2023 People’s Choice Award Winner – Ana Swanson

Sugar Blues

Digital drawing

Chair conformations are taught in organic chemistry to teach students about stability of six membered rings. As someone with type 1 diabetes, sugar is vital in my daily life so I drew the chair conformation of Glucose. This essential sugar molecule for human function and it is made up of a six membered ring and varying substituent groups. I represented the substituent groups by drawing leaves on the metallically colored poles sticking above and below the ring structure.

The piece conveys the concept of a chair conformation, a topic taught in organic chemistry (CHEMISTRY 210). In contrast to what we learn in early chemistry classes, molecules are three-dimensional and different substituents can be placed “above” or “below” the plane of the molecule. The size, polarity, and relative position of the substituents help determine what particular conformation of the molecule is most stable. A given ring structure can have two different conformations, with one being more favorable than the other. Chair conformations are most commonly used to display rings made up of six atoms. This six atom ring motif carries over into the molecules that make up life, and more importantly, many of the molecules that are extremely relevant to the function of the human body. It is vital to understand how molecular rings take up space and are formed, as they are so relevant in describing the way we, as humans, work on a molecular scale. These rings are typically drawn in a 2-D, orthogonal perspective. However, converting them to their respective chair conformation makes it much easier to understand the 3-D properties of the atoms on the ring. In terms of directionality, seeing the chair in its conformational structure allows you to quickly visualize whether or not the atoms that are substituents of the rings are “above” or “below” the plane that the ring sits on.

Take glucose for example. It is universally one of the most well known sugar molecules, and as someone with type 1 diabetes it is vital in my daily life. I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in 2020 and it has greatly impacted the way I perceive and approach life. I wanted to combine my passion for organic chemistry, along with a part of the chemistry associated with being a diabetic into my art piece. As a bit of context, a diabetic is not able to produce enough, or any, insulin, which is a hormone that regulates the amount of glucose found in the blood. Glucose is the primary source of energy in the body, so if it is not regulated, it can cause great harm to the body. If you consider the molecular structure of glucose, it is a six membered ring with the molecular formula C6H12O6 and there are five substituent groups. In my drawing, I drew metallic like poles from each carbon atom that depict each substituent and if they are “above” or “below” the ring. To convey glucose’s five major substituent groups, I drew the substituents as having leaves on their respective metallic poles.