Posts Tagged ‘beer’

Sometimes scientists just have to douse experiments in alcohol

// January 15th, 2011 // 1 Comment » // Recent Research

Superconductor supermarket

Superconductor supermarket. Image by andreasmarx

In which scientists get drunk and pour their beverages on compounds to create superconductors.

It’s no secret that I cook better with wine. I’m not just talking about a dash of red in pasta sauce or half a bottle of cheap white in risotto. I mean, when I’m tipsy I’m generous with the flavours and cook in a twirling, happy sashay of creation. But who knew it was the same with science?

Superconductors are metals at very low temperatures (6 Kelvin) which gain certain properties: Namely that the normal resistance drops to zero and they start conducting electricity incredibly well.

The experiment conducted at the National Institute for Materials Science in Japan involved soaking compounds (powders of iron, tellurium and tellurium sulfide) in different fluids, then cooling them and testing how well they conducted electricity.

First experiment: pure water. Results = boring. (10% superconducting volume fraction)
Second experiment: water plus ethanol. Results = yawn. (11%)
Third experiment: pure ethanol. Results = worse than water. (6%)

At this stage, I can only assume the scientists got drunk. They got a variety of different drinks (whiskey, sake, wine, etc) poured out 20 mL shots and soaked the compound in their boozy concoctions. When they tested conductivity, the results were surprising. Whiskey did well, beer did better, and red wine was streaks ahead with a whopping 63% of the material showing superconductive properties. For some reason commercial drinks created better superconductors than pure ethanol and water.

Here’s a graph of the results.

superconducting drinks

Graph by Keita Deguchi

As you can see, red wine is a clear winner, followed by white wine, beer, sake and other commercial drinks. At the bottom is boring old ethanol/water. Clearly what was lacking was a bit of FLAVOUR. That, or oxygen, particulates… actually they don’t know why it happened. More experiments need to be performed. Probably every Friday night from 3pm.

Still, it’s a fantastic case of serendipity. Plus, once the results were in, all the drinks were ALREADY THERE for celebrating! Sweet!

The paper is available free from arXiv – Deguchi K. et al “Superconductivity in FeTe1-xSx induced by alcohol”

Antibiotic beer, as drunk by the ancient Nubians

// September 8th, 2010 // 4 Comments » // Drugs, Recent Research

Image by Peter Trimming

Today’s schooner of science is literally science in a schooner. Plus it comes with a new career path – bioarcheologist, expert in ancient diets.

George Armelagos is the bioarcheologist in question, and he’d been studying the ancient Nubians who lived just south of ancient Egypt in present-day Sudan.

George was looking at some bones and found evidence that they had been exposed to tetracycline, an antibiotic. Tetracycline is absorbed into bone, and fluoresces green. It’s sometimes used to measure bone growth – take tetracycline at day 0, again at day 12, and at day 21 take a biopsy. The distance between the two green lines will show how far the bone grew in 12 days.

Anyhoo, tetracycline in bones from 350-550 AD is weird, seeing as we first invented antibiotics with the discovery of penicillin in 1928. Now we find out the ancient Nubians beat us to it, and as with all great ideas they came up with it over a beer.

The grain they used to ferment the beer contained streptomyces bacteria, which produces tetracycline as a kind of germ warfare. Like penicillin comes from a fungus, tetracycline is made by a bacteria. It’s a bad-ass antibacterial that can treat disease like chlamydia, gonorrhea, and pneumonia which are caused by bacteria. It can even kill Yersinia pestis cause of the black plague.

Were the ancient Nubians drinking it by accidental contamination, intentional medication, or did streptomyces bacteria just grew on the corpses?

To find out they needed (da dada dum!) a CHEMIST! This particular hero was Mark Nelson, who dissolved the bones in some hardcore hydrogen fluoride – “the most dangerous acid on the planet,” according to Mark. Woah. After showing the bones who was boss, Mark mass spec’d the shizz out of them and discovered a metric buttload of tetracycline, confirming that it was ingested and in high quantities.

The scientist duo concluded that this was a brew with a purpose – an antibiotic alcoholic. Even the bones from a four year old child contained a lot of tetracycline, perhaps he was given the antibacterial to cure a disease.

My question is, why are WE not taking our antibiotics in beer? That would be SO much better!

ResearchBlogging.orgNelson ML, Dinardo A, Hochberg J, & Armelagos GJ (2010). Brief communication: Mass spectroscopic characterization of tetracycline in the skeletal remains of an ancient population from Sudanese Nubia 350-550 CE. American journal of physical anthropology, 143 (1), 151-4 PMID: 20564518






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