Science Poetry

Wake-Up Calls

“The coffee brews; its volatility
Gives rise to the day’s volubility.  
This vital transaction
Of aqueous extraction 
Relies on caffeine’s solubility!”

The 6 August 2019 limerick discussed a theme fitting for early days of an academic year: the chemistry involved in making coffee.  

“The coffee brews; its volatility /
Gives rise to the day’s volubility.”  
Like many people, I rely on coffee in the morning.  Its aroma as it steams out of a mug–  a loose but ideally reasonable take on volatility, which in a chemical context involves the evaporation of a liquid to a gas– helps me prepare for the classes ahead, which require alertness and communicativeness, both inherent in volubility.  “Volatility” and “volubility” provide here an imperfect starting rhyme; the second line is essentially a set-up for the fifth.  

“This vital transaction /
Of aqueous extraction / 
Relies on caffeine’s solubility!”
Solid chemical compounds (in this context, solutes) can be soluble to different extents in different solvents: that is, they can dissolve more easily in some solvents than others.  Often, solutes are classified as aqueous-soluble (they dissolve in water) or organic-soluble (they dissolve in organic solvents). Differences in solubility can be exploited in the laboratory to separate mixtures of compounds, using a piece of glassware called a separatory funnel.  

As this poem suggests, principles of solubility can also be useful in the kitchen!  For someone who is far from alert when the alarm goes off, a routine of drinking coffee quickly becomes a “vital transaction,” each morning.  Brewing coffee involves pouring water over coffee grounds; because the caffeine in the coffee grounds is water-soluble, especially at high temperatures, it dissolves in the water and the resulting solution drips into the coffeepot.  Thus, this is an “aqueous extraction,” since the act of making coffee is reliant on caffeine’s solubility in water.  As alluded to above, the rhyme of “volubility” and “solubility” was the inspiration for this particular limerick.