#SoCaltech: Siobhán MacArdle


““I've been interested in the chemistry of wine and alcohol for a long time. During my undergrad years at Barnard, I started getting obsessed with fermentation and distillation. I worked at a distillery in Brooklyn, and I was just blown away by how it's all chemistry and biology. More recently, I had been reading academic papers on the science of wine and whiskey, and I felt like I needed an outlet for it, so I created an Instagram account called @PeriodicallyDrinkingChemicals

I thought that I would taste the wine and then go find exactly which chemical made that taste. But the more I researched, the more I realized that a conglomeration of different things comes together and produces the taste of an apricot even though there are no apricots in there. So it's more complicated than just one chemical corresponding to one flavor.

It's been so fun for me, and it's reigniting my love of chemistry. When I'm in the lab, I'm making a lot of electrochemistry measurements, looking for peaks in cyclic voltammograms. When you're smelling a wine, you're also detecting some sort of chemical reaction or chemical change, but with your nose or your mouth.

A lot of natural-wine makers will say there are ‘chemicals’ in the wine, like it's a bad thing, because they are trying to stay away from chemical manipulations like additives or external yeast or coloring agents. But with my Instagram, I'm trying to show that wine is all chemicals, and you don't need to be afraid of chemistry. You can embrace and understand the natural chemistry while adhering to low-intervention techniques. You can understand it, and it's cool.”

Siobhán MacArdle is a Caltech chemistry graduate student working in the lab of Jackie Barton, the John G. Kirkwood and Arthur A. Noyes Professor of Chemistry.

#SoCaltech is an occasional series celebrating the diverse individuals who give Caltech its spirit of excellence, ambition, and ingenuity. Know someone we should profile? Send nominations to magazine@caltech.edu.