Investigating Harmful Artificial Food Coloring in Candy

By: Aamina K.
Year: 2016
School: Orange Crescent School, 7th grade.
Advisor: Zaynab Joseph
Devision: Junior

In the 2015-2016 school year, Aamina was a seventh grader at Orange Crescent School. While many children like eating colorful candies, Aamina took her interest a step further by researching the detrimental effects of artificial food colorings, specifically in M&Ms and Nerds. Her project, titled “Investigating Harmful Artificial Food Coloring in Candies Using Agarose Gel Electrophoresis,” garnered attention from judges, who gave her first place in the junior division of physical product science.

Like many other young kids, Aamina was first inspired to pursue this science research project by her love and interest in candy. The attractive-looking candies made her wonder “why the colors [were] really bright, and what they [were] made of.” Aamina also wanted to explore the negative effects of the excess amounts of food coloring in the candies. To do this, Aamina utilized agarose gel electrophoresis, “a method used by scientists to find DNA, RNA, proteins, enzymes, and artificial food colorings.” Aamina heated eight different dyes in an electrophoresis chamber, with the artificial colors moving from the negative to the positive end. Artificial colors closer to the negative end after being heated were deemed to have excessive amounts of artificial coloring, and therefore had more harmful effects.

Aamina started out by testing different candies, but she dreams of using her newly-gained knowledge of Agarose Gel Electrophoresis to test different kinds of coffees and teas for their amounts of caffeine. Not limited to food sciences, Agarose Gel Electrophoresis is also an important method in the sciences  biochemistry, molecular biology, genetics, and clinical chemistry; Aamina hopes to specifically use her skill to test animal DNA in the future.

Aamina was able to conduct a successful experiment, but not without obstacles. She  struggled “to find out the different amounts of agarose, buffer, and water,” but overcame it due to her passion for science and her curiosity. In fact, when asked, Aamina has said that her advice to science research project hopefuls is to “ask lots of questions, be curious, never give up, and always love science.”