Wine tears

Perhaps drinking wine makes you all emotional. Perhaps drinking wine reminds you how you secretly enjoy beer better but then why do you have this weird stemmed glass in your hand? Perhaps you remember your early twenties when you lived in France and okay-to-good wine was very cheap and now you live in a country where okay-to-good wine is no longer cheap and cheap wine is sure to give you a head ache the next day. Perhaps drinking whine makes tears run out of your eyes.

Did you ever stop to consider that crying over wine makes the wine cry as well?

Just kidding. I actually wanted to talk about wine tears. Which is the weird phenomenon where a ring of clear liquid forms in a wine of glass that has a bunch of droplets forming from it. Tears of wine. It’s thing. A chemistry thing.

Image result for wine tears
No need to cry, it’ll be alright!

This type of “tears” appear because alcohol, you know that thing that is about 13% of that glass of wine your crying into, has a lower surface tension than water, which is that thing that most of the rest of that wine is made of. So like 85%, plus or minus a percent depending on how much crying you’ve done into the glass.

At the surface of the wine in your glass, where the liquid surface meets the side of the glass, capillary action causes the liquid to rise up the side of the glass. This thin film of liquid contains water and alcohol, both evaporate. Due to the higher vapor pressure of alcohol, it evaporates quicker than the water. This decreases the alcohol concentration in that liquid film, and consequentially also the surface tension, causing more liquid to rise up. Eventually, the liquid forms droplets that fall back into the wine. Gravity, it always get’s ya!

A diagram explaining how tears of wine form.
Also called the Marangoni effect, γ is surface tension.

So there. When you drink wine, just remember, you’re not the only one crying.

I’m a model and you know what I mean

Wait, what do I mean?

It’s perhaps a bit of a stereotype, but scientists don’t always know how to talk to non-scientists. To be completely honest, scientists don’t always know how to talk to other scientists! This can partially be attributed to the use of jargon – lingo that is used by a specific group of people that is difficult for people outside that group to understand.

Let me give an example.

If you look up the word “model”, Mirriam-Webster gives 14 different definitions; that’s already cause for misunderstandings without any science coming in!

Meaning number one: “I’m too sexy for my shirt!”

model noun [ mod·​el \ ˈmä-dᵊl ]
9 : one who is employed to display clothes or other merchandise //has appeared as a model in ads for swimsuits

In every-day, fashion lingo, a model is someone who shows off clothes or other merchandise on billboards, in magazines, on the catwalk, in tv ads, etc.

This version of the word model is probably not what any scientist means when they are talking their model. Except maybe if their bragging about that “model they dated back in college,” but we were all dating models then, weren’t we?

Image result for dating a model meme
I don’t believe you, Leo

Meaning number two: To see what cannot be seen

model noun [ mod·​el \ ˈmä-dᵊl ]
11: a description or analogy used to help visualize something (such as an atom) that cannot be directly observed

Some things we can’t really take a picture of. Or even if we can, it’s difficult to gather any meaningful information from the picture. A model of that thing can help; such as a model of an atom, or our solar system, or the universe. Such a model is usually simplified to allow clearer understanding, and as a result, it is never 100% accurate.

For example, the model of the atom has gone through many iterations and has become more representative of the physical reality (in so far as we understand it). That doesn’t mean that older models are wrong, they’re often just insufficient. For many purposes, the Bohr model is enough to explain the formation of bonds and many aspects of physics and chemistry even though the quantum model is more details, and is needed to describe more advanced principles (like the types of bonds).

Hovertext: J.J. Thompson won a Nobel Prize for his work in electricity in gases, but was unfairly passed over for his “An atom is plum pudding, and plum pudding is MADE of atoms! Duuuuude.” theory.
From xkcd

Meaning number three: To the computer!

model noun [ mod·​el \ ˈmä-dᵊl ]
12: a system of postulates, data, and inferences presented as a mathematical description of an entity or state of affairs
alsoa computer simulation based on such a system (e.g. climate models

But not the type (i.e. model) of your computer. Wait. This is confusing.

The model of your computer might be 80NW. But a computer model – or a computer simulation – is a mathematical representation of a system and nowadays those mathematical representations are often running within a computer (because they can do math faster). Basically, a computer model/simulation is a program that is used to predict (hopefully) useful information based on a number of equations (or from learning data in the case of machine learning) that have been predefined.

In my PhD, I created a computer model for how ultrasound interacts with tissue. I told the program the properties of the ultrasound wave (its frequency, its shape, etc.); the properties of the tissue (size and shape, but also how stiff the tissue is); and the boundary conditions (how big the experiment was). After letting it run for some time, it would give me information back that I could use to understand this interaction better and compare with results from physical experiments.

Here is the incredibly useful test model I ran of an ultrasound wave (coming in from the left) interacting with a penguin. Image from PZFlex.

Computer models are very useful. Sometimes we would have to run experiments that are not possible to do physically, due to lack of resources or time or any other reason. Running a computer model is relatively cheap. In other cases, we are trying to make predictions on what will happen in the future, trying to do experiments on the unknown. An example of that is climate models.

Meaning number four:

model noun [ mod·​el \ ˈmä-dᵊl ]
14: ANIMAL MODEL an animal sufficiently like humans in its anatomy, physiology, or response to a pathogen to be used in medical research in order to obtain results that can be extrapolated to human medicinealso a pathological or physiological condition that occurs in such an animal and is similar to one occurring in humans

We are complex organisms, with a bunch of different types of organs and different types of cells that have a bunch of different processes going on at a bunch of different times. Sometimes, researchers can use cell lines – these are cells that have been isolated (often decades ago) and immortalized (they can be grown in petridishes and cultured for quite some time in said petridishes) to study biological processes and the effects of potentially new drugs. But these isolated cells never give the whole picture (because they are so isolated), and sometimes animal models are needed for the next phase of genetic studies, cancer research, or drug development.

So unlike what I picture in my mind when I hear “animal model”, this does not mean mice in the bikini special. Rather, certain animals that have traits that mimic a human condition or disease in such a way that research is meaningful. Whether it is ethical or not – that is a whole other discussing but just let me say that there are lot of regulations and the principles of the 3Rs (Replacement, Reduction and Refinement) are enforced in any proper lab conducting experiments using animal models.

The other note to make is that animal models don’t always give us the full information either. Again, it’s a model, An approximation. But since human experimentation is – well – inhumane, that’s often the only way to study genes and test drugs in a working-body-context.

A note on scientific theories

I don’t remember where I read this but: science theories are models for how the world works. In other words, like any model, they are not perfect! But they are a great way to try and understand the world better with our fairly limited brain capacity*. The fact that they are not perfect is actually really exciting: there is always more to discover, more to learn, more to understand!

In any case, if anyone tells you that they’re a model, if you know what they mean, you might want to ask them to specify… Just to avoid confusion.

*If you find this offensive, remember I’m mostly offending myself.

Definitions taken directly from Mirriam-Webster dictionary.

Definitely not the snowiest city…

(Note: I drafted this post on Tuesday, February 5 so it is slightly outdated.)

It has snowed in Seattle and the whole city has shut down. For the last two days, the schools and universities have been officially closed, the busses have been on their “snow route” and people (including me) have been penguin-waddling along the ice-ridden sidewalks.

Thank you, shoes, for having a grip on snow, ice, and reality.

So while the extreme colds of the Polar Vortex in the Midwest of the US seem to have passed, and the snow in Seattle is slowly starting to melt, I thought I’d check in on the snowiest and coldest places. I told you some time ago that Seattle is not the rainiest city in the US. Nor is it the snowiest, or the coldest. But which city is?

The “UDub” entrance was a prime position for your snowy Instagram pic. (People omitted)

The top three snowiest (major) cities in the US, based on data from 1981 to 2010,* are Rochester (NY), Buffalo (NY), and Cleveland (OH) respectively with 252.7, 240.5 and 173.0 cm of yearly snowfall on average. You don’t get that in inches, sorry you imperials. Seattle averages on a meager 17.3 cm.** However, US cities get practically no snow at all compared to Aomori City in Japan, where an average of 8 meters of snow falls every year (presumably based on data from 1953 to 2016).

If we take a look at coldest cities in the US, Fairbanks (AL, as you’d never have guessed), Grand Forks (ND) and Williston (also ND) make up the top three with -27.2, -19.5 and -17.7°C respectively. In fact, this morning my colleague walked in on high heels, on which I commented: “How do you do that in the ice?” Her reply was simply that she was from North Dakota, she’s used to it.

By the way, Fargo (ND) comes in on number four, deserving an honorable mention because of the awesome movie. And series. Well, I’ve only seen season one, but that was great.

The coldest inhabited place on Earth is considered to be Oymyakon, Russia (-50°C on average, a temperature I can’t even fathom). On Antartica, the coldest ever temperature to be measured was -92°C (even less fathomable).

And apparently, the coldest place in our solar system might not even that far away. The permanently shadowed craters at the moon’s south pole have shown a minimum temperature of -238.3°C, colder than some of the temperatures measured on the surface of Pluto. However, we have yet to measure temperatures at the polar, always shadowy regions of other planets, so it is possible that the Dark Side of the Moon is not the coldest place in our corner of the universe after all.

Anyway, I’m not complaining about living in a mild climate (at least not at this very moment), because it allows me to go on some really nice walks even in February. Last weekend, I walked on the apparently iconic Seattle viaduct, which is going to be demolished. I’m not attached enough, nor a proper Seattelite, to have an opinion on the demolition, but it was pretty cool to walk through the new tunnel (that opened two days later), the old tunnel (that will be filled in) and the viaduct.

Last chance to walk in the new tunnel because soon it will be filled with traffic jams.
Okay, the view was pretty nice.
Exhibit B.

* So I should point out that this might have shifted a little in the last 9 years.

** From Seattle’s Wikipedia page, it’s unclear over which time range this was measured.

Screwing; the right way*

For some obscure, unknown, mysterious reason, most things in nature are right-handed. I don’t mean that most people prefer writing, eating and doing other activities that require some dexterity with their right hand – although the word dexterity does seem needlessly biased towards the approximately 90% of the population that is right-handed. No, I am talking about right-handed helices.

A helix is an object having a three-dimensional shape like that of a wire wound uniformly in a single layer around a cylinder or cone, as in a corkscrew or spiral staircase**. What makes a helix right-handed, depends on whether the structure twists clockwise when you are looking at the structure from the top, and looking at the direction of the twist moving away from you.

Always use toys to explain concepts.

Another way of looking at it is by using the right-hand-rule – I am not sure this is its official (or even unofficial) name, but if you are like me and need to make an “L” with your hands to figure out which way is left, hand-based rules come in handy. Point your right thumb up and twist your hand upwards in the direction your other fingers are pointing, et voila: right-handed helix.

Pictures make more sense than words. This picture is worth 23 words.

Apparently, nature has decided that twisting right is the right way to twist. Proof for this is the structure of many macromolecules. For example, DNA, which is a double helix, is a right-handed double helix. The interactions that cause the structure to twist, happen to favor right-handed twisting. I should mention that left-handed DNA does exist, but it is are very rare and/or produced experimentally. Helical protein structures, such as alpha-helices, are also typically right-handed, and so is actin, a type of cytoskeletal filament.

Even on larger scales, nature prefers what turns right. Snail shells coil to the right. Most of the time. In fact, the rare case of a snail with a left-coiled shell resulted in a love triangle fit for Hollywood***.

Us humans, ever the inventors, have copied nature’s propensity to right-handedness in our hardware. Most screws have right-handed threads, leading to the handy mnemonic Righty Tighty, Lefty Loosey****. This is because most people are right-handed (about 90%, did you know?) and it’s just easier to screw that way*.

Left-handed screws do exist though, for special applications. No, not for exclusive use by lefties, but for situations where a right-handed screw would loosen over time, or cause extra stresses to occur in a system. For example, left bicycle pedals have a reverse (i.e. left-handed) thread because otherwise, the pedal would start unscrewing while cycling. Certain parts in airplanes have reverse threads, and so do types of machinery with rotary blades.

A right-handed thread runs clockwise, and a left-handed thread runs anti-clockwise. Turning a threaded rod upside-down does not reverse the direction of its threads.
The right way to screw… *****

To conclude, screwing right isn’t always the right way to screw. More importantly, I sincerely apologize for making you read whatever just happened to my brain. I must have a screw loose.


* Phrasing!

** Definition taken directly from the Google results to “what is a heliz” because I am unable to type four words correctly.

*** I was going to say “fit for Disney,” but I feel like love triangles are not sappy enough. While we’re on the topic of rare animals finding their true mate, a story about a rare frog finding love hit the news this week.

**** I obviously am not able to remember things without help.

***** Are we still doing phrasing?


Sources and/or further reading:


The inspiration for this post came from a number of conversations; including with T. about airplane parts, S. about the lonely snail, and A. about left-handedness (I think, might have dreamt that one). Also potentially inspired by a certain famous person saying something about “And then they turn left, it’s always left.” (It’s not.)

When mathematicians get hungry…

Today*, obviously right after I had finished my home-cooked lunch, my labmates and I discovered some free leftover pizza in the kitchen area. While it’s a given that most people love pizza, it is even truer that academics love pizza. And mathematicians, a special breed of academics, are no exception. Their love for pizza is so pronounced that they named a mathematical theorem after it: the pizza theorem.

The pizza theorem states that if you cut a disk in a number of pieces that is divisible by for and greater than or equal to 8, you get two areas of equal size by alternating the slices of the disk. In other words: the sum of the areas of the odd-numbered sectors equals the sum of the areas of the even-numbered sectors.

If you cut a pizza like this, I will get very mad.

What it means is this: if you slice a pizza into a certain number of slices, and that number is 8, 12, 16 or 20 (other multiples of 4 are also possible, but let’s be honest, that gets pretty difficult to cut a pizza into more than 20 pieces), two people will end up eating exactly the same amount of pizza by eating alternating slices. The slicing does not have to go exactly through the center of the pizza (that’s kind of hard to do precisely), as long as all cuts go through the same point.

Here it is in shouty colors. Colors always make everything so much clearer.

The pizza-inspired math does not end there. Apparently, you can prove that if a pizza is divided unevenly, the diner who gets the most pizza actually gets the least crust – a 6-year-old’s dream!

Here’s another: a pizza sliced according to the pizza theorem can be shared equally among n/4 people (with n the number of slices). So 8 pieces can be shared equally among 2 people. 12 slices can be shared between either 2 or 3 people. 16 slices between 4 people, and 20 between 5. Good to remember for those pizza parties!


Okay, I’ll leave you with some pizza facts:

  • An approximate total area of 100 acres of pizza is eaten in the US every year. That’s about 120 football fields (the standard method of size measurements). That means that if the whole of the US was covered in pizza, it would take 2.43 million years to eat it all, considering the eating rate remained constant.
  • Depending on how you define a “pizza”, the origin of pizza might not be Italian! Ancient Greeks and Egyptians were flatbreads topped with olive oil and spices. So kind of like pizza? (Nah, not really.)
  • Another math-pizza-merger is called the lazy caterer’s sequence, a sequence that counts the maximum pieces of pizza you can obtain by a given number of straight slices.
  • In 2001, which was mostly a Pizza Hut publication stunt, the first pizza was delivered to outer space. Cosmonaut Yuri Usachov was the lucky recipient.
  • The first computer-ordered pizza was delivered in 1974. Not through the internet though; the Artifical Language Laboratory at Michigan State was testing out its “speaking computer”.
  • If you thought the fancy pizza dough spinning and throwing was just a tourist attraction, you’re not entirely right. It’s actually the best way to create a uniform disk of  dough.

Obviously, I had a slice of free pizza. You might have heard of a dessert stomach, but I also have a pizza stomach. (There was also free cake later in the day, to satisfy that dessert stomach).


* “Today” as in when I wrote the first draft.

Pizza facts from: and

Je parle très bien français quand je suis bourée (1)

An article popped up on my radar recently that caught my attention about some researchers in the UK that had performed a study looking at the foreign language skills of people after a drink or two. This interested me for a number of reasons. First of all, it’s a scientific publication about alcohol and I have to admit that always spikes my interest (but not my drink). Second of all, after spending almost a year in France (2) on an exchange program, I have experienced firsthand how my (self-perceived) language skills improve after increasing my blood alcohol percentage. However, these experiences were not only anecdotal, but also purely subjective, so I was naturally buzzed when I read that there could be a scientific basis to my observations.

And now we start the selection of general stock pictures of beer.

What’s this scientific basis you’re talking about?

In the study, the researchers measured the self-rated and observer-rated verbal skills of native German speakers who had recently started learning Dutch (3) after drinking a little bit of alcohol (or none for the control group). Basically, they recorded a number of conversations between the Dutch-speaking Germans and a blinded experimenter before and after having a drink: vodka-lemonade for the test subjects and water for the control. These recordings were then rated by native Dutch speakers. The participants were also asked to rate their own verbal skills.

Participants who had had a glass of Russian Water were rated significantly higher by the Dutch native speakers, specifically with regards to their pronunciation. Surprisingly, and against the whole principle of Dutch courage – strength or confidence gained from drinking alcohol, – there was no effect on the self-rating.

This means that the improved pronunciation cannot really be an effect of improved self-confidence, as the self-rating would change in that case. I should remember this next time I have a science stand-up comedy thing. Usually, I adhere to the rule of “no drinking before a gig” because I’ve been told that drinks make you think you’re funnier, while in reality, you are probably less funny. But perhaps my fear of becoming overconfident is completely unsubstantiated? (4)

Anyway, a possible explanation for the results is decreased language anxiety, which is the feeling of nervousness felt by someone using a second or foreign language (also known by the name xenoglossophobia, a word that already just makes me anxious as it is). Basically, when speaking a foreign language, a lot of people are scared of making mistakes or sounding stupid, making them overthink everything they want to say and eventually resulting in a strained conversation. With a bit of alcohol, there is less overthinking et voilà, better pronunciation and more fluid speaking.

Oh, I obviously have to point out that this study was conducted with low amounts of alcohol consumption. Don’t try downing half a bottle of vodka before speaking a foreign language because that will most likely result in slurred speech and a headache the day after, at the least.

Oh look another generic beer stock photo.

This almost sounds too good to be true…

As with a lot of scientific research, there are a few caveats in the study, because that’s how science works… For one, it was conducted on native German speakers who learned Dutch as a second language which means that – if we also disregard the sample size issues – the results might only be valid for German speakers who have learned Dutch, and unvalid for any other combination of native-foreign language speakers. The researchers also didn’t look at whether the subjects suddenly became better at speaking their own language after a drink; perhaps a little bit of alcohol just improves verbal skills in any language?

Also, there is some proof that people of alcohol having a placibo effect, for example, people drinking non-alcoholic beer thinking they are getting drunk without actually consuming alcohol (5). This alcohol expectancy effect could have biased the study because the difference between vodka-lemonade and water is pretty obvious, which makes me (and the researchers, who to their credit have pointed out the limitations of their study) wonder what the results would have been if the study participants had been blinded to whether there was alcohol in their drink or not (6).

And yet another foamy beer stock photo.

Final thoughts?

Well, there you go, having a little bit of alcohol might actually make you better at speaking a foreign language. Maybe it actually helps you in the learning process. But for now, I just feel like grabbing a beer. And then maybe speak some French.


(1) This translates to – pardon my French if I may misuse that phrase – “I speak French really well when I’m drunk.” I’ve also just experienced how much a pain it is to type French on a qwerty keyboard and will refrain from doing so from now on.

(2) #HumbleBrag. Well, more like a #NotSoHumbleBrag.

(3) They titled their paper “Dutch courage? Effects of acute alcohol consumption on self-ratings and observer ratings of foreign language skills” which is pretty punny.

(4) I haven’t tested this and don’t plan to. Drink responsibly people. 

(5) I definitely do not just know this from a Freaks and Geeks episode *ahem*

(6) I don’t know how hard this is to do; I for one would like to think that I’d be able to tell if a drink is alcoholic or not but on the other hand, I have had hard cider.

Rainiest city in the US (?)

Somehow, I always end up moving to the something-est city in a certain country. I’ve lived in the flattest city of France (which is – surprisingly – a city in the Alps: Grenoble*), the sunniest city in Scotland, and I’m sure I can find something mostest about all the places I’ve lived.

That’s probably because cities like bragging about being the best at something. On the other hand, it’s not really bragging when you call yourself the “rainiest city” in the U.S., as Seattle is known to be, so perhaps I now really do live in the rainiest city in the U.S.

First, people have been a little shocked when I told them I’d been moving to Seattle. Why would you do that? they’d say, it’s always raining there! But after I tell them about living in other rainy countries, such as Scotland, they’re like Oh, you’ll be fine.

I’m not the wicked witch of the West, you know, I won’t melt.

But anyway, the question is, is Seattle really the rainiest city in the U.S.?

The pictures on my phone tell a mixed story:

Union Lake Park, beginning sunset, no cloud in the sky…

Union Lake, on a cloudy day

A rooftop view on Seattle and a lot of clouds (spot the needle in the haystack clouds)

Obviously, I don’t take my phone out for pictures when it’s pouring… and three-ish weeks does not constitute a large enough sample size of days to judge on overall raininess, not to mention that it is entirely perception based.

To the internet it is then… That quickly took me to a 2013 blog post that confirmed my suspicions: Seattle is not the rainiest city in the US. Data taken from over three decades from Weather Service stations in major U.S. cities tell us that Mobile, Alabama is the rainiest city with 66 inches** of rain a year. Seattle averages around 37 inches, which is less than the U.S. average (39 inches). It turns out, that the southeast gets considerably more rain than the North-West.

Of course, inches of rain does not give us the whole picture. Olympia, Washington, is the city with the most rainy days annually (111 days). At least some city in Washington gets to have a record, even if it isn’t Seattle. By the way, Seattle has less rainy days than the U.S. average (92 vs. 102).

While we’re at it, let’s look at a quick overview (with UK and Belgium added for comparison):

Seattle Olympia Mobile U.S. average U.K. Belgium
Rainfall (in) 37 48 66 39 34 32
Rainy days 92 111 79 102 107 212***
Sunny days 152 136 220 205
Hours of sunshine**** 2170 1493 1546

Looking within the U.S., Seattle has a bit less rain than average and fewer rainy days. However, there are also fewer sunny days in Seattle. Maybe the reputation of Seattle being rainy comes from it feeling like it’s always murky and gray. Furthermore, “rain” in Seattle tends to be a light drizzle (which does not add up to rainfall in inches and perhaps isn’t always counted as a “rainy day”). Though, as places in Washington State go, Olympia seems to be even drearier.

If we compare Seattle to the U.K. and Belgium, Seattle has a bit more rainfall, but fewer rainy days and more hours of sunshine. I think I’ll be fine here … definitely given the fact that there are actually seasons, hurray!


* Fact check, I am not 100% sure Grenoble is the flattest city in France, but their tourist website says it is. From my experience living there, it is very bikable as long as you stay in the city, but once you’re out, it’s all uphill from there …

** All the data is in inches. I know that’s annoying but transferring everything to cm is tedious and doesn’t really add much because everything is relative. But in case you were wondering, 66 inches ~ 1676 mm.

*** data obtained over a 10-year period, as opposed to over a > 30-year period for the other data shown.

**** Number of sunny days not always found, so I added a row with hours of sun.

Numerical values obtained from, or more specifically by comparing Seattle to Olympia, or by googling “How many days of ___ in ___?” 

Culture shock

You would think that when you move from one Western country to another Western country, you wouldn’t experience too much of a culture shock. However, there are still a few things that caught me by surprise*. So here are some things I am definitely not used to conveniently listed in the form of mildly related memes:

1. Everybody is always saying “Hi” or “Hello” or “Good Morning.” You’d go for a run, and every time you pass someone they would actually say something out loud rather than making that awkward grimace smile thing.

Related image
I’m the queen of this face.

On a different but slightly related note, saying “hello” apparently catches Londoners off guard too.

2. Turning right on red. So not used to that.

Image result for right on red meme
I’m so sorry, I’m not from here.

3. Driving an automatic.

Image result for driving automatic meme

4. I don’t have to put the groceries in a bag myself in the store.

Image result for socially awkward penguin meme
Just emphasizing my social awkwardness in general here, folks.

5. The garbage disposal-in-the-sink thing.

Image result for flintstones garbage disposal gif
This is what’s on the other end of the disposal, right? (Also, what is that tube thing sticking through the hole on the right ?!?!)

6. There are so many advertisements on TV, it’s insane.

Related image
Have you noticed how they conveniently increase the frequency and length of the ad break towards the end of a movie just to annoy you even more? 

6a. Related: what’s up with those medication ads? More than half of the ad is them listing possible side effects!

Related image

6b. Also: political smear campaign ads. Can’t politicians run on policies rather than their hatred for the other party?**

Image result for political ads meme
*Insert your least favorite politician here*

7. Plastic bags and plastic straws and styrofoam cups and …

Image result for so much plastic meme

8. How you almost have to use a car to get anywhere because everything is so spread out, or there are no sidewalks, or there are no public transport alternatives. ***

Image result for complaining meme

9a. Farenheit

Image result for Fahrenheit meme
I doubt it’s Kelvin, Fry

9b. Miles and feet and inches and stuff.

Image result for miles meme
Unrelated meme brought to you by The Proclaimers.

9c. Date notations (month-day-year)

(by xkcd)


* I should probably note that the observations here are based on my three-week-stay in the bubble that is a Central New York touristy lake town.

** I know, I wish I lived in a Utopia where campaigning was legally limited in time and budget, smear ads were not allowed, and politics wasn’t polarising.

*** I know I am a major hypocrite. I am will be taking to airplanes today…


Let’s talk bubbles…

Calm down there, buddy.

Over the summer, I have tapped quite a few beers. Some of those beers were Guinness. The first few times I went through the Guinness-tapping-process (who am I kidding, all the times), I would marvel at the fact that the bubbles were going down.

So, Guinness is an easy but slightly time-consuming beer to tap. First, you need to fill the glass about 4/5ths and let the bubbles settle. When you get that nice black/white beer/foam divide, you top it off by pushing on the tap (which is a slower flow). So that all takes a while. But that means you can stare at these sinking bubbles for quite some time.

Guinness bubbles going down down down.

But wait. Bubbles aren’t supposed to sink? Aren’t bubbles gaseous and therefore lighter than liquid? Hence, shouldn’t they rise as bubbles do in normal bubbly beverages? What’s going on?

From a uni class some time ago, I remembered that Guinness bubbles sink, so at least I wasn’t hallucinating. But why I forgot why exactly. (Com’on, the class was years ago and who remembers anything anyway. There’s the internet for that.)

Of course, there is science about this. I mean. Scientists are basically fueled by coffee and beer. And Guinness is sort of both.

It seems that there are a few factors that contribute to the sinking bubbles: the type of bubbles, the size of the bubbles, and the shape of a Guinness glass.

First of all, not all bubbles in Guinness sink, just the ones you can see. When the beer starts to settle, larger bubbles start to rise (as bubbles do). Because of the shape of the glass, you can’t really see this happening: the bubbles originate in the bottom of the glass, which is narrower than the top, and they form a central column of rising bubbles. This causes an upward liquid movement. As a result (because the liquid doesn’t magiacally fountain out of the glass), a downwards liquid flow occurs along the walls of the glass. If all the Guinness bubbles were large (> 50 µm), as it is with lighter beers, the buyancy would counteract the liquid flow (they’d be superlight and not care about what the liquid is doing) and rise. However, Guinness has teeny tiny bubbles (< 50 µm) that just get dragged along with the flow. And therefore, along the walls of the glass, they appear to be sinking.

Flow pathlines in a glass of Guinness. Image c/o Fluent Inc.
Psychadellic flow lines in a Guinness glass. (Image © Fluent Inc.)

So the second factor is the small bubbles. Guinness taps have fine holes that cause these small bubbles to form*. Moreover, Guinness bubbles are nitrogen and not carbon dioxide, which is more easily dissolvable in liquid. Most bubbly beverages, including lager beers and soft drinks, contain carbon dioxide to create the fizz. In these cases, gas bubbles appear from tiny defects in the glass surface and continue to grow as more carbon dioxide undissolves**. But nitrogen gas doesn’t dissolve in liquid as well as carbon dioxide, so the bubbles that do appear don’t grow in size. In other words, bubbles stay small enough to be dragged along with the downward liquid flow.

Finally, add the fact that Guinness is very dark, causing a high contrast with the light coloured bubbles, and you see these nice sinking bubbles.

Now, if you are in a place where the drinking time is acceptable (pm), go get yourself a Guinness. Otherwise, just stick to coffee.
Reverse yellow bubble fish looks even more insane.


* In a can of Guinness can there is a small ball that, as far as I can tell, serves the same purpose. Edit: it’s confirmed that this small ball – also called a “widget” (thanks to my uncle Tim for this factoid) – indeed causes the slow release of nitrogen after the can is open.

** What, that’s not a word? What’s the opposite of dissolving then? *googles* Condensing? That doesn’t sound right?

Sources: Bubbles the fish is from Pixar and most of the info is from:

And of course, there is more beer physics if that’s your thing (read it while drinking some beer responsibly):

Baking vs cell biology

Recently, I have learned that baking sourdough bread is very similar to maintaining cell culture. Lately, the conversations I’ve been having with my dad remind me very much of the conversations I used to have when I was still actively maintaining a cell line in the lab.

This inspired me to take out my drawing notebook and fail at sketching this concept:

IMG_20180913_095325 (1).jpg

If you would like to start up your own sourdough bread culture, basically, you just take some flour (50 g, apparently rye works pretty well) and add the same amount of water and leave this on your kitchen counter. For a week or so, mix in a tablespoon of flour and a tablespoon of water. Over time, this mixture will become alive with a culture of bacteria (the good kind) and yeast (the good kind) that you can then use to bake bread. Basically, if you take out some of this starter mixture for your bread, and supplement whatever you took out with new flour+water, you can keep this “culture” going in the fridge and bake bread until infinity. (For details, the internet has lots of examples of how to start up your own sourdough and subsequent bread recipes, for example, this one)

A little bit like culturing cells in the incubator until infinity.

And if you mess up (like accidentally use all your starter), you can either start over or take some out of the freezer (if you’ve frozen some down at some point, obviously). For cells, you’d take some out of the -80C.

So you see, similarities are endless!

Whatever you do, don’t talk about your cells/yeast like it’s a pet. It weirds people out (trust me).



* The calculation bit is about things that are actually pretty simple but somehow are complicated to explain.

Also, I should note that my dad isn’t really that bald, I just can’t draw hair (sorry!). Also, you’re supposed to tie up your hair when working with cell culture.

This is why I usually don’t draw stuff, people.