Mystery Image Contest: October 6-20, 2014


When you hear the word "sugar," what do you think of? You might picture the white granular substance that sweetens your morning coffee. But calling that substance just "sugar" is a bit of an oversimplification—it's actually sucrose, one of many types of sugars. Sucrose is known in chemistry as a disaccharide, as it is comprised of glucose and fructose molecules, which are themselves types of sugars. Glucose and fructose, both naturally occurring in fruits and other plants, are called monosaccharides. Monosaccharides are the building blocks for disaccharides (made of two monosaccharides, like sucrose and lactose) and oligosaccharides (made of more than two monosaccharides). All of these compounds are considered sugars. Humans discovered how to extract sucrose (commonly known as table sugar, cane sugar, or beet sugar) from sugarcane as early as 500 BCE in India, and it has remained popular ever since. From the 15th to the 18th centuries in Europe, table sugar was considered a luxury; as sugarcane grows best in hot climates, the demand for table sugar drove, in part, the European colonization of parts of Africa and South Asia. Today, the demand for table sugar worldwide is still high, but mechanized production has lowered its costs. Though much of the world's table sugar today is still derived from sugarcane, it is now also extracted from sugar beets. Table sugar also faces stiff competition in the United States from high fructose corn syrup, another sweetening agent that is derived from corn and cheaper to produce. Nonetheless, sucrose still retains its popularity and is a common ingredient in sweet treats like candy.


This image is an illustration of a sucrose molecule.

Photo Credit

Rob Hooft via Wikimedia Commons

Winning Entry

Ms. Jaehrling
Charles City High School
Charles City, Iowa

For Educators

Teaching Support

This Mystery Image Contest coincides with National Chemistry Week (October 19-25) whose theme this year is "The Sweet Side of Chemistry: Candy." Many students may not realize how the principles of chemistry are frequently used in cooking: common ingredients like salt can have relatively simple molecular formulae; ingredients like baking soda produce chemical reactions in many recipes; and the principles of thermodynamics are essential to cooking almost anything. Candy, a food familiar to most young people, is a great place to start exploring this topic: most of the candy on grocery store shelves is manufactured, so variables like the ingredients, cooking times, and cooking temperatures have been standardized—making the candy-making process seem much like science! Explore the chemistry of candy with the American Chemical Society's many resources and take a look at our related content on Science NetLinks.

Related Resources

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Your Brain on Fructose
Sensing Calories
Popsicle Flavors
Sports Drinks
MyPlate Food Guide
6-8 | LESSON
Nutrition 1: Food and the Digestive System
3-5 | LESSON
Nutrition 2: Good Food, Good Health
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Nutrition 3: Got Broccoli?
3-5 | LESSON

Science NetLinks Mystery Image Contest Rules and Regulations

What Is the

Mystery Image Contest?

The Mystery Image Contest offers the chance to identify a science-related object based on a close-up picture of it.