Search Queries That Came To This Site, Part 2: Odd but coherent

There have been a few queries that somehow led to this blog which weren’t actually bizarre, as such, but which were kind of unexpected…

Someone in Maryland was trying to find out “why does alcohol rub work?”, for example. The answer is, it’s a “counter-irritant”. The effect is somewhat similar to rubbing a sore spot, stretching a sore muscle, or scratching an itch. The mild “burning” of the alcohol helps deaden the soreness. Beyond that, it’s some medical/physiology-of-freakish-gigantic-multicellular-eukaryotes thing, so I’ll defer a detailed explanation to someone who’s more of an expert on such things.

Someone in New Jersey wanted to know “what does a gram of nutmeg look like”. Well, I’ve never actually measured it but I’d guess a gram of ground nutmeg is probably about half-a-teaspoon of coarse (sand-grain-sized) light-brown-and-tan bits.

Pakistan wanted “total molecules of universe”. Doesn’t everyone know this? It’s exactly 2.379×10some-really-big-number. To 4 significant figures, of course. Oh, and the last digit of pi is “3”.

Colorado (I think) consulted the oracle of Google for “Why does immersion oil work”. It’s a refraction thing. Simplistically, when light goes from one substance to another – like the glass of the slide, to your sample material, to the air, to the objective lens of the microscope – it’s direction gets bent slightly. Different substances cause a different amount of bend. The immersion oil causes less bend than air does, and when you’re operating at really high magnification, it’s important to keep as much of the light as possible getting into the lens of the microscope instead of ending up “bent” away from it. Unless I’ve badly mangled my understanding of it, this is also part of why the light in the microscope seems to get dimmer as you increase the magnification.

Possibly from Florida came a query on “Scientific How Enzymes work to get stains out of carpet”. Even more simplistically than the previous explanation: Everything wants to fall apart, but is usually too lazy to just do so, so a little bit of extra energy (the “activation energy”) needs to be added to push-start it. Enzymes are catalysts – they each make a specific kind of reaction able to happen with less activation energy. If the enzyme is good enough, you reach the point where the ordinary ambient heat supplies enough energy to get things going – like breaking down those large, ugly, dark-colored chunks of protein and stuff in stains into smaller, invisible bits.

California asked Google about “eugenol clove isolation”. I suspect that if you want some kind of extreme high purity thing, you might be better off just approaching it as an Organic Synthesis problem. Otherwise, why cut out any other components of the clove buds that may add subtle flavors to the mix? If you’re just trying to separate the clove flavor from the chunks of dried evergreen-bush-flower-buds, though, there are a few ways to do it. Eugenol’s a phenol-like compound, and it’s soluble in ethanol. Go to the local liquor store and buy some vodka or EverClear™, soak the clove buds in it for a while, and pour it off. You could conceivably also try distilling it directly from the buds, as some people do to extract perfume oils from flowers.

Luxembourg sought “+homebrew +LED +Flashlight”. If anybody’s interested in that, it deserves a separate post, but it’s pretty easy. I’ve been planning to make an infrared one to do some IR digital photography, and to modify an 8-white-LED flashlight to turn it into a UV flashlight anyway.

Somewhere in Michigan, some concerned soul wanted to know “does beer have red dye in it”? Well, I’d argue that definitely, no real beer does. It’s possible that some mass-market commercial swill does, though I suspect even then it might only happen as A)a ‘novelty’ beer (like Green beer on St. Patrick’s day) or B)places like China or any other country where there seems to be a lot of unnecessary prettification of alleged foodstuffs. Now, I’m no Rheinheitsgebot zealot or anything, but beer ought to at least be reasonably “natural”…

There were a couple of queries on why Bunsen burners work, for some reason. Well, they’re essentially just tiny little carburetors for making variable flames instead of feeding a combustion engine.

Someone in Ghana wanted to know “How to make something disappear scientifically?”. Well, you can’t. But you can change something into something else. You can’t (scientifically speaking) make water disappear, but you can turn it into a gas by heating it. You can’t make oxygen gas “disappear” but you can combine it with hydrogen so that you end up with water but no molecular oxygen gas. And so forth.

Illinois wanted advice on “what to cook when you are bored and sick”. I think it depends on what kind of sickness you’ve got and how soon you expect to recover, and whether you’re cooking because you’re bored or specifically because you want something to eat that won’t make you feel sicker. Make some yogurt. Bake some bread. Or mild ginger cookies. Or make some “Jell-O™” (or other brand of instant-flavored-gelatin, for that matter). All easy to digest stuff. Or, you could make some Pepto-Bismol™ Ice Cream

Texas wanted to know “Food science- why chill the dough”. The details depend on the context (cookies? Pie crust?) but generally it seems to be to make sure the fats in the dough stay solid. In pie crust, chilling the dough makes sure the bits of butter or lard stay chunky instead of getting spread evenly throughout the dough – when they cook and melt, this leave little areas in the dough that aren’t solid, making the crust flaky. In cookies, this might help keep the dough from flattening too quick when you cook them.

Hmmm. More of these than I realized. For tonight I’ll stop on this one: Pennsylvania was trying to find out: “what does the Giant Microbe factory look like”? I don’t actually know the answer to this one, but since the Giant Microbes headquarters looks like it’s just an office in an office building, they probably contract out to someone else to actually make the giant plush microbes. I’m guessing they probably renew their contracts every so often, and maybe shop out different runs to different factories, so there isn’t necessarily a single “Giant Microbe” factory…

I suppose that’s enough for one evening. I’ve really got to catch up on my sleep…

Published by


The Author is (currently) an autodidactic student of Industrial and Environmental microbiology, who is sick of people assuming all microbiology should be medical in nature, and who would really like to be allowed to go to graduate school one of these days now that he's finished his BS in Microbiology (with a bonus AS in Chemistry). He also enjoys exploring the Big Room (the one with the really high blue ceiling and big light that tracks from one side to the other every day) and looking at its contents from unusual mental angles.

Leave a Reply