It’s a Saturday night and when the last of the bars close tonight, they will be throwing out countless empty bottles. Amongst those will be empty tequila bottles and the lost opportunity to make diamonds. A trio of Mexican chemists, Javier Morales, Luis Apátiga and Victor Castaño at the National Autonomous University of Mexico were awarded the 2009 Ig Nobel Prize in Chemistry for making diamonds from tequila.
This discovery started from serious research with the trio experimenting with turning organic solutions like acetone, methanol and ethanol into diamonds. They found that when they diluted ethanol in water, they could produce high quality diamond films. The trio then realised the ideal diamond film created came from a solution of 40% ethanol and 60% water, similar to the proportion of alcohol in tequila. That led to asking, “Can diamonds be made from tequila?”
So one morning a pocket size bottle of tequila was bought for some testing. Not for drinking but for heating into a chemical vapour at temperature of 280 ºC before being sent to a reaction chamber where temperatures reach to 800 ºC. At this temperature the molecular structure breaks down before forming diamond crystals of sizes 100-400nm falling onto a silicon or stainless steel tray accumulating into a film.
What about the impurities in tequila? The high heat removed them.
These diamonds are too small for jewellery use but there are possible uses for them like coating cutting tools, detecting radiation or perhaps one day substitute silicon in computer chips in the future.
The ethanol made from plant material is slightly radioactive. This is because plants are continually absorbing carbon-14, (14C), until they die. Carbon-14 is radioactive and has a half life of around 5,730 years. Before you panic, you are also absorbing carbon-14 from the environment, even when you’re breathing.
As a chemist I know that ethanol produced from plant material and that produced in the lab is the same chemical but when it comes to drinking a glass of wine, I’ll take the stuff made from grapes. Chemists are yet to synthesise red wine in the laboratory.
Beer. A lot of it was drunk yesterday. From some of the status updates on Twitter and Facebook, there were a few shared hangovers. The amber liquid is one of the world’s most widely consumed alcoholic beverages and also one of the oldest alcoholic beverages. There is quite a lot of chemistry happening in a pint of beer besides the formation of bubbles and froth.
There is a lot of attention being given to liquid nitrogen in the world of food, particularly molecular gastronomy. An example of this would be Heston Blumenthal’s numerous creations.
An alcoholic Bento Box at Cushdy Bar, Source: Cushdy Bar
In Adelaide, Cushdy Bar has incorporated the use of liquid nitrogen into their cocktail menu. Located at the quiet end of Hindley Street, this very unassuming small bar creates fine cocktails full of flavour. I have been fortunate in tasting vanilla ice cream flash frozen by liquid nitrogen and the flavour was so intense that it was like eating white chocolate. What has intrigued me the most about Cushdy Bar is the use of liquid nitrogen in their cocktail menu as a vital ingredient.
Owner Shaun tells me that liquid nitrogen enhances the flavour in foods and it is a property that is exploited. While I would love to explain the mechanism of how liquid nitrogen does this, the problem is that no one really knows how it works. Liquid nitrogen is able to freeze ethanol. The freezing point of ethanol is -114oC, a temperature well beyond any temperatures of the domestic chest freezer’s reach but well within the temperature range of liquid nitrogen.
Ethanol, Source: Wikimedia Commons
Ethanol, it’s the drinking alcohol. It is a powerful psychoactive drug and having just said that I find it quite ironic that I should be typing this after a couple glasses of wine. Besides being known for being present in alcoholic drinks, ethanol is also used in thermometers, as a solvent and as a source of fuel. Often you won’t hear the word ethanol but alcohol instead.
For a chemist, there are many types of alcohol. This is not referring to the many bottles of alcohol available at your local bottleshop. In chemistry, an alcohol is any organic compound that has a hydroxyl functional group, (-OH), is attached to a carbon atom that is attached to other carbon or hydrogen atoms. The molecular formula of ethanol is C2H5OH and it can also be written as CH3–CH2–OH.
The conversion of sugar to ethanol via fermentation is one of the earliest organic chemical reactions used by humans and not just in baking. The intoxication from consuming ethanol have been recorded from ancient times. In recent years there has been much research into the use of ethanol as a fuel for internal combustion engines.