SciTech Now Episode 333

In this episode of SciTech Now, is there a science to brewing the perfect cup of joe?; a stunning snapshot of a total solar eclipse; science on the road to a more colorful tire; and a scientist’s fishing mission to scan every known fish species in the world.

TRANSCRIPT

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Coming up, the science of coffee...

The second pop is this conversion of starches and sugars, and the bean gets darker, and oils start coming to the surface.

...a stunning snapshot of a total solar eclipse...

A total solar eclipse is a moving shadow.

And so if you can fly with the shadow of the moon, the moon blocking out the sun, then you can extend the length of totality, as they call it.

...science on the road to a more colorful tire...

We found that microfillers produced from tomato peels and from eggshells are actually like carbon black, reinforcing fillers.

They add strength.

They don't just dilute the rubber.

...a scientist's fishin' mission.

I've spent a lot of my life on the interface between science and art.

It's all ahead.

Funding for this program is made possible by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Sue and Edgar Wachenheim III, and contributions to this station.

Hello, I'm Hari Sreenivasan.

Welcome to 'SciTech Now,' our weekly program bringing you the latest breakthroughs in science, technology, and innovation.

Let's get started.

Many people all over the world consume at least one cup of coffee every day, so is there a science to brewing the perfect cup of joe?

Take a look.

You probably start each morning with a cup, but what is it that makes coffee the revered beverage it's become?

World demand for coffee beans is expected to hit a record high this year, and as demand increases, so does the popularity of locally-owned coffee shops that do everything in house.

We visited two local shops to learn more about what goes into your cup of joe.

Our first stop, W.C. Clarke's The Cheese Shoppe in downtown State College.

Owner Bill Clarke comes in bright and early every weekday to roast fresh coffee beans.

Dump it in when the temperature reach 420.

When you dump, it really goes down because they're cold, and it builds its way up.

When it hits a certain temperature, got to reduce the heat.

And then, depending on the bean, I wait.

I have an internal clock.

Right or wrong, I have an internal clock.

So you're listening for -- the first crack is the bean expanding, doubling in size.

And there's a shell on it like there's a shell on a peanut, and it's tight, and it pops that shell.

So it's a question of... You might ask me one question.

I turn to look at you, and if it's at that critical stage, I missed it.

How critical is the timing?

Bill had to stop mid-interview to tend to a roast.

I'm coming. I'm coming.

He came back, though.

Then the second pop is this conversion of starches and sugars.

And the bean gets darker, and oils start coming to the surface.

And you don't want to do it too long after that because then they get dry.

To learn more about different brewing methods, we visit Rothrock Coffee, a newer coffee shop in State College whose menu offers coffee brewed a variety of ways.

We spoke to barista Joyce Yong about the different types of brews.

At Rothrock, we roast all of the coffee we serve in house, and we don't do any dark roasts.

So all coffee's before the second crack of the roast to bring out the fruitiness and good sugars and acidities of all of our coffees.

For filter coffees, which honestly is also where our coffee shines, we have a few different brew methods to bring out different flavor profiles and different bodies of the coffee experience.

Pourovers are most commonly you see the Chemex or the V60.

And the best thing about pouring over is that the way that, when you first put in the right temperature water in there, it blooms and releases that carbon dioxide, releasing all the flavors of the coffee.

And then, as you continue to infuse, the method that we use actually creates agitation or turbulence in the coffee bed.

Another brewing method offered at Rothrock is the Aeropress.

The Aeropress is a newer method accepted now and embraced by the coffee community all over the world, and it combines immersion and forced pressure brewing.

And so in how we brew, we also stir, and so we introduce that new, like, additional agitation and turbulence to the coffee brewing process.

But, yeah, it's pretty simple.

It's the world's fastest brewer.

You can get a really good cup of coffee in under a minute and a half.

You immerse, and then you invert it, and you press it, and it gives you a 240-gram cup of coffee.

And so you could do a really high recipe, like, a really high dose of coffee in to not as much water out and then brew it with a longer time so that you get a very strong concentrate of coffee out of the press.

And then just add the same amount of hot water after that to the volume of the mug, and that way, you have a full cup of coffee without having to press it all out in one press.

And so the different brew methods honestly, like, give different bodies for the coffee, and that's why certain people feel like, oh, this is a lighter coffee versus a more chalky or heavier coffee.

Might not be actually the flavor of it but just how it feels in your mouth.

With so much science involved, there's still a simple reason why we enjoy coffee so much.

Yeah, well, I mean, it tastes good.

[ Laughs ] And it's addicting, so that doesn't help that my body needs it.

Joyce believes that coffee shops have become more than just a quick stop on your morning commute.

You can curate the experience and curate the community.

And for my kind of direction in life, I feel like they're the centers of revolution, you know, like, the centers where people can tell their stories, share different opinions, yet bond over the same coffee.

When you consider all of the factors needed to brew a good cup of coffee, that's what makes it good to the last drop.

Dave Mosher is a science reporter who has written for National Geographic News, and Discovery.com.

Throughout his career, he's watched humans and robots launch into space, toured a cutting-edge nuclear reactor, and flown over the North Pole to catch a total solar eclipse.

He joins me now to share what it's like to experience that up close and personal.

So first of all, why fly over the North Pole to see an eclipse?

So actually flying over the North Pole isn't part of the goal, but it's on the way, you know, so you might as well just finish the journey and go over and say, 'Hey, we did it.'

The reason you would do that is because a total solar eclipse is a moving shadow.

And so if you can fly with the shadow of the moon, you know, being blocked out -- the moon blocking out the sun, then you can extend the length of totality, as they call it.

So these crazy eclipse-chasers will book these charter flights.

They do it every eclipse, and they spend tens of thousands of dollars, sometimes, you know, between travel and booking the charter flight and meals and entertainment and all that just to fly under the totality of the eclipse.

So this is something -- This is a thing.

This is a particular kind of tour that people -- So this flight has to go in the path of where the shadow's going.

It's not necessarily a, you know, New York-to-Tokyo type of flight.

Right, so these are really wild, you know, trajectories you get on because it's all determined by the orbits of Earth and the moon and the sun.

Like, it's all sort of celestially predetermined when these things are going to happen.

So they book these crazy, like, pathways, and the one I happened to be on in 2008 was going, you know, straight for the North Pole from, like, Dusseldorf, Germany.

So we flew over, like, Svalbard and some other places on a very strange flight path.

But in that flight path, we got to hang out in the shadow of the moon for much longer then you would be able to from the ground.

In fact, very few, if anybody, very few if any people would have seen that eclipse had they not been in an airplane because it was just cutting across the Arctic Ocean.

And this is, you know -- The shadow extends over the entire kind of visible spectrum of wherever you are from that plane, so you're essentially traveling in kind of a weird nondarkness but nonsun.

Yeah, you know, the people that were part of this trip were trying to explain this to me...

Yeah.

...because they've been doing this for decades.

They are hooked.

Like, once you see a total solar eclipse, you need to see another one because you only get a few minutes, and that few minutes is just indescribable.

You're in the -- Everything gets cold.

Yeah.

Everything gets dark.

Like, the birds stop chirping.

Like, weird, like -- Weird things happen.

It just seems very odd, and no wonder throughout history people have seen these as terrible omens...

Mm-hmm.

...or things like that because it's just uncanny to really be here.

The funny part is total solar eclipses happen all the time, you know.

They happen once every year or two.

It just depends where you're at on the Earth and the alignment of the moon happens to be.

So while you're in that plane, everything around you, I mean, is it basically like you're crossing the international timezone?

I mean, is it just sort of that weird twilight at the edge of the horizon?

Do you see where the shadow doesn't exist anymore?

Yeah, so when I was looking out this airplane window, it was almost like an immediate sunset.

That's how I would describe it.

Like, someone just, like, turned off the light.

Like, what just happened?

And you look down, and you can see the sort of, like, fuzzy edge of the shadow because there's totality where it's totally dark where we were at, and then there's, like, this peripheral sort of, like, sunset-like zone because the sun is bending around the moon and diffracting and making these sort of, like, reddish, ruddy colors.

Mm-hmm.

So you're sort of in this, like, circular sunset, and it's very strange.

And you look up at the sun, and you can see the corona, the outer fringes of the sun sort of spewing out from around the moon.

And that's one of the few opportunities we get to ever see the corona because the sun is so bright that it's hard to block it out.

So while they're in the aircraft, are there people who are trying to take photographs of this?

I mean, it's not perfectly steady, but how do they do it?

I mean, because it's so rare to see these coronas.

Yeah, so people design apps just to figure out the exposure settings for your DSLR camera and stuff.

And one of the guys on the flight's like, 'Oh, yeah, here.

You have this camera?

Well, use these settings, and, like, it'll come out just right.'

And it did.

Like, they're very obsessive, and this is, like, what I think the fun part of the eclipse is.

You have to know so much.

You have to learn so much about astronomy and physics and just the mechanics of everything to understand what you have to do in that particular moment and why it is happening the way it's happening.

But, yeah, lining the whole side of the plane were just people, you know, placard with their cameras and their faces.

There were, of course, discount seats on the other side where you couldn't see the eclipse.

All right. Dave Mosher, thanks so much for joining us.

My pleasure.

My name is Dmitry Dragilev, and I'm the founder of JustReachOut.

It's a SAS product that helps entrepreneurs and small companies, small businesses reach out to relevant journalists and bloggers and influencers but mainly press and get publicity and exposure from it.

I've done PR work for about 10 years, and I've noticed that small businesses, primarily entrepreneurs, professionals, really struggle to find the relevant journalists that they should pitch, and they don't know how to do that, and PR firms cost a lot of money.

And if you're just a scrappy team with 10 people or 15 people, you can't pay $10,000, $20,000 a month.

And so I worked on a project that got acquired by Google, and after that, I said, 'Enough is enough.

I got to build something that helps entrepreneurs and small companies pitch press effectively that doesn't clutter the in-boxes of all these journalists out there.'

We have about 4,000 companies and businesses that use us at this point.

It's been live for about a year, and we have companies like Semantic, Airbnb, and Chess.com and Nickelodeon and some of these hub spots, some of these bigger brands.

Mostly it's smaller companies, professionals.

Literally, if you're a Bitcoin expert, so you know a lot about Bitcoin, you put that term in, and the tool goes out there and finds who are the people who write about Bitcoin a lot but also mention it in social, like Facebook and Twitter and all these different platforms.

These journalists, influencers, if they're talking about Bitcoin, chances are they're interested in it, and if you have something interesting or innovative to say about it, you guys should chat.

And so it fronts up those people for you, and then it gives you e-mail templates that are best used for each and every journalist out there, tailored to them.

So, there's about nine pitch templates modified for them.

You modify those templates and you hit send, and the e-mail actually leaves our servers, not yours.

It'll be e-mailed on your behalf, and you can track and see if they opened your e-mail, how many times, if they replied, everything from our platform.

And we also show you popular Quora questions or Reddit discussions or any kind of discussions out there that are happening around your area of expertise.

You can put in as many key words as you want, and you can put in competitors' names, and you can put in all sorts of different things to see what comes up, and it's always changing, so the algorithm always finds new results for you all the time.

The idea is to make it more relevant so that you're not just pitching to anybody who's covering tech.

You're pitching to somebody who's covering Bitcoin and this Bitcoin app world, for example.

And you're in the Bitcoin app world, and so it matches the two.

Basically, justreachout.io, that's the site.

You can come check it out.

There's case studies on it and just useful information about pitching press.

Carbon black is a material found in tires that makes the rubber stronger and gives tires their distinctive black color.

But a new food-waste technology may have you seeing more colorful tires in the future.

Professor Katrina Cornish of The Ohio State University has been researching the use of tomato peels and eggshells as a replacement for carbon black.

Professor Cornish joins me now via Google Hangout.

So first of all, for most of us who don't pay attention to tires until they run flat, what's a tire made of?

Well, a tire is made of two different sorts of rubber -- synthetic rubber and natural rubber -- and then all sorts of other things, like steel and nylon and various other pieces as well as the metal in your wheel rims.

But the tire itself is black because of the reinforcing filler that creates a lot of the strengths required.

Now, tires don't have the same ingredients, all of them.

So an airplane tire, for example, is 100% natural rubber, whereas your passenger car tire has some synthetic and some natural mixed together all in different parts of the tire.

And so where do the tomato peels and the eggshells come in?

Well, the reinforcing fillers, that is carbon black -- We're using these as replacements for some of the carbon black because we found that microfillers produced from tomato peels and from eggshells are actually, like carbon black, reinforcing fillers.

They add strength.

They don't just dilute the rubber as an extender.

They actually make it stronger in the same way that carbon black does.

And you picked those two partly because of the kind of commercial nature of the excess tomato peels and excess eggshells that apparently exist, not just from my garbage can.

That's correct.

These are produced in very large quantity at food-processing plants, and the amount produced in the states is extremely large.

So for example, we have over 430,000 metric tons of tomato peels produced every year in the U.S., and we have over nearly 600,000 tons of eggshells, and more than half of that is at food-processing plants, where you can go in and collect it very easily.

So I'm not suggesting we go get your breakfast eggshells, so we'll leave those be, for the moment anyway.

Right.

And you have, in your lab, the material that's made out of them.

Would that end up influencing how a tire looks?

Would it look a little bit more reddish-brown?

Yes, with the tomato peels, you could, but carbon black is very black, so you'll be looking at, you know, slightly reddish-brown.

But, if you still have carbon black in there, that would be the issue.

However, we have also made these materials with nano-eggshells, so we can do a complete replacement there.

But we're not really suggesting that, because this would be a very expensive tire.

But you can make that one colored.

And then we're also looking at these as partial or full replacements of the silica filler that is used in certain specialty tires as an alternative to carbon black, and those tires, those materials could be colored, too.

We actually made some bright yellow ones last week.

How did the tires with your fillers that include tomato peels and eggshells, the composites -- How do they compare with the tire that I might buy at a store today?

Well, at the moment, I do want to be clear.

No tires have actually been made.

We're making the compounds and testing test specimens, but they actually compare very well and very comparable, because we're using carbon black as our control.

So we're not saying one bio-based filler or waste-derived filler is better than another one.

We're saying, 'How does this stack up against the industry standard?'

One thing that we do get are some interesting shifts in the combinations of properties.

So normally, a reinforcing filler, the more you put in, the stronger it gets, but the stiffer the tire gets, the less elastic it gets in that material until you reach a point of failure, where there's just too much filler.

But we're breaking that paradigm a little bit.

So we might be able to say, 'Okay.

If you want the same strength and you want the same hardness but you'd like to keep some elasticity that you wouldn't normally be able to get, we can keep some of that in for you.'

So those three major properties are a little bit disconnected with our fillers, which hasn't been seen before.

So how would that help a driver?

For example, in a snow tire where you want to have particularly good grip, something like that, you might be able to have an advantage.

Or if you've got a tire that's going over very rough terrain, you need it very strong.

But if it's, like, the pink Jeeps in Sedona or something, you know, you might want to be able to go over your off-road tires where you can really go up the mountainside and need more grip, but you also need the strength, so you could have all the strength you need but still have more squishiness, if you like, so it can hold on to the terrain better.

What happens to most tires?

Do they end up in landfills, and would the filling in your tires decrease that impact in any way?

Well, that's hard to say.

A lot of tires end up in landfills or in giant tire piles.

There's more and more work going on trying to recycle them, you know, so that they get the metal taken out of them, and they end up in asphalt or children's playgrounds.

So there's more and more work in that area.

Our materials wouldn't affect those sorts of destinies.

In terms of degradability of the tire, of course, our fillers -- our tomato peel filler would be somewhat degradable compared to what's in there.

The eggshells wouldn't.

But they are inside the tire, so unless you break up the tire in some way so that they're accessible to the air and to water, they wouldn't be degradable any more than your regular fillers because they just wouldn't be accessible in that way.

All right.

Katrina Cornish from Ohio State University, thanks so much for joining us.

Okay. Thank you very much.

It's been my pleasure.

In a tiny island laboratory in the northwest-most corner of Washington, one marine biologist is on a mission to scan every known fish species in the world.

Adam Summers, a fish expert at the University of Washington, is creating 3-D models of all known species of fish.

He hopes to change the way that scientists and educators look at marine anatomy.

Our environmental reporting partner, EarthFix, has the story.

I've spent a lot of my life on the interface between science and art.

Understanding shape in an aesthetic way, presenting these skeletons in a visually arresting way often leads to new insights.

Why do I like that angle?

Why do I like that color map?

I like that color map because it's bringing out some detail that I later realize is really important.

If it took between, say, 4 and 10 hours to scan a fish with exquisite detail, you'd spend more than a career scanning 33,000 of them.

The big innovation here was the idea to do lots of species at the same time.

What we do is we package as many as 20 species of fishes all at once into a sort of fish burrito and then put them in the micro-CT scanner and get data from all of them all at once.

I've scanned three times as many fish in the last few months as I had scanned in the previous 15 years.

This is an amount of information that's just awe-inspiring, and it really does represent a huge increase in our body of knowledge about one of the most diverse and important group of vertebrates on the planet.

And that wraps it up for this time.

For more on science, technology, and innovation, visit our website, check us out on Facebook and Instagram, and join the conversation on Twitter.

You can also subscribe to our YouTube channel.

Until next time, I'm Hari Sreenivasan.

Thanks for watching.

Funding for this program is made possible by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Sue and Edgar Wachenheim III, and contributions to this station.

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