Monday, September 26, 2011

Football Chemistry

This past weekend I attended my first NFL football game, in Nashville, TN, where the Tennessee Titans played the Denver Broncos. As a native Tennessean, I naturally rooted for the Titans who ended up pulling out a win against the favored visiting team.

Don't be confused. This blog is not about sports or my social life, but about making visible some of the invisible processes that make our world the fun-filled, exciting world that it is. Changing the mysteries behind life to predictable patterns that make all the pieces come together.

So why do I start off talking about football? I am a firm believer in the idea that Chemistry can be found in everything we do, and I am determined to prove this. Go ahead- try and find something we do that isn't touched in some way by Chemistry. Even football.

That said, let's take a closer look at football by looking at the most important player in the game: the football. This brown foot-long ball commonly called a pigskin is, in fact, not made of pork-products, but rather cow hide. The process of forming the leather is quite chemically intensive and a multi-step process.

The most complex step is that of tanning. For stiffer leathers like that used in a football, the process involves using either a vegetable or synthetic tannin. Vegetable tannins, a class of chemicals, can be found in nature in the bark and leaves of plants. The tannins, molecules which are typically negatively charged and contain many oxygen-hydrogen branches off the molecule, connect to proteins in the cow hide and make it more flexible, more water-proof and less prone to bacterial attack.

Tannins are just one piece of the puzzle in the whole leather-making process, which involves many different chemical procedures. Performing all those procedures, including the tanning process, cutting out four oval-shaped pieces, attaching some lining, labeling, and thread, and filling with air has given us an ever-changing, unpredictable, enthralling sport that never ceases to captivate audiences, including me, across the country.

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