Unboiling an Egg: An Introduction to Circular Dichroism and Protein Refolding

John P. Hoben, Jianing Wang, Anne Frances Miller

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


A signature of life is that biological molecules occur as a single stereoisomer with respect to each chiral center, and this is echoed in the structures of biological polymers. Thus, circular dichroism (CD) has emerged as a hallmark of biomolecular structures. The tangible and familiar phenomenon of raw egg white's conversion from transparent fluid to rubbery white solid, upon boiling, was exploited to relate protein molecular structure measured by CD, to macroscopic material properties. Specifically, students employed a denaturant solution to dissolve hard-boiled egg white back into solution, and then upon dilution of the denaturant recovered CD signatures of structure. This experiment is adaptable to students from high school to early in graduate school, and provides an accessible introduction to the use of CD for characterizing protein secondary structure. It is a class favorite due to its demonstration of the surprising possibility of reversing the protein aggregation that underlies the solidity of hard-boiled egg white.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)356-360
Number of pages5
JournalJournal of Chemical Education
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 14 2017

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported as part of the Biological Electron Transfer and Catalysis Energy Frontier Research Center funded by the U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Science, Basic Energy Sciences under Award DE-SC0012518.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2016 The American Chemical Society and Division of Chemical Education, Inc.


  • Bioanalytical Chemistry
  • Biochemistry
  • Biophysical Chemistry
  • Chirality/Optical Activity
  • Hands-On Learning/Manipulatives
  • High School/Introductory Chemistry
  • Interdisciplinary/Multidisciplinary
  • Polymer Chemistry
  • Upper-Division Undergraduate

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Chemistry (all)
  • Education


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