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Whiskey Tricks: Proving Alcohol Content and Preserving Matter

(Quick reminder: add me on twitter and sign up for my newsletter for more cool science demos and awesome DIY projects) A few months ago I appeared in a couple episodes of How Stuff Works on Discovery channel. One of the episodes, “How Whiskey Made America,”had three segments I shot:

  • Demonstrating how the term “proof” was developed by sailors who would soak gunpowder with their ration of spirits and then ignite it to prove that it hadn’t been watered down. Spirits over 57.15% alcohol content will burst into a colorful flame.
  • Showing how organic material (like fruit, or more gruesomely, dead bodies), can be preserved by leaving them submerged in a high-alcohol container.
  • How the early days of rocket technology initially used ethanol as a fuel, shown by demonstrating a small pulse jet engine that was filled with Everclear.

The first two parts were fast and fun, but the last part took a bit longer to shoot – the small pulse jet we were using didn’t arrive to the location until late, it took a bit of time to set things up, and we were racing the clock before having to wrap up the shoot. When I got things firing, and pulled the clamp to show the rocket propel itself on the track… nothing. It just sat there making the ungodly throbbing noise that is distinct to pulse jets. The segment was cut using stock footage instead. Bummer! Airing at the same time, I also shot a segment for “How Summer Changed The World” where I demonstrated how the tilt of the earth’s axis helped distribute even eat around the globe, creating an environment much more conducive for life. And there are a few segments for two upcoming episodes as well. Fun stuff.