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Scientist Turns Peanut Butter into Diamonds

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I’ve always said peanut butter is a girl’s best friend, and now there’s proof. While trying to mimic the extreme conditions found deep beneath the Earth’s surface, a researcher turned one of the most popular sandwich condiments into a substance even more valuable, if less tasty: diamond.

Dan Frost, a research scientist at the Bayerisches Geoinstitut, University of Bayreuth, Germany, wants to know what’s going on in the Earth’s lower mantle, which sits 1800 miles below the surface and is somewhat of a mystery to researchers. We know it’s very hot (temperatures may reach 4000 degrees Fahrenheit) and under an incredible amount of pressure (237,000 times atmospheric pressure is a low estimate). We also know the mantle is where diamonds are formed. These precious gems are composed of carbon atoms that have been heated and squeezed and then pushed toward the Earth’s surface, where they cool. In trying to mimic the conditions of the mantle, Frost successfully created synthetic diamonds in a lab. His source of carbon? I’ll give you a hint: it pairs well with jelly.

He placed some peanut butter between two diamonds (this is called the “stiletto heel effect”) and compressed the nutty stuff. Why the diamonds? They’re incredibly hard, thanks to their closely-linked carbon atoms, and can withstand the necessary amount of pressure for the experiment, which is about 1.3 million times that of our atmospheric pressure.

The result is a diamond where a peanut used to be, albeit a paltry and not entirely pure one. “A lot of hydrogen was released that destroyed the experiment,” Frost told the BBC, “but only after it had been converted to diamond.”

This actually isn’t the first time this has been done. Researchers at Edinburgh University produced similar results back in 2007. "Many carbon-containing materials can be converted into diamond including peanut butter," said Edinburgh University's Malcolm McMahon. And diamonds are already manufactured synthetically, mostly for industrial use in producing grinding or cutting tools that benefit from the material’s hardness.

Frost hopes his experiments will lead not to cheaper diamonds, but larger knowledge about the inner workings of our planet. “If we want to understand how the Earth was formed, then one of the things you need to know is what planet is made out of,” he said.

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Whale Sharks Can Live for More Than a Century, Study Finds
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Some whale sharks alive today have been swimming around since the Gilded Age. The animals—the largest fish in the ocean—can live as long as 130 years, according to a new study in the journal Marine and Freshwater Research. To give you an idea of how long that is, in 1888, Grover Cleveland was finishing up his first presidential term, Thomas Edison had just started selling his first light bulbs, and the U.S. only had 38 states.

To determine whale sharks' longevity, researchers from the Nova Southeastern University in Florida and the Maldives Whale Shark Research Program tracked male sharks around South Ari Atoll in the Maldives over the course of 10 years, calculating their sizes as they came back to the area over and over again. The scientists identified sharks that returned to the atoll every few years by their distinctive spot patterns, estimating their body lengths with lasers, tape, and visually to try to get the most accurate idea of their sizes.

Using these measurements and data on whale shark growth patterns, the researchers were able to determine that male whale sharks tend to reach maturity around 25 years old and live until they’re about 130 years old. During those decades, they reach an average length of 61.7 feet—about as long as a bowling lane.

While whale sharks are known as gentle giants, they’re difficult to study, and scientists still don’t know a ton about them. They’re considered endangered, making any information we can gather about them important. And this is the first time scientists have been able to accurately measure live, swimming whale sharks.

“Up to now, such aging and growth research has required obtaining vertebrae from dead whale sharks and counting growth rings, analogous to counting tree rings, to determine age,” first author Cameron Perry said in a press statement. ”Our work shows that we can obtain age and growth information without relying on dead sharks captured in fisheries. That is a big deal.”

Though whale sharks appear to be quite long-lived, their lifespan is short compared to the Greenland shark's—in 2016, researchers reported they may live for 400 years. 

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Scientists Find a Possible Link Between Beef Jerky and Mania
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Scientist have discovered a surprising new factor that may contribute to mania: meat sticks. As NBC News reports, processed meats containing nitrates, like jerky and some cold cuts, may provoke symptoms of mental illness.

For a new study, published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry, scientists surveyed roughly 1100 people with psychiatric disorders who were admitted into the Sheppard Pratt Health System in Baltimore between 2007 and 2017. They had initially set out to find whether there was any connection between certain infectious diseases and mania, a common symptom of bipolar disorder that can include racing thoughts, intense euphoria, and irritability.

While questioning participants about their diet, the researchers discovered that a significant number of them had eaten cured meats before their manic episodes. Patients who had recently consumed products like salami, jerky, and dried meat sticks were more likely to be hospitalized for mania than subjects in the control group.

The link can be narrowed down to nitrates, which are preservatives added to many types of cured meats. In a later part of the study, rats that were fed nitrate-free jerky acted less hyperactive than those who were given meat with nitrates.

Numerous studies have been published on the risks of consuming foods pumped full of nitrates: The ingredient can lead to the formation of carcinogens, and it can react in the gut in a way that promotes inflammation. It's possible that inflammation from nitrates can trigger mania in people who are already susceptible to it, but scientists aren't sure how this process might work. More research still needs to be done on the relationship between gut health and mental health before people with psychiatric disorders are told to avoid beef jerky altogether.

[h/t NBC News]

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