Intentional Brain Freeze, Traffic Ticket Science | June 4, 2012 Issue - Vol. 90 Issue 23 | Chemical & Engineering News
Volume 90 Issue 23 | p. 48 | Newscripts
Issue Date: June 4, 2012

Intentional Brain Freeze, Traffic Ticket Science

Department: Newscripts
Keywords: brain freeze, headaches, physics, traffic tickets
Ice on the brain: Cold heads change blood flow.
Credit: iStock
A cartoon of a frozen brain on a popsicle stick.
Ice on the brain: Cold heads change blood flow.
Credit: iStock

As summer ramps up, people seeking solace from the heat will increasingly begin to scarf down a slew of chilly treats such as ice creams and slushies. And although these icy delicacies will likely alleviate one discomfort, they might also cause another: the dreaded sphenopalatine ganglioneuralgia, otherwise known as brain freeze.

Few people would intentionally bring upon themselves the brain-chilling pain that’s caused by the sudden intake of cold foods and drinks. But some researchers are perfectly happy to cause it in others—all in the name of science, of course.

A team of scientists led by Jorge M. Serrador of Harvard Medical School is inducing brain freeze in volunteers to investigate the onset of headaches that are thought to come about because of increased blood flow in the brain.

It’s difficult to study headaches without the ability to bring them about on demand under controlled conditions. But a cold snack does the trick.

The researchers asked subjects to quickly drink ice water through a straw. The volunteers signaled to the researchers once the pain began and again when it subsided; at the same time, the team measured the blood flow in the subjects’ brains. The researchers found that the anterior cerebral artery dilated rapidly when the pain began and constricted as the pain subsided.

The team, which presented its results at the Experimental Biology 2012 meeting in April, had speculated that the brain responds to cold temperatures by dilating its blood vessels to increase its blood flow and keep the brain warm. However, the brain is a somewhat-closed system, and the pressure caused by the rapid influx of blood could be what causes headaches. A better understanding of the inner workings of headaches might lead to better treatments for them, the researchers hope.

Stopped? A researcher wrote a paper to argue, “Yes, I did.”
Credit: iStock
An angled photo of a stop sign against a blue sky. Two trees flank a white mission-style building in the background.
Stopped? A researcher wrote a paper to argue, “Yes, I did.”
Credit: iStock

While brains are freezing for science, a physicist who perhaps forgot to freeze recently shared how he used his brain to get himself out of hot water, or so he claims.

On April 1, Dmitri Krioukov of the Cooperative Association for Internet Data Analysis at the University of California, San Diego, uploaded a four-page paper to the open-access website ArXiv titled “The Proof of Innocence.” In it, he argues—with a slew of charts and equations—that he is innocent of a costly traffic violation: failing to heed a stop sign. His reasoning involves the angular momentum of his car, the position of the officer, and the obstruction of vision by another car. He concludes with a statement that the officer’s “perception of reality did not properly reflect reality.”

Krioukov was found not guilty of running the stop sign and therefore avoided the fine.

But before Newscripts readers break out their protractors to try dodging traffic tickets, they should know that Krioukov’s paper was not the deciding factor in the judge’s decision, which was made in July 2011. Rather, the judge determined that the officer was too far away from the intersection to be able to see Krioukov reliably.

These facts, however, did not prevent many news organizations, including the Huffington Post and the Los Angeles Times, from picking up Krioukov’s paper and running with the notion that his physics-based arguments blinded the judge with science and saved him from the fine.

Krioukov did not respond to queries from Newscripts about the efficacy of physics papers in traffic court.


Nader Heidari wrote this week’s column. Please send comments and suggestions to

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