Archive for the ‘chemistry’ Category

Store-bought is not enough: My first hard cider homebrew

November 22nd, 2018

Homebrewing hard cider: The basics (video link)

Update: It's Thanksgiving in the US, and Ars staffers are off experimenting in the kitchen rather than on the page. Actually, sometimes we experiment in the kitchen in order to put it on the page, too—like this 2013 series on home brewing some delightfully autumnal hard cider. While it's too late to get the job done for today's big meal, allow this guide to inspire you for your large winter gatherings. This piece originally ran on October 19, 2013, and it appears unchanged below.

My relationship with beer has grown too comfortable. We share an easy routine: I buy it at the store—a different kind almost every time—take it home, and drink it. I'm not sure how the beer feels about this, but it seems happy. Still, things have gotten boring. So I'm taking the next step: making my own hard cider.

I chose cider for my first foray into home brewing for a couple of reasons. First, much as I would like to make beer, it involves a more extended process and more specialized ingredients. Wine is closer to cider in simplicity, but I envision cheaply made homebrewed wine tasting much worse than cheaply made cider. Furthermore, autumn comes but once a year; I can buy a wine or beer kit any time, but there’s only a couple of months during which I can get good soft cider.

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Posted in beer, chemistry, Cider, hard cider, Homebrew, homebrewing, Tech | Comments (0)

We might be able to rate future films with a sniff test, study says

October 25th, 2018
The breathing of the crowd: The 2015 found-footage horror film <em>Paranormal Activity: Ghost Dimension</em> was one of the movies screened during the study.

Enlarge / The breathing of the crowd: The 2015 found-footage horror film Paranormal Activity: Ghost Dimension was one of the movies screened during the study. (credit: Paramount Pictures)

Parents of young children often struggle to assess how upsetting a particular film will be for their offspring. Ratings systems can help, but tend to be subjective assessments. It might soon be possible to objectively evaluate how intense films might be for younger viewers just by analyzing the chemicals that audiences emit when they breathe, according to a new study by researchers from the Max Plank Institute for Chemistry in Mainz, Germany. They described their findings in a new paper in PLoS ONE.

Sure, it seems bit far-fetched, but tracking the emission of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) is an active and entirely legitimate area of research. Plastics, for instance, emit VOCs as they degrade over time, thanks to exposure to light, heat, moisture, and pollutants. This so-called "off-gassing" results in a serious issue for museum conservationists and libraries, among others.

Every country has its own rating system for films, designed to guide consumers as to what kinds of content they might encounter while watching a given film. While such systems are supposedly based on objective criteria—how much violence, sexual content, and bad language is included—there is actually quite a bit of subjective variability involved in making these determinations. And the public's sensibilities can shift over time: films that were deemed shocking in the 1930s strike today's audiences as remarkably tame. It matters because a film's rating has a direct impact on how broad an audience it can reach.

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Posted in chemistry, film, film ratings, Gaming & Culture, mass spectrometry, science, volatile organic compounds | Comments (0)

Conditions like those inside Neptune cause diamond formation

August 27th, 2017

Enlarge / That lovely blue exterior could be hiding a heart of diamond. (credit: NASA)

Carbon, oxygen, and nitrogen are some of the easiest heavier elements to form through fusion. As a result, they’re common in our Solar System, typically found combined with hydrogen to make ammonia, water, and methane. In the gas and ice giants of the outer Solar System, however, these chemicals are placed under extreme pressures, where chemistry starts to get a bit weird. Do these chemicals survive the crushing interiors of these planets?

One intriguing idea is that methane doesn’t survive. As pressure and temperature increase, methane should start condensing into more complex hydrocarbons. Then, as pressures increase further, calculations indicate the hydrogen and carbon should separate out, leaving pure carbon to sink to the depths of these planets. As a result, it’s been hypothesized that, close to their core, planets like Neptune and Uranus have a layer of pure diamond.

While some evidence supporting this theory has surfaced over the years, it’s been hard to precisely replicate the temperatures and pressures found inside the planets. Now, new work done at the SLAC X-ray laser facility supports the idea that these planets are full of diamonds. But the work indicates the diamonds only form at greater depths than we’d previously thought.

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Posted in astronomy, chemistry, diamonds, laser, materials science, planetary science, science | Comments (0)

Cartoons from XKCD creator will appear in high school science textbooks

March 23rd, 2016

(credit: Randall Munroe)

Randall Munroe, creator of popular webcomic XKCD, recently published a new book called Thing Explainer: Complicated Stuff in Simple Words, in which he uses only the thousand most common words in the English language to explain how a variety of things work, from locks to nuclear bombs. Monroe’s publisher, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, also publishes textbooks, and when editors in the textbook division saw proofs of Monroe’s Thing Explainer, they realized that his simple explanations could be used to augment high school textbooks.

You know, the old strategy employed ineffectively by dad joke-tellers everywhere: get the #teens on your side with humor.

(credit: Randall Munroe)

Luckily, Munroe’s Thing Explainer comics are absurd enough in their hyper-simplicity that they have a shot at breaking down the walls of sarcasm and ennui encircling the most eye-rolling of high school students.

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Posted in Biology, chemistry, Physics, textbooks, The Multiverse, thing explainer, xkcd | Comments (0)