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How the Gas Pump Knows When to Shut Off

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The first gasoline pump certainly didn't exist for the purpose of fueling cars - though Karl Benz was tinkering with the idea, cars weren’t even invented yet. Created in 1885, that first pump was there to dispense fuel for stoves and kerosene lamps. It sure came in handy when cars did enter the scene, though.

The shutoff valve didn’t come along until more than 50 years later. In 1939, Olean, New York, resident Richard Corson noticed a man filling a barrel with gas and thought about what a waste of time and efficiency it was. He was sure there had to be a better way, but it wasn’t until he went to the bathroom and heard the toilet flush that the solution hit him - a butterfly float. The hands-free device would allow more than one barrel to be filled at once. Corson sketched a plan which was quickly followed by a rough prototype.

His original invention paved the way for the automatic shut-off used on most pumps today. The next time you’re trading in your savings to fill up your tank, take a second to really look at the nozzle you’re putting in the tank (don’t do this when you’re holding the trigger down). You’re probably going to notice two things: a tiny hole at the tip of the spout and a tube connected to it that runs down the interior side of the spout.

The hole is called a sensing hole; the tube connects it to a diaphragm near the shut-off valve in the nozzle.

When you squeeze the handle and precious gas starts to flow up through the spout, this creates a vacuum in that tube, keeping the diaphragm neutral. When your tank is reaching its limit, the gas is at a level high enough to cover the sensing hole. Air can’t get through the sensing hole to the vacuum, which makes the atmospheric pressure move the diaphragm, which flips a switch in the automatic shut-off device Richard Corson had a hand in creating. The switch flips, and voila, your tank is full.

Phew. Who knew keeping your shoes gas-free was so complicated?

If you’re still confused (or just want more details), here are a couple of experts:
The Straight Dope
How Stuff Works

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science
Why Adding Water to Your Whiskey Makes It Taste Better
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Don’t ever let people tease you for watering down your whiskey. If they’re true aficionados, they’ll know that adding a splash of water or a few cubes of ice to your drink will actually enhance its natural flavors. But how can something as flavorless as water make a barrel-aged scotch or bourbon taste even better? Chemists think they’ve found the answer.

As The Verge reports, researchers from the Linnæus University Centre for Biomaterials Chemistry in Sweden analyzed the molecular composition of whiskey in the presence of water. We already know that the molecule guaiacol is largely responsible for whiskey’s smoky taste and aroma. Guaiacol bonds to alcohol molecules, which means that in straight whisky that guaiacol flavor will be fairly evenly distributed throughout the cask. Alcohol is repelled by water, and guaiacol partially so. That means when a splash of the water is added to the beverage the alcohol gets pushed to the surface, dragging the guaiacol along with it. Concentrated at the top of the glass, the whiskey’s distinctive taste and scent is in the perfect position to be noticed by the drinker.

According to the team’s experiments, which they laid out in the journal Scientific Reports [PDF], whiskey that’s been diluted down to 40 percent to 45 percent alcohol content will start to show more guaiacol sloshing near the surface. Most commercial whiskey is already diluted before it's bottled, so the drink you order in a bar should fall within this range to begin with. Adding additional water or ice will boost the flavor-enhancing effect even further.

As for just how much water to add, the paper doesn’t specify. Whiskey lovers will just have to conduct some experiments of their own to see which ratios suit their palate.

[h/t NPR]

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Gray, George Robert; Hullmandel & Walton; Hullmandel, Charles Joseph; Mitchell, D. W / Public Doman
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Animals
DNA Tests Show ‘Extinct’ Penguin Species Never Existed
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Gray, George Robert; Hullmandel & Walton; Hullmandel, Charles Joseph; Mitchell, D. W / Public Doman

Science is a self-correcting process, ever in flux. Accepted hypotheses are overturned in the face of new information. The world isn’t flat after all. Disease isn’t caused by demons or wickedness. And that Hunter Island penguin? Yeah, apparently that was just a figment of our imaginations. Researchers writing in the Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society say the remains of one supposed species are in fact a “jumbled mixture” of bones from three extant species.

The bones were unearthed in the 1980s during the excavation of a prehistoric trash heap on Tasmania’s Hunter Island. Two scientists named Tets and O’Connor argued that the remains were different enough from other penguins to constitute their own genus and species, one which must have died out during the Holocene epoch. The proud potential penguin parents dubbed the apparently extinct bird Tasidyptes hunterivan, and that was that.

Except that this is science, where no story is ever really over. Other biologists were not satisfied with the evidence Tets and O’Connor presented. There were only four bones, and they all bore some resemblance to species that exist today. Fortunately, in 2017, we’ve got ways of making fossils talk. A research team led by Tess Cole of the University of Otago used DNA barcoding to examine the genetic code of each of the four bones.

“It was a fun and unexpected story,” Cole said in a statement, “because we show that Tasmania’s ‘extinct' penguin is not actually an extinct or unique penguin at all.”

Snares penguins dive into the water.
Snares penguins (Eudyptes robustus).
Brocken Inaglory, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

The bones were “a jumbled mixture of three living penguin species, from two genera": the Fiordland crested penguin or Tawaki (Eudyptes pachyrhynchus) and the Snares crested penguin (Eudyptes robustus), both of New Zealand, and the Australian little fairy penguin (Eudyptula novaehollandiae).

“This study shows how useful ancient DNA testing can be,” Cole said. “Not only does it help us identify new but extinct species, but it can help us rule out previously postulated species which did not exist, as in this case.”

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