Saturday, September 14, 2013

Heavy water ( Noble prize for rat piss)

99.9 % of the Hydrogen in our Universe has a proton and an electron in its atom. But a few hydrogen atoms have an additional neutron, which make that hydrogen a wee bit heavier. This is deuterium, and any water, composed of this hydrogen is called heavy water. In early 1930’s Harold Urey discovered deuterium, a sure shot Nobel Prize winning discovery. Another scientist, named Gilbert Lewis decided to piggy back to this no-miss prize by investigating the biological effects of water made by deuterium. University of California at Berkley, where Lewis worked, had a well equipped physics department, which incidentally had the world’s largest supply of heavy water (a few ounces’s mixed with lots of normal water). Heavy water is very scarce, and the department’s head, Ernest O. Lawrence was reluctant to part with it. Lewis begged and finally Lawrence relented on the condition that Lewis gave it back after the experiments. After isolating the heavy water, he decided to give it to a mouse and see what happened. Heavy water cannot be metabolised by the body, hence the more you drink, the thirstier you feel. Lewis’s mouse, gulped down all the water in a few hours and ended up dead. The experiment was of course hardly Noble prize worthy; but Lawrence went ballistic when he learnt that a mouse had pissed away all his precious heavy water.
Gilbert, Lewis worked in the Chemistry department of University of California for over forty years and made it one of the best in the world. His biggest contribution to science is the discovery of how acids and bases work and react. It is said that no one has ever received more Nobel prize nominations than Lewis- and was probably the best scientist never to win a Nobel Prize.

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