Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Joseph Black, Scotch Whiskey and Thermodynamics

I was impressed recently to learn the Combination of Rothes Distillers, Ltd. is planning to build a 7.2 megawatt power generating facility that will use the distillery waste as a fuel. This may seem innovative,, but they are merely keeping up a long standing Scotch tradition for frugality. In fact, if it wasn’t for Scotch Whiskey and frugal Scotsmen, we might not have discovered an important thermodynamic property.

Pour yourself a wee dram and learn about Joseph Black.

Joseph Black was a Scottish physician and chemist. He was a contemporary and friend of James Watt. He went to medical school in Glasgow and Edinburgh. He is known for several scientific discoveries including the fact that carbon dioxide can kill you and that phase transformations take place at constant temperature regardless of heat input. But, on to the Scotch bit.

It seems some local distillers, being frugal Scotsmen, wanted to know the minimum amount of fuel needed to distill whiskey. From his experiments, he discovered the thermodynamic property of Specific Heat. This property has caused dismay to engineering students ever since.

Now you know what engineering owes to the art of distilling whiskey. So the next time you lift a glass of Scotland’s Finest, remember Joseph Black, the frugal distillers and how they advanced the science of thermodynamics.


tom said...

I just sent this to my M.D. and USAF officer father with a note pointing out that "see, Scotch Whisky has more uses than just getting me in trouble when I was a kid!"

Thanks. I've added you to my blog list of people I like and the sandstorm one, if you don't mind.


Clay said...

One of the Chemical Engineering professors used to teach Middle East-bound graduates how to make stills out of crock pots and copper tubing (also giving hints on how not to get caught).

Peripatetic Engineer said...

Purchasing mass quantities of sugar and fruit is usually a dead giveaway that you are home brewing. Also when you start pilfering the instrument tubing from the job site.

tom said...

Ah, Michael Z. Williamson's Rule No. 50:

When deploying to the field, I should not have sugar, yeast and 50 feet of copper tubing in my duffel bag.

Anonymous said...

Specific heat really gives engineering students a hard time?