If you've taken a shot of hard liquor, you know how badly it burns on the way down. But how can a room-temperature or even a cool liquid cause this burning sensation? The answer isn't what you might think.
If You Can't Stand the Heat
Your body's normal temperature hovers at, or very close to, 98.6 degrees (37 degrees Celsius). When you drink something cold, that beverage becomes slightly warmer as it travels down your throat and into your stomach. When you drink a hot beverage, the opposite happens: Your body absorbs some of that heat.
And your body can take a lot of heat. For example, coffee drinkers prefer their cup of joe around 140 degrees Fahrenheit (60 degrees Celsius), according to a study published in the Journal of Food Science. So even when you sip on something nearly 30 degrees hotter than your core body temperature, you don't feel like your throat is on fire.
To protect your insides, your mouth and throat both have pain sensors called vanilloid receptor-1, or VR1. VR1 are finely tuned to react to food's temperature and acidity by stimulating neurons to transmit the sensation of pain to the brain. These receptors are super sensitive to both actual high temperatures and perceived heat from compounds like capsaicin, making them react similarly to a sizzling hot slice of pizza as they do to a habanero-laden scoop of salsa.
Fool Me Once
Things change when alcohol comes into play. Ethanol is the type of alcohol found in alcoholic beverages such as tequila. Unlike capsaicin, which makes VR1 think a food is hot to the touch, ethanol binds to these receptors and makes them more sensitive to heat. This bond actually changes the heat threshold, lowering it to just 93.2 degrees Fahrenheit (34 degrees Celsius). This might not seem like a big swing in temperature, but it's enough to cause a flurry of responses in your skin, esophagus, and spinal cord, giving you a sudden sensation of warmth all over and a nasty burn in your throat.
The human body has warning signals in place to protect you from danger. Whether it's a sudden release of adrenaline in life-threatening situations or a pain signal when you eat something that's too hot, reactions in your body are there to tell you not to do something. In the case of downing a shot of liquor, that burning sensation isn't real heat; it's your own body's warning signals gone awry.
Live on Curiosity.com
Ever notice that when you spill coffee over the edge of your cup it always produces a ring under the bottom edge?
There is a rather complex reason for this, but it can be summed up somewhat easily. Two main factors are at play: surface tension of the molecules of the liquid and the temperature of the surrounding environment.
When a drop of coffee is splashed outside of the cup, it has an initial “pinned” spot, and from there the surface tension within the liquid causes the molecules to spread and draw more liquid away from it.
The temperature of the surrounding area then comes into play as a difference in temperature between the liquid and the air causes evaporation to begin. When an evaporating drop is checked under a microscope, there is a strong outward flow of material as the particles stream toward the edge, rather than moving around randomly. As the process continues, the molecules of the liquid continue to draw towards the edge and, because of their surface tension, they continue to draw more molecules towards them to replace liquid that has already evaporated. This continuous flow piles the material up at the edges, where it eventually dries and forms a ring.
No matter what type of liquid or different types of surface on which the liquid is spilled, all combinations still produce rings.
Scientists who have recently studied this phenomenon believe it has implications for industries that rely on the uniform deposition of solids suspended in liquid media (i.e., paints) and that dispersed solids could be deposited in a controlled fashion such as by creating tiny electronic circuits or providing a means of high-density information storage.
Originally posted in Headline Discoveries, January 2011
Because of recent activity in Iceland, there have been many news reports done on volcano eruptions and the damages that can be caused by volcanic ash. So, just what is “volcanic ash?
It’s not what most people may envision. Typically, when most people think about ash, they picture something light and fluffy—like ashes in the fireplace or barbecue. So, when they hear that a volcano has erupted and everything is covered in ash, the natural assumption is that it is relatively harmless and can be easily swept away. Not true.
THE BLAST AND ITS COMPONENTS
Volcanic eruptions occur when gases in magma, or molten rock, expand and escape into the air. They also occur when water that is super-heated by magma abruptly flashes into steam, or when thermal contraction from chilling occurs after contacting water. Each
scenario leads to eruptions that occur with explosive force, causing escaping gases to shatter surrounding rock layers of the Earth. When eruptions occur in areas covered by glaciers, the resulting plume can contain glass-rich deposits that were created when melted ice quickly chilled lava prior to its explosion.
Material expelled from the volcano at this point is called ‘”tephra.” To better study components of a volcanic eruption, scientists have broken tephra into classifications based on size:
While the size of a volcanic bomb doesn’t seem so large, some perspective is needed. Take, for example, a storm producing hailstones of roughly the same size. They can
cause excessive damage to car windshields and even slate roofs. To a person struck by a volcanic bomb, the impact would feel something like getting hit with a baseball thrown by a major league pitcher due to the high rate of propulsion.
Volcanic bombs and lapilli do cause problems but, because they settle to the ground at a much quicker rate than ash, the extent of their damage is often not as far reaching. The tiny size of ash and its ability to readily travel everywhere means it can be a lot less apparent to ascertain the damages it can cause.
Much has been written about the damage to people, animals, air, soil and water, but less so the damage and chaos that ash can cause to other things, especially those that are technologically and/or mechanically based. Following are just a few things that could be heavily impacted:
These examples show that volcanic ash is dramatically more devastating than it appears and has a great potential to leech its way into so many things that are important to the day-to-day operation of life for everyone in areas affected by volcanic eruptions.
Getting to the Bottom of It
The words "tephra" and "pyroclast" both derive from the Greek language.
Properties of Volcanic Ash
Originally posted in Headline Discoveries, Fall 2010
I'm April Bailey, a freelance writer and editor for hire who has been writing about various topics for many years. Most of my early print work was destroyed in a major house fire. Luckily, I was able to pull some copies from an old PC and have posted them here. Other items on this blog reflect my current articles and blog posts written for online publications and copied here so I never lose my work again!