Originally created 10/10/05

Chemistry kept gum-stealers away



The past few weeks have brought me nothing but disappointment. My name was left off the short list of nominees to the U.S. Supreme Court. To make matters worse, the folks in Stockholm snubbed me when they handed out a fresh crop of Nobel Prizes.

Now, I wasn't really expecting a call to the bench. The truth is, I don't agree with the president's policies - nor the policies of any president except William Henry Harrison, who caught a cold and died after only one month in office, before he could do any real damage to the nation. (Also, there's no way I could have passed the background security check.)

The Nobels were a different matter, though. I thought I was a shoo-in for chemistry, a discipline in which I excelled in high school.

But no. The prize went to some scientists for work they did decades ago involving atoms or molecules or such. My long-overlooked work in the field found no merit with the judges.

My chemical experimentation dates back to my freshman year of high school in, oddly enough, English class.

A few other kids in class, you see, were always bumming chewing gum from me but never bringing any of their own as payback. Eventually, I had had enough, and I worked out my formula.

I stopped by the drugstore and bought a bottle of alum and several packs of gum.

Alum? I don't know; it's some kind of white chemical powder. The research I had done into its effects involved watching long hours of The Three Stooges' comedies when I was younger.

You might remember those slapstick shorts in which, if the Stooges weren't throwing cream pies, they were pouring alum into the punch bowl. The highfalutin, high-society types would drink a cup of punch and their mouths would pucker up, rendering them speechless.

Eureka! was my response the day I associated the spiked punch with my problem of chronic gum cadgers. I'm sure Alexander Graham Bell was similarly ecstatic when he envisioned the busy signal.

At home, I opened several packs of chewing gum, unfolded the shiny metallic wrappers and sprinkled alum on the gum. The gum already had a coating of white powdered sugar, so no one could tell the difference. Then I refolded the foil.

The next morning in class, as Miss Boyd was explaining the 20 words of the week we would need to memorize, the gum plan was put into action. Classmates begged for gum, and I did not disappoint them.

As a scientific footnote, I should point out that such a minor dusting of alum did not make the other students mute. Their mouths didn't pucker, and they didn't even suspect the gum.

Instead, it merely left them with a sharp taste in their mouths, as evidenced by their grimaces. Some unsuspecting kids even asked for another stick of gum in an attempt to remove the bitterness.

Ain't science great?

The borrowing of gum diminished that week, and no one would have suspected a thing if I hadn't, in a moment of chemical glee, told what I had done. The less said 'bout that, the better.

Let's just say that I healed.

Kids, don't try to repeat this ground-breaking experiment today. I performed my studies during simpler times, when chemicals were our friends.

Nowadays, they are much more dangerous, and a stick of dusted gum might lead to disastrous consequences involving mad cows, flesh-eating bacteria, global warming or the FBI.

Reach Glynn Moore at (706) 823-3419 or glynn.moore@augustachronicle.com.