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YouTube / Jefferson Lab
YouTube / Jefferson Lab

Can of Soda vs. Liquid Nitrogen

YouTube / Jefferson Lab
YouTube / Jefferson Lab

What happens when you put a can of soda* in liquid nitrogen? Well, we can predict that it will freeze, but how? Let's hope it's catastrophic:

Incidentally, I'm in the middle of reading the new Neal Stephenson book Seveneves, and am reminded of this passage:

"[The spacecraft] were just big aluminum cans with domes welded onto the ends. The walls of the can had a thickness of about a millimeter. The domes were a bit sturdier. The thickest and strongest parts of the hull were in the places where the domes overlapped the ends of the can. The analogy was to a plastic soda bottle, whose thin walls could be crumpled in one hand when the lid was off, but which became amazingly stiff and strong when it was pressurized. Or at least that was what NASA was saying to people who were alarmed by the idea of living one millimeter away from the vacuum of space."

Stephenson, Neal (2015-05-19). Seveneves: A Novel (pp. 197-198). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

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* = Pop, soft drink, fizzy drink, carbonated liquid, "Coke," etc.

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Food
Why You Never See Fresh Olives at the Grocery Store
iStock
iStock

If given a choice, most grocery shoppers prefer fresh produce over something that's been pumped full of preservatives. Yet shoppers are almost never given that choice when it comes to olives. The small, meaty fruits can be found floating in brines, packed in cans, and stuffed with pimentos, but they're hardly ever shipped to the store straight off the tree. As the video series Reactions explains, there's a good reason for that.

In their natural state, because they contain high concentrations of a bitter-tasting compound called oleuropein, fresh olives are practically inedible. To make the food palatable, olive producers have to get rid of these nasty-tasting chemicals, either by soaking them in water, fermenting them in salt brine, or treating them with sodium hydroxide.

Because of its speed, food manufacturers prefer the sodium hydroxide method. Commonly known as lye, sodium hydroxide accelerates the chemical breakdown of oleuropein into compounds that have a less aggressive taste. While other processes can take several weeks to work, sodium hydroxide only takes one week.

Afterward, the olives are washed to remove the caustic lye, then packed with water and salt to extend their shelf life, giving them their distinct briny flavor.

For more on the chemistry of olives, check out the full video from Reactions below.

[h/t Reactions]

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Chloe Effron
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science
Why Do Sour Things Make Me Pucker?
Chloe Effron
Chloe Effron

WHY? is our attempt to answer all the questions every little kid asks. Do you have a question? Send it to why@mentalfloss.com.

Have you ever sucked on a lemon and felt your face scrunch up? Foods that are very sour contain a lot of acid and can make you pucker—wrinkle your face, squint your eyes, and press your lips together. When things like lemons, vinegar, and unripened fruit touch your tongue, your brain gets a signal that you’re eating something sour. It could be your body's way of saying "watch out!"

Your tongue has thousands of little bumps with tiny sensors called taste buds. Taste buds let you know when something is sweet, salty, sour, bitter, or savory. (Savory is also called umami. Say: ooo-MOM-eee.) Each taste bud has dozens of taste cells that have little sprouts on them that look like hair that can only be seen with a microscope. When foods dissolved in your saliva touch them, they tell the brain about the flavor of what you are eating. When they come in contact with very sour foods, your face might pucker up because the taste is strong and acidic.

Puckering when you taste something sour is often involuntary (in-VAWL-uhn-ter-ee). That means you do it without trying. It may happen because we have an instinct not to eat things that are dangerous. Of course, not all sour foods are bad for us. But some sour foods can make us sick—spoiled milk or fruit that is not ripe, for example. Reacting with a wrinkled-up face may be our body’s way of trying to warn ourselves and others to stay away from foods that might hurt us.

For further reading, check out “Why Are Lemons Sour?” over at Wonderopolis.

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