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YouTube // The Royal Institution

Watch Liquid Mercury Freeze Solid ... And Hammer Rubber Nails

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YouTube // The Royal Institution

Mercury is an unusual substance: it's a metal that's liquid at room temperature. This makes it quite useful in things like thermometers...and it makes for fun lab tricks if you've got the right equipment.

In the video by the Royal Institution below, Olympia Brown makes a hammer out of mercury. This is possible because mercury freezes solid at -38.83 degrees Celsius, and liquid nitrogen is far colder than that. From there, she proceeds to hammer similarly frozen rubber "nails" (just pointy slivers of rubber) using the mercury hammer. I can guarantee that this is the first time I've seen a mercury hammer.

Along the way, of course, Brown explains how temperature works in relation to different substances. It's all about the third law of thermodynamics: The entropy of a perfect crystal at absolute zero is exactly equal to zero. Tune in, my fellow nerds!

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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 whiskey 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 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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Food
The Chemistry Behind the World’s Worst-Smelling Fruit
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Durian is hailed by many in southeast Asia as “The King of Fruits.” It’s also been banned in many public spaces in the region for having a pungent odor that’s reminiscent of “the flesh of some animal in a state of putrefaction,” as one French naturalist put it. So what is it about that delicacy that elicits such strong responses?

According to the PBS web series Reactions, the answer lies in durian’s chemistry. Sulfur is present in some of the key molecules that give the fruit its distinct scent. This chemical element is often described as having a rotten egg smell, and can be found in poisonous gas, rancid meat, and other places we’ve evolved to avoid.

Despite smelling like something that’s long-dead, durian still attracts passionate fans with its fruity taste and custardy texture. If you’ve never had durian before, check out the full video from Reactions below and decide whether or not it’s worth a taste.

[h/t Reactions]

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