Argon gas: A new way to preserve wine

Here’s a cool device: The Pek Wine Steward, which preserves a half-drunk bottle of wine by pumping argon gas into an airtight metal chamber. In his always-fun gadget column for the Sunday New York Times, Brendan Koerner wrote a terrific story about the guy who invented it:

He spent months fine-tuning a gas injection system. “We used computational fluid dynamics to model the gas flow,” Mr. Luzaich said, referring to a computer-analysis technique that measures how smoothly particles are flowing. The goal was to create an injector that could swap a bottle’s oxygen atoms for argon atoms; argon is an inert gas, and thus unlikely to harm a nice Chianti.

Indeed, argon is a particularly cool chemical — because it may become crucial in future attempts to colonize Mars. Argon, as it turns out, is pretty easy for humans to breathe without any ill effects. This is important because — as the Mars-exploration expert Penelope Boston has determined — any affordable attempt to terraform the Martian atmosphere is likely to retain a lot of argon in the mix. So she devised a little experiment to find out whether breathing argon is harmful or not: She sealed a bunch of mice in a little mouse Biosphere, with an atmosphere comprised of 20% oxygen, 40% nitrogen, and 40% argon. That’s way more argon than we breathe on Earth, where argon represents less than 1.6% of the mix. Yet the mice survived and thrived breathing that large amount of argon.

Okay, that’s probably enough Fun Argon Facts for today.

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I'm Clive Thompson, the author of Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better (Penguin Press). You can order the book now at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powells, Indiebound, or through your local bookstore! I'm also a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and a columnist for Wired magazine. Email is here or ping me via the antiquated form of AOL IM (pomeranian99).

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