FURSCA Profile — Put a cork in it

Some students and faculty may enjoy a glass of wine after a long day, but Nick Lessnau, Clinton junior, spent the working hours with a bottle of the good stuff. Lessnau assisted Dr. Vanessa McCaffrey, assistant professor of chemistry, on her research tracking the antioxidant activities of wine. Here, he talks with the Pleiad about his experience.

How did you get involved with Dr. McCaffrey’s research?

I had a friend, Brian Seymour, Chihuahua, Mexico senior, who kind of got me in touch with her. I talked with her and told her I was interested in doing research. I started off the first semester of my sophomore year doing data analysis on a previous wine project that dealt with the oxidation in wine. Then I told her I was interested in FURSCA and we kind of talked about this, and came to the conclusion it would be something cool to do. It’s kind of something that’s Dr. McCaffrey’s pet project – wine and stuff – and I just caught onto it and thought it was kind of interesting.

So what exactly was this project?

I pretty much looked at antioxidants in wine to see if antioxidant activity in wine changed at all after opening it. So it was pretty much just seeing if someone opened a bottle of wine at home, and had some of it and then wanted to save it for later, if the antioxidant capacity of it changed at all. It didn’t specifically pertain to the beneficial qualities of antioxidants, it was just seeing if antioxidants changed.

What do you mean by “antioxidant activity?”

The antioxidant activity is pretty much how reactive the antioxidants in the substance are. It has nothing to do with the quantity of antioxidants, because there could be a lot of antioxidants in the wine that had already reacted with something else. So it was pretty much just telling you the amount of free radicals that the antioxidants are quenching [reacting with] to eliminate that radical. That’s pretty much what antioxidants do—they react with a few different things, but free radicals are one of them and that’s why they say they are beneficial for you, because there are a number of free radicals in your body and they react with them to eliminate their dangerous affects.

How did you measure activity?

I would open a bottle of wine on a Monday, and then I would run tests on it every day of the week and see if antioxidant activity changed at all. I used three different recorking methods: Vacu Vin, which was just like a vacuum sealer, just recorking it and argon.

I used spectroscopy and looked at how the color of my radical solution would change when you add wine to it. Then, based on the difference in the color and the difference in the amount of light that could pass through it, I could convert that to an ascorbic acid, or vitamin C concentration. Vitamin C is, in the all the literature that I had looked through, a standard for antioxidant activity.

What about the recorking methods?

Those were just to see if there was any difference in antioxidant activity. With recorking, just putting the cork in it, that’s just going to keep the gases that are in there, in there. The Vacu Vin sucks the oxygen out of it. The argon kind of displaces it, so there’s theoretically a layer in between the surface of the wine and whatever other gas is in there, since it’s denser than oxygen and denser than typical air.

Was there any difference between red and white wines?

The antioxidant capacity of red wine is a lot stronger, so I had to dilute it so it was a more comparable value. I haven’t noticed any differences yet, but I’m leaning towards focusing more on red wine than white wine because the white wine just isn’t as potent.

Overall, what did you find out?

I haven’t gotten any definitive results yet, because I had to get the methodology down first. But with the recorking method, I know that there was more dissolved oxygen content in the wine, but I haven’t gotten any definitive results. I was going to do more research over the semester, but I haven’t had time with classes and stuff.

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