample was pretty similar to the Water sample, except even softer.

Control sample (t=3), removed.

Control sample (t=3), removed.

Water sample (t=0), removed from solvent.

Water sample (t=0), removed from solvent.

Water sample (t=3), removed from solvent.

Water sample (t=3), removed from solvent.

Sake sample (t=3), removed from solvent.

Sake sample (t=3), removed from solvent.

Oil sample (t=3), removed from solvent.

Oil sample (t=3), removed from solvent.

The Control sample tasted like normal marshmallows, as expected.  The Sake sample tasted really bad; it was a mixture of bitterness(?) of alcohol and the smell mixed with a very squishy/slimy texture.  It was ew-flavored.  The Oil sample tasted (and chewed) like marshmallow covered in oil.  I didn’t taste the Water sample since it had microorganisms growing.

The Water and Sake sample had a thin layer of white stuff at the bottom of the cup, which I suspect is the stuff that dissolved to make the solvent foggy and later sank down.  The Oil sample did not have such a layer.

Sake solvent (t=3), with a thin layer of white thingy at the bottom.

Sake solvent (t=3), with a thin layer of white thingy at the bottom.

Oil solvent (t=3), clear.

Oil solvent (t=3), clear.

 

The samples were allowed to dry for 3 days, and tasted.  Control sample tasted like normal marshmallows.  Water sample was not tasted.  Sake sample was pretty bland (no sweet), like I was eating some chewy styrofoam.  The Oil sample tasted like a normal marshmallow, with a hint of greasiness on the surface.

Dried Control sample.

Dried Control sample.

Dried Water sample.

Dried Water sample.

Dried Sake sample.

Dried Sake sample.

Dried Oil sample.

Dried Oil sample.

 

CONCLUSION:

It turns out NO marshmallow does not dissolve in water, and neither does it in ethanol solution or cooking oil.  In oil, the marshmallow is unchanged in volume, texture, and taste.  However, something dissolves in water and Sake (probably since it has water in it).  Seeing that it lost all its sweetness upon removal from solvent, it is likely that all the sugary content dissolves away, leaving a styrofoamy matrix intact.  Probably other things dissolve too, since we don’t get a clear sugar solution but a foggy solution with white mysterious substance sinking to the bottom of the cup.  The styrofoamy matrix seems to lose its chewiness in water/sake but regains it upon drying, which is interesting.

Upon hindsight, this experiment would have been more awesome if I had weighed the marshmallows before and after.  I don’t have a scale so maybe when I become rich I’ll buy one.  Also, as of right now it’s uncertain whether the ethanol has any effect on the marshmallow’s solubility.  Perhaps the ethanol (or other component of Sake) had a slight effect since the Sake sample was squishier than the Water sample, but I suspect the solubility in Sake was mostly due to the water.  If I had access to pure ethanol maybe this question can be further probed.  Also, I wish the Water sample hadn’t been contaminated.  Although thankfully it seemed pretty similar to the Sake sample, it would have been good to be able to directly assess its taste and texture in my mouth.

This experiment inspires many other questions that I am probably too lazy to investigate right now.  What does the layer of white mysterious thingy taste like?  Is it sugary or is it something else?  How do the solvents taste after having marshmallows in it for 3 days?  If I let the water/sake evaporate completely, then would I restore the sweetness/whiteness of the marshmallow to its original form?  And lastly, then what solvent can dissolve a marshmallow in its entirety?

 

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS:

I would like to thank my mom, who provided the solvents to be used in this experiment.

 

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