Saturday, May 29, 2010

This Day in Science History - May 29 - Peter Higgs

May 29th is Peter Higgs birthday. Higgs is a British physicist who proposed a particle that was responsible for the origin of mass called the Higgs boson. This particle is a centerpiece of the modern Standard Model of elementary particles, but has yet to be detected. The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN may produce the energy levels necessary for its creation and prove or disprove the current Standard Model.

Happy Birthday Dr. Higgs! Find out what else occurred on this day in science history.

Serious Side Effects from Recalled Tylenol Products

You may remember back when the Tylenol recall was first getting underway, McNeil/Johnson & Johnson assured consumers the tribromoanisole contamination merely produced a musty odor and some nausea. They were understating the side effects of the contamination, as many of you know from firsthand experience, plus there were other quality concerns besides that single contaminant. Now the FDA is looking into 775 serious side effects, including 7 deaths since May 1, reported from exposure to the contaminated drugs. McNeil maintains that its latest recall of children's drugs was precautionary and not "undertaken on the basis of adverse medical events". The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform is undertaking hearings to examine the recall. In the meantime, how many of you continue to use Tylenol, Motrin, Benadryl, or any of the other drugs produced by McNeil/Johnson & Johnson? If you haven't checked to see whether the product you are using has been recalled, here's the list from McNeil's website.

Carbonated Ice Cream Recipe

Have you tried fizzy ice cream? It has the flavor and bubbles of an ice cream float without the soda. It's an extremely easy recipe to try. It doesn't even require a freezer; you just need dry ice. I've had a recipe for vanilla dry ice ice cream up for a while, but here's a chocolate recipe, along with a few tips and tricks I learned making the ice cream:

Carbonated Ice Cream Ingredients

2 cups heavy cream

2 cups half and half

1 cup chocolate syrup

1/2 cup sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla

1/8 teaspoon salt

dry ice

Make Dry Ice Ice Cream

You'll get a better texture for your ice cream if you crush your dry ice. The easiest way to do this is to put the dry ice into a paper bag and smash it with a mallet or walk on the bag. The ice crushes easily so you don't have to get medieval on it.

In a very large bowl, mix all of the ingredients except for the dry ice.

Stir in the dry ice a little at a time. "A little at a time" is the key point here, because if you add a lot of dry ice at once you'll get mountains of bubbles that will overflow your bowl. The bubbling will continue as long as any dry ice remains.

solid ice cream. The ice cream will be very cold, so be careful when eating it.

You can store uneaten ice cream in the freezer.

The dry ice sublimates to form carbon dioxide gas. The carbon dioxide is perfectly safe... you drink it in soda all the time. The only risks from the recipe are weight gain (not exactly a low-cal, low-fat recipe) and frostbite (use gloves if you plan to handle the dry ice and don't eat dry ice chunks). If you have leftover dry ice, there are many other projects you can try.

Barbeque Carcinogens

One of the best parts of summer, in my opinion, is barbeque. See that marshmallow? It's perfect. Brown all the way around, gooey all the way to the center. You know it will melt in your mouth. I didn't take the photo. That's because my marshmallows inevitably burst into flame and end as cinders with cold, white centers. I imagine either type of toasted marshmallow contributes to your cancer risk. So does anything charred, like seared steak or hamburgers from the grill or even burnt toast

The carcinogen (cancer-causing agent) is mainly benzo[a]pyrene (structure is shown), though other polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and heterocyclic amines (HCAs) are present and can cause cancer, too. PAHs are in smoke from incomplete combustion, so if you can taste smoke on your food, expect it contains those chemicals. Most of the PAHs are associated with smoke or char, so you can scrape them off of your food and reduce your risk from them (though that kind of defeats the point of a toasted marshmallow). HCAs, on the other hand, are produced by a chemical reaction between meat and high or prolonged heat. You'll find these chemicals in fried meat as well as barbeque. You can't cut or scrape away this class of carcinogens, but you can limit the amount that is produced by cooking your meat just until it's done, not blackening it into oblivion

Wordless Wednesday - Can You Guess What This Is?

Can you guess what this is? I'll give you a hint: The photo was taken at Brookhaven National Lab and it involves gold ions. The image was produced by the Solenoidal Tracker (STAR) Time Projection Chamber, a large, 3-D digital camera at Brookhaven's Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC).

Brookhaven National Lab

Make a Sparkler

Fireworks are a bit like food. They are made according to recipes. Sometimes spectacular results can be achieved from a simple recipe, using only a few basic ingredients. Just like sometimes you want to pop a frozen dinner in the microwave (or buy fireworks from a store), sometimes you want to make dinner (or make your own pyrotechnics). If you're feeling creative, try making your own sparkler. Who knows, you may discover a hidden passion for pyrotechnics

Sparklers are a handheld 'fireworks' that don't explode (pyrotechnic devices). They are easy to make, plus you can use your knowledge of chemistry to make colored fire.

Difficulty: Average

Time Required: minutes to make, several hours drying time

Here's How:

Mix the dry ingredients with enough dextrin solution to make a moist slurry. Include the strontium nitrate if you want a red sparkler or the barium nitrate if you want a green sparkler.

Dip the wires or sticks in the sparkler mixture. Be sure to leave enough uncoated space at one end to safely grasp the finished sparkler.

Allow the mixture to dry completely before igniting the sparkler.

Store sparklers away from heat or flame, and protected from high humidity.


Source is L.P. Edel, "Mengen en Roeren", 2nd edition (1936), p.22, as cited from Wouter's Practical Pyrotechnics

Parts are by weight.

Be certain the sparkler is 'out' and cooled before discarding it. This is easily accomplished by dipping the stick in a bucket of water.

Firework use is restricted or prohibited in some areas. Please check your local laws before burning sparklers, whether you purchase them or make them yourself.