Having a party over the Easter break? Add some science with these party tricks. Sure to astound and amaze! My favourite is combining vinegar and bicarb, and pouring the resultant carbon dioxide over candles to extinguish them. I’m doing THAT at my next birthday party for sure, then reigniting candles with the smoke. Oh yes. It’s going to happen.
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.
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!
First up, apologies on the lateness of my post. A whole week has gone past! Oh me! I humbly do beseech you to forgive this old salt and do throw myself upon the deck in penance. Me only defense is that I have just moved from Canberra to Adelaide, and me Schooner does need an awful lot of bubble wrap. To distract you from me own slackness, I have scoured the nets for the cutest science story evah. I ply you with kittens thusly:
Cats are a more delicate and refined animal than messy, smelly and drooly dogs. I’ve always been a cat person. I think they have higher standards. Turns out they also drink better than dogs.
Both dogs and cats lack the complete cheeks that humans have, which means they can’t drink water by suction like we can. Dogs get around this by using their tongues as a ladle, cupping the water from bowl to throat.
Cat’s do it differently. They lap water briskly, but not like a ladle. Instead, they DEFY GRAVITY and make the water lift up into the air like a glorious floating blob of refreshment.
Sounds crazy, but it’s true. When they dip into the dish, water adheres to the dorsal (top) side of their tongue. The surface tension (sweet, sweet hydrogen bondage) of the water drags a column of water into the air. The cat can thus pull water into its mouth using inertia.
The competition between inertia moving water up and gravity pulling it down sets the lapping frequency of the cat. Smaller cats with smaller tongues lap faster to drink, large cats lap slower. Observation of lapping frequency in big cats like lions shows the same kind of trend, suggesting they use the same physics as the household feline.
Cats might do this because it’s a neater, cleaner way to drink and it keeps their whiskers nice and dry. Whiskers have an important sensory function, so it’s worth the effort to keep them tidy.
The research was published in Science, and began when a researcher was watching his own cat drink. A video of the researcher and cat is below, and shows in super slow mo exactly how water defies gravity when a cat enters the equation.
Did you hear that? Did you? Not only is it physics, hydrogen bonding and gravity defying, plus, PLUS, the tongue could have implications for robotics of the future. Yeah. Robot cat tongues. It’s going to happen.
Actually tongues are very interesting. They obviously have no bones for support, so instead they have a muscular hydrostat system where support comes from muscles. The same thing happens in octopus tentacles, where muscles stretch in one of three directions: Along the tentacle (longitudinal), across the tentacle (transverse) or wrapping around the tentacle (helical.) When an octopus moves, one muscle contracts to become shorter which forces the muscles around to stretch, supporting the movement like a skeleton.
Cats and octopus. You know this post was worth the wait.
Reis, P., Jung, S., Aristoff, J., & Stocker, R. (2010). How Cats Lap: Water Uptake by Felis catus Science DOI: 10.1126/science.1195421
While waiting for inspiration to strike a solid introduction into my head, my computer screen went blank. Good ol’ MacBook conserving energy! But letting your computer go idle doesn’t mean you have to waste its processing power. Why not cure cancer with grid computing?
It’s a kind of parallel computing, which breaks up complex problems into smaller calculations and then solves them at the same time. Instead of one processor working on one calculation a time, a group of processors work on different calculations together. Dual-core computers is one way to do it. Grid computing is another.
Grid computing is like a massive virtual computer whose processors are computers linked by a central software.
World Community Grid is one group which utilises the personal computers of over half a million volunteers around the globe. Their software switches on when the computer is idle and runs virtual experiments, calculating and number crunching its way through chemical simulations. They provide this public grid to humanitarian research projects.
One of the projects they are running is helping to solve childhood cancer by finding potential new drugs for neuroblastoma, one of the most common solid tumors in children. In some people the tumors do not respond well to chemotherapy. This research is hoping to turn this around by targeting three proteins which are important to the cancer’s survival. Knock out those proteins and the cancer will in turn be knocked out by chemo.
Good plan, but how to knock out the proteins? That’s where the grid comes in.
There are three million potential drug candidates who MIGHT bind to one of the proteins and knock them out. Of course, that’s a lot of laboratory time right there. A computer would be better, but to run these nine million virtual experiments would take 8000 years. By working with the public grid they expect the project to be finished in just two years. Possibly less.
That’s a big saving on time and grant money. It’s rational based drug design (which I blogged about here) taken to a crowd sourcing extreme. They are trying a similar thing to discover dengue fever drugs.
Image by Mstroeck
Drug design isn’t the only industry using the World Community Grid. Last month universities in Australia and China announced they are running simulations through the grid to find out how to filter water using nanotubes.
Nanotubes are small tubes that only water molecules can fit through. Not bacteria, not even viruses. It’s a great way to get rid of water dwelling nasties and desalinate sea water. But with such small pores you would expect the pressure and energy needed to force water through the filter to be incredible. And incredibly expensive. But in 2005 experiments showed that actually the water flowed pretty fast through the filters.
Why? Possibly the water molecules touching the nanotubes act more like ice and reduce friction. But who knows? To find out exactly what’s happening they’re running realistic simulations using the grid. The outcome could lead to huge improvements in water availability, potentially saving millions of lives a year in the developing world.
Like the idea of grid computing? Sign up to the World Community Grid here, and let your down time make a difference.