Serendipity After the cold rush
Simon Singh is an author, journalist and TV producer, specialising in science and Mathematics. His latest book is "Trick or Treatment? Alternative Medicine on Trial", co-authored with Edzard Ernst, the world’s first professor of complementary medicine.
Sunday 05 December 1999
Instead, it was left to a German glass-blower, who was manufacturing vacuum flasks for Dewar, to turn a piece of experimental apparatus in to an everyday product. For some reason that has been lost in the mists of time, the glassblower found himself stuck with some excess baby milk one evening. There being no other receptacle to hand, he placed the milk in a flask, and was surprised to find that it was still warm when he returned the next morning. He called his commercial product a "Thermos Flasche" or thermos flask.
An even more important example of cryogenic serendipity happened in 1912, when Clarence Birdseye went fishing in the sub-zero conditions of Labrador in Canada. Like the Eskimos, he would drop a line through a hole in the ice, haul out the fish and hoist it over his shoulder. Naturally, the fish froze, but Birdseye was astonished to find that the fish tasted fresh several weeks later when it was defrosted and cooked. In the past, when food had been frozen for storage, it tasted awful.
The original Captain Birdseye soon realised why his Labrador fish tasted so good. The key to success was quick freezing, caused by suddenly exposing the fish to an air temperature of -40C. Freezing leads to the formation of ice crystals within a fish's cells, but rapid freezing means that the crystals are all small. In contrast, previous freezing had been gradual, which resulted in large crystals - spiky structures that punctured cell walls, thereby destroying the quality of the food.
Nowadays we take frozen fishfingers for granted, and the challenge is not to freeze dead things and eat them, but rather to freeze dead things and then bring them back to life. Some cells are quite resilient, and for those suspended animation is simple. For example, sperm is stored in liquid nitrogen at -196C, which kills off only one third of the cells. Similarly, bone marrow tissue can be frozen and revived. This is vital for cancer patients who donate their own bone marrow, have it stored, and then have it returned to them to replace cells killed by chemotherapy. Whether a frozen brain could ever be revived is quite another matter.
Listen to his collaboration with Naughty Boymusic
Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Rape threats, death threats and a police investigation after video poking fun at an Islamic Party in Malaysia goes viral
- 2 Katie Hopkins attacked me on Twitter — so I reported her to the police for inciting racial hatred
- 3 Gamers confess the worst things they've done in The Sims
- 4 6-year-old writes ice cold Valentine's card to his stepmother
- 5 Syrian child photographed 'surrendering to camera because she thought it was a gun'
Tidal launch: The most pretentious lines from Alicia Keys' valedictory speech
Tidal: Jay Z's Spotify rival criticised for making wealthy artists even richer
Tidal launch: Madonna insists Jay Z's new streaming service is 'not about consumption and greed'
Top Gear live to go ahead: Jeremy Clarkson to join Richard Hammond and James May... just don't call it Top Gear
Ryan Reynolds interview: The actor is branching out with Nazi art-theft drama Woman in Gold
Katie Hopkins attacked me on Twitter — so I reported her to the police for inciting racial hatred
Street preacher quoting from the Bible fined for calling homosexuality an 'abomination'
Woman filmed launching racist tirade against men on the Tube for speaking in 'own lingo'
David Cameron calls Labour 'hopeless, sneering socialists' while announcing 7-day NHS plans
Revealed: Putin's army of pro-Kremlin bloggers
Katie Hopkins reported to the police for race hatred by Labour MP Simon Danczuk after tweet about Pakistani men