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Everyday science

Eel-powered Christmas tree, tapping shaken beer cans, acoustics of burping

06 Dec 2019 Michael Banks

Miguel Wattson is an electric eel (Electrophorus electricus) who lives in the Rivers of the World gallery at the Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga, US. The eel is best known for his tweeting ability under the Twitter handle @EelectricMiguel (although aquarium staff write his messages, which are triggered by the electrical pulses that Miguel emits while roaming around his tank).

Now workers at the aquarium have made Miguel the conductor of a Christmas tree that resides next to his tank. Gadgets in the tank pick up the electrical pulses and then an amplifier converts them into a stream of “pops” that trigger the lights on the Christmas tree. The brightness of the lights then depends on the strength of the pulse. You can see the effect for yourself in the stunning video above.

Is it worth tapping a can of beer or fizzy pop before opening to stop liquid from squirting out? That vexing question has now been answered by researchers in Denmark who studied “liquid leakage” from 1000 standard 330 ml cans (arXiv:1912.01999).

They randomly assigned the cans into four groups: unshaken/untapped; unshaken/tapped; shaken/untapped; and shaken/tapped. Tapping consisted of the researchers knocking the side of the can three times with a single finger while shaking involved jolting a can for two minutes. After recording the mass of each can before and after opening, they found that for both shaken and unshaken cans there was no statistically significant difference in the amount of liquid lost when tapped or not.

“The only apparent remedy to avoid liquid loss is to wait for bubbles to settle before opening the can,” they write. Sound obvious, but as the cans were provided by Carlsberg Breweries A/S, it is probably the best experiment in the world.

Finally, Brooke Kidner, a linguistics PhD student at the University of Southern California, has analysed hundreds of burps in the hit-TV series Rick and Morty to see if there is any “sub-textual” speech in mad scientist Rick Sanchez’s frequent gassing.

Kidner discovered that the burps rumble at a relatively low frequency of 300 Hz, but that the burps weren’t really burps at all but some other kind of “paralinguistic” sound such as the actor running out of air. Kidner presented her findings this week at the 178th Meeting of the Acoustical Society of America held in San Diego.

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