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Ice Cream Dipped in Cellulose

Just about everyone enjoys licking sweet frozen colloidal foam, known to simple folk as ice cream. Bizarre, eh? If you examined ice cream under a microscope, you would see a mix of ice crystals, air pockets, and fat globules embedded in a sugary syrup. Fresh ice cream, of course, tastes great. But as it ages it develops a crunchier texture. That’s because every time you take it out of the freezer, a little bit melts and refreezes into larger crystals. The solution? Stabilizers like microcrystalline cellulose or guar gum have a remarkable ability to absorb moisture so that the water that forms as ice cream melts becomes unavailable for refreezing. The additives help you enjoy the product longer without worrying about the dreaded “heat shock.”

Spray That Unfaithful Husband (S-Check)

For years people cheated on their spouses in the name of chemistry. Finally, chemistry is fighting back. Takeshi Makino, president of the Safety Detective Agency in Osaka, Japan, won the 1999 Nobel Prize in chemistry (for achievements that “cannot or should not be reproduced”) for his unusual invention. His agency sells a pair of chemical sprays, called S-Check, that a wife can spray on her husband’s underwear to see if he’s been unfaithful. The sprays turn traces of semen bright green. And only showering will help. Unfortunately, the same company has also come up with a new idea for infidelity detection creams: the shower detector. Rub it into your mate’s back, and a scab will form when he (or she) attempts to shower. Put it on socks or underwear, and they’ll change color (from the change in temperature) if removed for longer than 15 minutes. When did cheating get so complicated?

The Chronometer

Early mapmakers and navigators had no problem determining latitude, which is fairly easily calculated on the basis of the height of the midday sun. Longitude, however, was mostly a matter of guesswork, resulting in distorted maps and innumerable shipwrecks. Geographers had long realized that the problem could be solved by a highly accurate clock; if it were noon on board ship (determined by simple observation) and midnight at Greenwich, England (as revealed by the chronometer), then you had to be halfway around the world from Britain’s Royal Observatory. But no one could build a clock that would remain accurate enough through rolling waves and temperature and humidity extremes, despite the lure of a £20,000 award promised by the British government. No one, that is, until the task was taken up by an ill-educated British craftsman named John Harrison (1693-1776). In 1773 Harrison was belatedly awarded the full prize much to the chagrin of a few gentleman scientists who continued to look down on Harrison with pure class contempt.

Why Les Paul Is God

Where would rock and roll be without the electric guitar? Blame it on Lester Poltus. Lester, better known as Les Paul, created the solid-body electric guitar and is the innovator of many of the recording techniques used today. In the early 1930s Les was already working on a rudimentary guitar pickup using pieces from his ham radio set. By 1941 he had built a solid-body electric guitar that consisted of a four-foot wooden board, strings, plug, and pickup. In 1945 he created the recording process of multi-tracking in a recording studio he built in his garage. Later, as part of a very successful duet with his wife, Mary ford, he perfected the technique of multi-tracking Ford’s voice responding to his guitar. But Paul’s technological genius didn’t end there. In the 1950s Paul built the first 8-track recorder and invented the process of overdubbing. Inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1988, Les Paul continues to take the recording industry higher and higher.

Shoes That Go Straight To The Pointe

Before Marie Taglioni stunned her audiences with pointework in 1832, ballerinas actually gave their performances in high-heeled shoes. But as the art of rising up and balancing oneself on the tips of the toes became a staple of ballet, new shoes became a necessity. In their earliest form, the arrived as satin slipper reinforced with cotton wadding, glue, and starch. Today’s pointe shoes, however, are made with many layers of cloth (linen, felt, canvas, etc.0 held together by special glue, though they feel much like wooden boxes. Of course, ballerinas have all kinds of tricks for breaking them in, including slamming them in doors, banging them with hammers, and soaking them in water, all in the course of becoming a podiatrist’s worst nightmare.