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Volume 84 Issue 21 | p. 56 | Newscripts
Issue Date: May 22, 2006

Molecular mixology, Labware chic, A jolt from magnetic bacteria

Department: Newscripts

Molecular mixology

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Credit: Photodisc
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Credit: Photodisc

Bartenders and chefs continue to collaborate and mess with the connotation of a "drink." Some actually consult chemists; others just borrow a few lab tools. A recent New York Times article highlighted a fewexamples.

In Chicago, at Moto, the Fizzing & Foaming Hurricane gets its froth from baking soda, but a Class 4 laser helps to caramelize vanilla beans onto the inside of wine glasses.

At the Windy City's David Burke's Primehouse, the house martini arrives with a lollipop made of what the bartender describes as "reduced olive brine, olive flavoring, and salt crystallized in isomalt" and stuffed with blue cheese.

In Manhattan, at WD-50, a rum-and-coke lacks liquid altogether. It's concocted with rum powder, and soda-flavored Pop Rocks candy provide fizz. And the Cape Codder? A glass of tiny, translucent red spheres. Agar surrounds the vodka and cranberry juice mixture, and when the spheres hit the tongue, they burst open.

Then there's Minibar, located inside Caf?? Atlantico in Washington, D.C. A member of the Newscripts gang visited the restaurant last month and enjoyed a petite whisky sour enveloped with passion fruit foam, but she raved about the Mojito Spritz-literally a mist of rum, lime, and a hint of mint. She plans to consume future cocktails from little spray cans.

Labware chic

The May issue of Wired magazine includes an article on Chicago restaurant Alinea and its innovative chef, Grant Achatz. Like other molecular mixologists, Achatz experiments with sodium alginate and tapioca maltodextrin to formulate new dishes in his kitchen lab. But this chef also concocts new instruments in which to cook and serve the creations.

Achatz worked with lab supplier PolyScience to develop the "antigriddle," a cooktop that can quickly chill sauces and purees to -30 oF. The Eye, which the Wired article describes as "a sort of miniature petri dish," keeps frozen foods, such as lozenges, chilled on their way to a diner's table. Both devices help Achatz attain his goal of using technology to "get to the essence of food."

Don't feel that such chic serving and cookware is reserved for haute cuisine restaurants, however. San Francisco's Orange magazine (www.orangemagazine.com) ran an article in March 2004 providing tips on bringing geeky labware into stylish homes. Orange suggests that "beakers and flasks are an economical and durable alternative to the Martha Stewart effect." You can store spices in test tubes and racks, serve salad dressings or wines in volumetric flasks, or set the mood with candles burning on watch glasses.

But if beakers and flasks don't make the grade and only an antigriddle will do, PolyScience offers the cooktop for a mere $845.

A jolt from magnetic bacteria

Could bacteria be the answer to our energy woes? Kartik Madiraju thinks so. The 16-year-old high school student from Montreal has managed to produce electricity by taking magnetic bacteria for a spin. The whiz kid can generate roughly half the voltage of an AA battery for 48 hours nonstop with just a fifth of an ounce of naturally occurring magnetic bacteria, according to a report in Wired News.

Madiraju says he got the idea from reading an article on magnetic bacteria—common aquatic organisms that have extremely small crystals of magnetite in their bodies—in the journal Nature. "I knew that spinning windmills use a magnetic generator to produce electricity and wondered if I got the magnetic bacteria spinning they might generate a current and be a clean, alternative energy source," he told Wired News.

The bacteria basically work like tiny magnets. Madiraju puts them into small plastic boxes with metal strips on each side. These strips act as electrodes and also get the bacteria spinning. The spinning generates a magnetic field and an electric current of 25 microamps and 5.5 microwatts, respectively. The invention took third prize in Canada's Sanofi-Aventis Biotech Challenge earlier this month.

This week's column was written by Rachel Petkewich, Rachel Pepling, and Bethany Halford. Please send comments and suggestions to newscripts@acs.org.

 
Chemical & Engineering News
ISSN 0009-2347
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