‘Shaken, not stirred’ is more bond than you think!

Since HMNS is one of the featured charities at Okra Charity Saloon in September (read about it here), we’re doing a series of blog posts about cocktail chemistry this month. Get to know your drinks on a more molecular level. We’ll explore acids and bases, surface area, density, and fluorescence. It’s going to be elemental.



Photo Couresy of Didriks

It’s the signature drink of Sir Ian Fleming’s James Bond: dry vodka martini, shaken, not stirred.

Vodka must be at least 40% alcohol by volume (ABV) to actually be called “vodka” in the United States, according to the standards of identity section of U.S. federal codes. Since most traditional vodkas are almost entirely ethanol and water, that means for every liter of vodka, a whopping 400 milliliters are ethanol.

The vodka martini is six parts vodka, one part dry vermouth; garnishes can range far and wide, from an olive to a lemon peel (a “twist”). Most of the flavor of the martini comes from the vermouth‒specifically the ester chains that are part of the overall organic compound.
An ester is a chemical compound that begins as a carboxylic acid, which looks like this:



In this diagram, a carbon atom is double-bonded with an oxygen atom, single-bonded with a hydroxyl group (OH), and single-bonded with the rest of the atomic chain (R). This pattern is what is defined as a carboxylic acid.

To become an ester, the hydrogen atom in the hydroxyl group must be replaced with something else, like more carbon atoms:



In this diagram, a carbon atom is double-bonded with an oxygen atom, single-bonded with an oxygen atom that is bonded to another compound, and single-bonded to yet another compound. This is the definition of an ester.

Before the martini is served, it is mixed with ice, and this ice serves two purposes. First, it’s important to note that chemically, ice is just H2O. When H2O is added to an ester, the ester starts to become more polarized and saturates out into what is called a micelle. In this context, the micelle is a tiny drop of esters clustered in one spot (micelles are also used in things like laundry detergent and medication, but more on that another time). Cooling the martini down releases the esters from the micelle and adds flavor to the drink. Luckily enough, ice is also pretty cold.


Photo courtesy of rick

So why get your martini shaken, not stirred? Shaking the cocktail with ice lowers the temperature more effectively than stirring with ice does, producing better flavor! Shaking a liquid is inherently more violent than stirring it. As a result, the individual molecules are bouncing around much more quickly when shaken. When the molecules are moving quickly, the liquid is covering more ground and has more inherent surface area. And since ice melts from the outside in, greater surface area of the liquid means greater contact with the melting ice, which will cool the drink down more quickly.

The flipside of cooling the drink down more quickly is that, as the ice melts, it waters down the drink. Stirring a martini gives it a slightly higher ABV, as there will be less melted water when the cocktail is poured into a chilled glass. But doing so sacrifices the flavor of the esters, something not even James Bond was willing to do.

Stop by Okra Charity Saloon to try a vodka martini, shaken, not stirred, during the month of September, and support your Museum! Don’t forget to check back next week when we discover density differences in beverages.

From MI6: Your mission – should you choose to accept it – is to see Magna Carta before it leaves Houston

Editor’s Note: This document has been intercepted from MI6. We have taken it upon ourselves to charge you with 007’s mission (he’s on summer vacation).

Your mission – should you choose to accept it – is to visit the famed 800-year-old document now on display at HMNS. This special document (Magna Carta) is on borrowed time… and is soon leaving Houston forever (August 17), after which it returns to its original home at Hereford Cathedral.

The Magna Carta serves as the basis for Common Law as we know it. Besides creating limited royal authority for the first time in history, this document has provided inspiration to millions, including the founding fathers of the United States of America. 

Your task is to gain admittance to the exhibit, explore life in the Middle Ages and then finally, gaze reverently on this rare piece of history. Once your mission is complete, feel free to check out the rest of the museum (we’ve got some pretty neat stuff here).

As 007’s replacement, you must maintain a very low profile for this mission. First go to the Houston Museum of Natural Science and pre-order a ticket for the exhibit (they’ll never see that coming). 

After entering the exhibition, you’ll first pass through a medieval village. At the kiosk, there is an interactive station where you’ll be assigned a medieval profession — you’ll need this to blend in. 

Proceed through the village in your new guise to the area filled with medieval weaponry, including a jousting spear, suit of armor and swords. Take note that should you be intercepted by the enemy, they will be using these against you, so observe the mechanics of them well. 

Proceed into the next chamber. A family tree will greet you here. Take time to peruse the historical players who were instrumental in the creation of the Magna Carta — be on the lookout for King John.

Next you’ll find a quilted tapestry (this doesn’t have much to do with your mission, but it’s still awesome.

Get back on track. The final portion of your quest is nigh. At the rear of the illuminated chamber lies the Magna Carta and a copy of the King’s Writ… observe and marvel for as long as you need to. Remember this special moment, because after August 17 this once-in-a-lifetime chance to see the Magna Carta in Houston will be gone for good.

This message will now self destruct.


Shaken, Not Stirred




Summer is fast approaching and the Education staff at the Museum has been preparing for months already.  I’m so excited about one of our newest camps; Master Spy Camp. I’ve been working on the curriculum and have found so many awesome activities and fun things to learn about.  The kids are going to have a blast! 

Working on this curriculum got me thinking though, who is the coolest spy ever?  Of course James Bond is the first thing that pops into most peoples’ minds.  I could agree with that, but only if we’re talking Sean Connery.  Check out the official SIS website, where you can learn about the real organization where the fictional Bond worked. 

Then, there’s also the amazing Spy Kids.  Doesn’t every kid want to be like them?  But as soon as I settle on the Spy Kids, I remember Jason Bourne, probably the slickest and coolest of the bunch. Last, but not least, we can’t forget everyone’s favorite funny man Austin Powers

I think we need a vote.  What do you think? Feel free to leave a comment with your pick for the coolest spy.

 If you think spy science just might be your thing, check out this cool activity where you can practice different ways to construct circuits and make alarms.