Sci Pop Talks! kicks off with history of chocolate at University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Story and photos by Carl Mejstrik, NewsNetNebraska

Have you ever considered the health benefits of chocolate? Or even considered the possibility that the movie “Inception” could become a reality? Questions like these are being answered during an eight part speaking series at Love Library. Titled “Sci Pop Talks!” the series will look at how popular culture and science fit together.

Prof. Marilynn Schnepf passes Venezuelan chocolate to the crowd during her Sco Pop Talks! presentation on chocolate.

Prof. Marilynn Schnepf passes Venezuelan chocolate to the crowd during her Sci Pop Talks! presentation on chocolate.

Love Library is partnering with the UNL chemistry department and Doane College to bring in a professor each week to discuss the actual science behind fiction, movies and television. Speakers are discussing subjects such as the biochemistry of movie aliens, chemistry to survive the zombie apocalypse and the link between the TV series “Breaking Bad” and game theory.

The talk series will continue throughout the spring semester every Wednesday at 7 p.m. in the Mezzanine room at Love South.

Joan Barnes, the community engagement librarian at Love Library wants to bring in fun and educational programs that were accessible to the public.

“The faculty members and I that planned this talk series think it will be very popular because topics like zombies and vampires have gained in popularity over the last few years,” said Barnes.

Chocolate Talk

Audience members enjoyed chocolate samples during the Sci Pop Talk! kick-off lecture on the story of chocolate.

Audience members enjoyed chocolate samples during the Sci Pop Talk! kick-off lecture on the story of chocolate.

On Wednesday, Feb. 26th, the series kicked off with “The Story of Chocolate: Nutrition and Sensory Qualities.” Marilynn Schnepf, a professor of nutrition and health sciences at UNL, spoke to more than 50 people about the actual health benefits. Attendees were able to sample chocolate from all around the world as well as learn about its history.

“Chocolate has really become beyond just a food item,” said Schnepf. “Grocery stores realize that if there’s nutrition with the food then you sell more food.”

Schnepf said chocolate is made from the cocoa bean. The bean has a number of health benefits that transfer to chocolate once it has been prepared. Chocolate has shown to stimulate body chemicals called endorphins and serotonin which make you happy. It also reduces blood pressure and the caffeine acts as a natural stimulant.

The Aztecs first used the cocoa bean by crushing it into a fine powder and making it into a drink, Schnepf said. They called it the drink of the gods. As the Spanish colonized most of South America, they savored the cocoa bean for the aphrodisiac qualities it had. They began to add cane sugar to the drink and introduced it to Europe. The taste for cocoa spread across the continent and the English developed a process to make cocoa butter. This resulted in the first solid chocolate bars. However, the charm of chocolate didn’t fall on everyone.

“Puritans in Amsterdam didn’t like it because it was just too much fun,” said Schnepf. “They coined the term ‘Devil’s Food.’”

During her presentation, Schnepf passed out chocolate samples from around the world including the countries of Ghana, Venezuela and Italy.

“I thought the talk was interesting and it gave me a reason to justify eating some chocolate tonight,” said Rachel Soukup, a senior anthropology major.

Sci Pop in the Future

Rebecca Lai, a chemistry professor at UNL and future Sci Pop speaker, helped to bring in other professors to present throughout the semester. She was pleased with the turnout of more than 50 people for the first talk.

“I was thinking about 20 people would show and I would’ve been glad if 20 showed up,” said Lai. “I am rather positive that there will be more attendees in the coming events, given that the attendees were happy with the first talk.”

Lai looks forward to teaching people about science in simple way. She will discuss chemistry in Harry Potter and decode “Interview with a Vampire” later this semester. If interest continues in the talks, Lai would like to have another series in the fall in or next spring.

Here’s the rest of the Sci Pop Talks! series schedule:

Feb 26 The Story of Chocolate: Nutrition & Sensory Qualities – Prof. Marilynn Schnepf, UNL

Mar 5 Chemistry to Survive the Zombie Apocalypse- Dr. Raychelle Burks, Doane College

Mar 12 Alien Biochemistry in the Movies – Prof. Mark Griep, UNL

Mar 19 Making ‘Inception’ Real – Prof. Ramesh Laungani, Doane College

April 2 Discovering the Hidden Truth: Forensics – Prof. Ashley Hall, UNL

April 9 Book 8: Harry Potter and the Magic of Science – Prof. Rebecca Y Lai, UNL

April 16 Game Theory and Breaking Bad – Prof. Kristopher Williams, Doane College

April 23 Interview with the Vampire – Decoded by Scientists – Prof. Rebecca Y Lai, UNL

Where: Love Library, Mezzanine Study Room (201 LS), 13 & R Streets, UNL City Campus
When: 7:00 pm, Wednesday nights
Sponsored by the University of Nebraska–Lincoln Libraries, UNL Chemistry Department and Doane College

More details at:


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