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The Cocktails of Science: Drink deep, or taste not

The Cocktails of Science: Drink deep, or taste not

Want to talk science, but can't get your buddies out of the pub? Science cocktails to the rescue!

I'm one of those people who just loves science, and wants everybody else to love it too. Unfortunately, many of my friends are more interested in imbibing fermented fruit juices and hanging out in pubs. And thus, in an effort to meet them halfway, have fun, and still get to share some sciency tidbits without them wanting to kill me, we've devised...Science Cocktails!

Named after scientific principles, these potent potions are a great way to combine killing brain cells with learning. And much like the enterprise of science itself, these are immensely powerful things, with the ability to alter one's worldview. Also, I think they taste great (though I'm not in the majority on that one). So drink responsibly (and don't be afraid to halve any particular drink, or share with a friend) and feel free to alter and add your own.

For the teatotal: Well, the science stays the same...but you may substitute whatever the appropriate non-alcoholic mixers are in any particular case. No guarantee that's going to be at all enjoyable, though. So maybe you'd rather just tell the story and drink something that you know you're going to enjoy, okay?

For the pedants: These drinks and their backstories are just there to serve as introductory gambits - and if somebody says "Yes, but..." then you know you've hooked your fish.

Okay, now that that's out of the way, here we go...

The Endosymbiogenesis (or Endosymbiotic Theory)
The Science: Not only are we giant lumbering animals mostly walking homes for insane numbers of bacteria, but it also turns out we’re all part-bacteria as well. Mitochondria – the tiny organelles that power all eukaryotic cells – were once independent organisms that wound up inside other independent organisms (the cells that would form the first eukaryotes). Over time, the mitochondria transferred most of their genes to the nuclear genome, and they came to be incapable of independent existence. In other words, a cell invaded a larger cell, or a larger cell swallowed a smaller cell, and instead of one of them making a nice meal for the other, they formed a partnership that’s proven very successful over the last billion years or so. The mitochondria still retain some genetic material independent of the nucleus, and they divide independently from the rest of the cell.

Chloroplasts in plant cells are thought to have been formed in much the same way from ancestral cyanobacteria (single-celled organisms called "blue-green algae" that are still found in free-living form today). This isn’t actually uncommon, and we see this kind of thing happening a lot in several cells and organisms today.

The Drink:
2 shots of vodka
2 shots of sambuca (preferably a green variety)
1 energy drink of your choice

Special Bonus: Not only is the Endosymbiogenesis a truly wonderful drink, but it also serves as a perfect test of sobriety. Basically, if you can't say it, you can't drink it - and you should probably get someone a little less scienced-up to drive you home.

The Schrodinger's Cat
The Science: Erwin Schrodinger was one of the biggest brains of the twentieth century, one of the founding fathers of quantum mechanics, and winner of the Nobel Prize for Physics. He devised equations governing the wave function of a quantum system. In 1935 he also devised one of the most famous thought experiments in the history of science.

First, some background: The Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics holds that the superposition of a system only undergoes collapse into a definite state at the exact moment of quantum measurement. In normal person-speak, that means that until a system (for example, a sub-atomic particle) is observed, it has no definite state, but exists in all possible states at once.

Don't try to understand this, you will probably only hurt your brain.

So the Experiment: A cat is placed in a sealed box, along with a flask of poison, a radiation source and a Geiger Counter. When the Geiger counter detects radiation from a decaying atom, the flask gets broken and the poison is released and kills the cat. But until an observer collapses the wave function of the system, there is no way of telling whether or not one of the atoms has decayed, so the cat is both dead and alive simultaneously.

The Drink:
See, with this drink, you never know quite what you're going to get until you put it to your lips. So to pull this off, you'll need two friends (or acquaintances or enemies - as long as they can order drinks).
1. While you step away from the bar for a minute, one will choose to provide you with (or at least order you) 2 shots of either brandy or gin.
2. The other will add to this 2 shots of either Southern Comfort (or other anise-flavoured liqueur) or Jack Daniel's (or other Bourbon whiskey).
3. They'll mix it as they please, add some ice, and present it to you for inspection. When you've decided whether the cat's alive or dead, you may choose a chaser of your choice.
Alternatively: Whiskey may be substituted for gin. But only a truly cruel friend would add Jack Daniel's to that...

The Natural Selection
The Science: Oh, come on, you know this one! But just for anybody who's had their head in the sand (or the bottom of the bottle) here's the skinny. This Victorian guy called Charles Darwin went on a long trip around the world, where he did a lot of naturalist-type stuff and collecting and thinking science. Then he settled down in England, never went away again, and spent twenty years working and collecting evidence, unleashed On the Origin of Species in 1859, and totally transformed biology.

The whole Natural Selection part of it is pretty simple. Here's how I like to break it down, using Darwin's logic…

(1) organisms reproduce
(2) they vary in ways that make them more or less successful at producing viable offspring
(3) some of that variety is heritable
(4) over time, populations of those organisms will evolve

In other words, life is a (somewhat metaphoric) struggle between different varieties of organisms, and the fittest organisms dominate the gene pool in the long run. (Caveat: Fittest is highly dependent on the circumstances, of course. Another way of looking at it is that when organisms enjoy heritable differential success in survival and reproduction, the best survivors/reproducers come to dominate the system. It’s really all very simple, and it’s quite amazing that it took so long for someone to work it out as well as Darwin did.)

The Drink:
Okay, so this one isn't exactly a cocktail. But it'll certainly put hair on your chest (enough to make your primitive ancestors proud)...

First, a warning - don't do this if you're not a cocky youngster trying to prove how tough you are, or someone responsible enough to recognize when you're beaten and bow out gracefully. Also, don't do this if you're planning to drive (designated drivers are allowed) or walk a ways alone (drunken walking is, mile for mile, more dangerous for you than drunken driving is). Ideally, save this for a camping trip or something (preferably not in dangerous regions). You have been warned.

Anyhoo, this one is actually really simple. Much like the game of life, your task here is to outlast your fellows...
1. Order a round of shots for all participating organisms.
2. Drink it.
3. Each survivor must now name a noteworthy (famous/exemplary/leading) scientist, and briefly mention one of his/her accomplishments (Albert Einstein, devised the Special and General Theories of Relativity; or Ernst Mayr, father of sociobiology and island biogeography).
4. Head back to 1 and repeat - the last person to actually complete step 3 now orders a round of shots (not the same as the previous one).

Every round, anybody who can't finish their drink (or won't, for the wise) or name their scientist is eliminated. The last lifeform standing is declared the winner, and will have the highest proportion of genetic material in the next generations (well, not actually, but for the purposes of the drink).


Well, that's all the science we have time for today. Join us next time when we discuss the deliciously devilish Dark Matter, the spirited sobriety-shattering Standard Model, and the truly terrifying Time Traveller's Twist.

Until then...enjoy responsibly!
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